Portal Knights tries to be a lot of things at once, meshing the block-building, ‘craft what you like’ style of Minecraft (2011) whilst injecting some tangible exploration and combat, akin to The Legend of Zelda franchise. It works in part for people like me who have long wanted to get into Minecraft but felt that the open-endedness of the experience wouldn’t entice.
This is where Portal Knights looks to mix things up a bit and features combat heavily throughout the experience. From the start, you’re given the option to choose from three character classes: Archer, Mage and Warrior. It should go without saying that each class offers different play-styles, namely, those who like ranged attacks and those who like to get up close and personal. I tested each class type and found that the classes who utilise ranged attacks – Mage and Archer – were the best for low-level characters, which is inevitably where you’ll begin.
It is odd that a game with such a cutesy aesthetic can offer quite gruelling combat. Enemies hit hard and timing your dodges requires Dark Souls-esque levels of precision. This isn’t a negative for people who like challenging combat but will certainly deter people who are looking for a relaxing experience. Combat also feels slightly floaty and I noticed a few issues with hit detection, where I would take damage, despite having completely dodged my attackers. If your careful enough, however, you can avoid combat entirely whilst at ground level, albeit at the cost of gathering resources.
Gathering resources is, after all, the aim of the game and are the means to crafting your homestead. Portal Knights eases you in gently with a tutorial, teaching you how to turn wood into refined wooden blocks, craft a stone pickaxe to mine for rocks and gems, and how to set up your own workbench, where you can craft many items and materials, from health potions to armour sets. There is a vast catalogue of items and accessories to craft and create, both for your journey abound or for building upon your home.
Exploration comes about after crafting six portal stones and placing them into the portal on each island. Each island is procedurally generated to guarantee that any one player’s experience is different to the other. The issue here, is that the islands are too small, even if you opt for the setting which generates larger islands. Once you’ve explored the dungeons, which are barebones at the start, there is little to keep you bound to any island for more than ten minutes. Dungeons get larger and more varied as you progress, which is where you will find tougher enemies but more valuable loot. This is one of the better aspects of the game and, as mentioned, one of the only reasons to truly encourage exploration of the islands.
The story is pretty barebones and is told through a brief opening cut scene, which talks of a world torn apart by the fracture, thus, the island set up. From then, it doesn’t appear to be much of a prominent feature, with every NPC you meet offering a single line of dialogue. Portal Knights isn’t a game for narrative die-hards, and is more focused on offering a deep gameplay experience. Meeting characters with more to say, to flesh out the lore behind the world of Portal Knights would have been beneficial and helped carry players less experienced with the mechanics play through the game.
Portal Knights has a soundtrack that is whimsical but with very little variation. I have one track constantly floating around my head for how often it plays over the action. It’s not an irritating soundtrack by any means, it is just a shame that it comes off as being stuck on a loop, and started to detract from the experience the longer I listened to it.
It is a shame that for a game which such promise for a grand adventure to fall short in several areas. It is a truly interesting craft and create game, with a desire to appeal to players put off by the perceived lack of action in other games of the same genre. For me, the time spent building up my homestead and the prospects that brought, far outweighed the fun of exploring the small-scale islands and engaging in challenging, but otherwise flawed combat.
I can’t fault the desire to appeal to a broader audience of players but I couldn’t get past the feeling that this was a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ situation. It doesn’t do anything particularly badly, but it also doesn’t excel with any of its mechanics or systems. Still, if you’re simply looking for your next procedurally generated, crafting adventure, then Portal Knights may be worth your time.