Review: Lords of Xulima (PC)

Originally published over on n3rdabl3 – the game was provided by Numantian Games for review

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars – Challenging isometric 2D RPG, with a great story and difficult combat.

When I first saw the trailer for Lords of Xulima, my heart filled up with that joyous, warm, nostalgia feeling. I was immediately thrown back to the halcyon days of the early 2000s when I first discovered epic fantasy RPGs: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Pools of Radiance and Planescape Torment were my induction into what is now my most beloved gaming genre. I spent many hours in rapt attention, building up my party, equipping the best gear, exploring the world, and falling in love over and over with RPGs and the fantasy genre generally. To me, these games are the epitome of what I love about gaming, and so when I got a chance to play Lords of Xulima (and ultimately write this review) it was with much gusto that I leapt into the fray.

Lords of Xulima is the story of Gaulen, an explorer and navigator, who answers the call of Golot the Architect, one of the nine gods, to be his herald on earth and to eradicate the evil that pervades the Divine Temples across Xulima. Gaulen gathers his party and leaves his homeland of Rodinia to set sail across the ocean, and eventually alight on the distant shores of Xulima. Xulima used to be the land of the Gods, but a bitter rivalry between Xul, the Guardian of Souls, and the other eight gods drove them to the stars to continue their battles away from mortal eyes. The land they left behind has now been usurped by four mortal princes, known as the Impious Princes for their predilection to taking over the Gods’ temples and converting them into terrible prisons, and generally being dicks to everyone. Gaulen’s mission is to liberate these temples and bring peace back to the realm. No pressure.

As you work your way through the opening chapters of the game, you will meet certain characters who shed more light on what is happening across Xulima. You learn Xul also has heralds on earth, who hold keys to a series of Towers. Four of these keys were given to the Impious Princes, so it is now clear (if it wasn’t already) that you will need to defeat each Prince to gain access to the Towers. Gaulen again meets with Golot amidst the firmament, who explains that he must gather the Divine Artifacts within the Towers in order to have any hope of saving the day.

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The game offers you three difficulty modes, the lowest being Normal, which had me concerned at the outset as I’m usually more interested in exploring the world and immersing myself in the story of an RPG, than testing my battle prowess and strategy skills. It was about this time that I remembered the game description as being “a challenging RPG”. So take heed, gamers, this game is tough and can be made all the tougher by upping the difficulty level (if that’s what you’re into).

At the beginning of the game, you are given the opportunity to create your party. Gaulen is already pre-generated, and you can’t change his opening stats or class, however you can create an additional five members for your party (or opt for randomly generated ones). I chose to create my party from the selection of nine classes: arcane soldier, mage, thief, cleric, divine summoner, paladin, barbarian, bard, and soldier. Each character also chooses a God to be a disciple of; again, there are nine to choose from, each giving various bonuses such as upgrades to strength or initiative, or resistance to elements (among others). You then choose a portrait for your character, from a nice selection of standard RPG fare (you can also change your portrait later if you get sick of how they look!) Gender is merely an aesthetic choice; male or female has no impact on statistics or class options.

As is common with many RPGs, the opening chapter offers many tips and tutorials, but don’t let that fool you. The game is challenging, and you should not be disheartened if you find your party being trounced by the lowliest of goblins. Until you start levelling up and equipping better gear, you should expect to die a lot, so make sure you save often. Even after exploring most of the first two maps, and levelling up a few levels, I was still forced to reload a lot. I do feel that the enemies are very over-powered (for example, a basic goblin can attack you for 12HP and cause a bleeding wound that loses 2HP a turn), making it difficult to gain the experience you need to beat them, however that is a feature of the game, rather than a design flaw. My suggestion is to be patient and reload if you die too much, and cross your fingers that the random mechanic causes lots of misses in your favour!

1b2ecd02f62ab9ab50bfd7b95ae0c3df5cf42b26Combat is turn-based and a basic 2D process: rather than interacting on the map, you will be taken to a combat scene with your characters portraits along the bottom of the screen, and your enemies displayed on screen in first-person view. Combat turns are based on character initiative, and if you are ambushed while exploring the field, your characters will have to take a beating from all the enemies before they get a chance to fight back. You can avoid most enemies on the map (they are shown as physical pieces in the world, so you can walk around their field of vision); however certain areas are combat zones which have random encounters. If you encounter a random battle, you will have the option to engage (immediately start fighting), attempt to run away (the chance is based on the party’s cumulative speed stats) or use Gaulen’s Camouflage skill to sneak away (which uses several power points, a finite number of skill or magic points you can use before needing to replenish them).

Besides the usual hit point and status damage seen in most games, you can also take wound damage where you lose a steady number of hit points per turn. Wound damage is cumulative, and can stack up quickly, which means you can be losing up to 20 HP a turn (which might be almost the whole HP amount for particular characters, like mages). If your character dies in battle, they will sustain a fatal wound even when rested and healed, which makes them weaker in future battles. In order to remove these dangerous wounds, you must pay a cleric for special healing or rest for a full 24 hours (either in the village tavern, or by building a fire while out in the field).

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When you are outside a village, you will slowly use up your food allocation, so do keep an eye on the counter. The amount of food used up is based on the kind of terrain you are crossing, however certainly skills will reduce terrain penalties (e.g. Gaulen’s Knowledge of Terrain skill). You can gather food from various locations around the map, and also buy rations to take with you on your adventures, up to a maximum of eight days’ worth. If you run out of food while you are outside a village, you will become weak with hunger and suffer a penalty in combat.

While on the subject of villages, it’s important to note that your party is charged entry into villages under the “protection” of the various Princes. This is not a one-off fee. Every few days you will need to cough up the 100 gold or you will be denied entry. You can actually fight the guards but it may be some time before you are strong enough to beat them, so keep a little money spare.

Lords of Xulima is a rewarding game, but as I’ve mentioned, very challenging, particularly in relation to combat. Each major area is rife with strong enemies, many of which you will not be able to beat until much later in the game, so be prepared to work out (often through trial and error) the path of least resistance between areas. Once you have discovered the Dimensional Portals on each map, you will be able to fast travel between areas, which is a big saving in food and time.

My biggest tip for the game, besides having loads of patience, is to consider each area a big puzzle. There are a couple of locations in the first two maps which had me at my wits’ end until I finally realised what was going on. The Sporia field is a particularly frustrating area, as the mushroom enemies are incredibly tough, and will spam status effects on your entire party if you accidentally end up in battle with them. The trick is to check the visual indicator of each enemy, then edge slowly around and between them until you get to the exit, thus avoiding combat entirely. A similar maze-like puzzle awaits you when you enter the Golden Forest, but I won’t spoil that for you!

dcfc456cb5db2c936bfe0916bab829e6418aa8c4Lords of Xulima promises over 100 hours of gameplay, and if you add in the amount of times you’ll reload, I reckon you can probably add another good 25%* on top of that (*may be a slight exaggeration). If you are a fan of old-school RPGs, love a good romp through a rich fantasy land with interesting mythology, and/or enjoy punishing yourself, definitely give Lords of Xulima a go. It’s available on Steam and GOG.com. You might also want to pick up the DLC, The Talisman of Golot, which can be used to teleport you to safety, heal diseases, purify curses and help you out with additional knowledge to improve skills and abilities. It sounds pretty appealing to me right now!

Despite the criticism I’ve made about the game’s difficulty, that is in fact one of its many drawcards. Gamers who love tough strategic combat will have a great time, especially on the higher difficulty levels: the game will be much harder, but the rewards all the richer! Lords of Xulima does not make for an easy experience, but it certainly looks beautiful, is rich and immersive, intuitive to play, and there is no doubt as to why its creators, Numantian Games, tripled their Kickstarter goal with over 1300 backers. I’m looking forward to playing it all the way through, and exploring every nook and cranny of each map, regardless of the amount of reloading I have to do!

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