Call me a sucker, but a game with a name like Spellcrafter makes me picture eye of newt and toe of frog simmering in full-bellied cauldrons belching green smoke. It makes me want to string together esoteric sigils found in tomes caked with age filched from chthonic libraries, makes me want to distil fire, lightning and frost out of the earth and buffet my foes with raw, elemental energies. Yeah, I probably read too many fantasy novels. And yes, while Polish studio Jujubee tries earnestly to deliver on their promised “unique spellcasting system” and “deep, tactical, turn-based combat”, their efforts ultimately lack the magical spark that makes for a truly compelling game.
The eponymous spell-crafting system of this tactical RPG actually offers no actual crafting (I was expecting something à la Oblivion). Perhaps the game should have been named “Spellcaster” instead, because that seems to be the “unique” system Jujubee wants to highlight. During the grid-based combat sequences, instead of your standard nested menus of spells, you have to draw specific symbols on your touchscreen in order to unleash your magic. Unfortunately, Jujubee fails to make full use of this pretty interesting (but not actually that unique: see Black & White or Arx Fatalis) mechanic.
If you title your game after a specific system, I expect you to make it a big part of both the mechanics and story. In addition to its uses in combat, I want to see puzzles that involve drawing symbols, or some insight into the history of the magic system. Instead, the spell system feels like a secondary addition to the tactical combat system, and one that isn’t even that useful: your armies of units (especially the severely OP marksmen) are ultimately far more devastating than your comparatively piddly spells. Even your highest level “Meteor” spell ends up being less useful than twenty peasants armed with pitchforks. But you’ll probably end up spamming “Meteor” anyway (or perhaps “Lightning Bolt”; I know, the level originality is thrilling), because the selection of spells on offer is pretty tiny and relatively uninteresting, and trying to draw something more complicated (like a circle) might bug out the software, wasting your precious in-battle time.
The rest of the game is entirely forgettable, especially if you’ve played anything like Heroes of Might and Magic, King’s Bounty or even Age of Wonders (some of which, granted, are more turn-based strategy than RPG), that really do have a deep tactical combat system. There are two modes: exploration, where you traipse around the map looking for fights, and combat, where you do the actual fighting. There’s not really that much to explore (and not much to look at on my Android, despite the pretty screenshots of the Steam version). The game’s very linear, with no real secrets or surprises to speak of. The controls are also pretty dodgy, leading to many a frustrating moment spent pawing and spitting invectives at my touchscreen. Because your spells feel kinda useless, combat quickly decays into sub-standard tactical-RPG fare, with stacks of units pummeling each other on a grid. My main problem is that the combat is so, well, boring. Jujubee tried to include some interesting terrain in the combat maps, but I rarely found myself using any of it. There’re no mechanics for flanking, retaliation, or support to add extra layers of tactical thinking. Even the unit selection you have is small, their special abilities underwhelming (and confusing to use).
Finally, the “compelling and magical story about the nature of reality, power and morality”…never materializes. Again, I was hoping for the spell system to be integrated into the story somehow. But no. All you get is another “save this really important person” (this time a child-mage suffering from amnesia) narrative. The consequences of your choices are flimsy, and the dialogue is badly written. In a nutshell: no crafting, boring spells, topped off by a crappy story. Unless you’re really bored on the subway, I’d give Spellcrafter a miss.
Might have been...
A series of underutilized opportunities.