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Game Info:

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness
Developed By: Dungeoneering Studios
Published By: Black Shell Media
Released: January 22, 2016
Available On: Windows
Genre: First-person RPG dungeon crawler
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1
Price: $7.99

*Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

Across the video game world, two gameplay elements have been taken as something of a trend: RPG and survival. The constant stat progression of the former creates a consistent, usually satisfying power creep; likewise, the challenge of carving out a self-sustaining existence from little or nothing can be rewarding. It’s easy enough to add these elements to existing genres – making them work without seeming shoehorned in is a different story. As far as creating a balanced, flowing experience with both RPG and survival styles, Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness performs about as well as a game can.

At the behest of his old friend, the Arch-Mage, the nameless protagonist travels to the ancient ruins of Castle Torgeath in search of an expedition team that has seemingly vanished. A well-timed earthquake traps him inside upon entry, and it is soon obvious that the abandoned castle isn’t as abandoned as advertised. Fighting off monsters, darkness, and hunger, the protagonist presses into the depths, uncovering the rise, fall, and continued threat of the castle.

As a purely first-person dungeon crawler, the obvious comparison would be toward the Elder Scrolls franchise – in this case, the gameplay most closely resembles Morrowind. You start with a sword and a fireball spell; the spell is a one-off ranged attack, while the sword carries slash, thrust, and overhead attacks - as do the two other melee weapons you'll acquire. Like Morrowind, each weapon has different attack power depending on the type of swing. Also like Morrowind, there’s little reason not to use the best one, though in Castle Torgeath’s case, the slash is superior regardless of damage due to its speed. Ranged weapons come into play later, holding high attack power at the cost of limited and rare ammunition. You can also block with the melee weapons, preventing a decent chunk of damage in a rather small angle in front of you.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness
Highlights:

Strong Points: Interesting, compelling exploration; great atmosphere; continued developer support and updates
Weak Points: Gameplay gets somewhat repetitive and unbalanced towards the end
Moral Warnings: Violence; blood and gore; skeletons and demons; pentagrams and human sacrifices; mention of non-specific gods and devils; one or two mild swears; elemental and occult magic (and the consequences of using the latter)

In addition to your health and magic, you have three other bars to manage: your hunger, which slowly ticks down over time; your torch, which can run out and leave you effectively blind but can be re-fueled with any of the braziers around the castle; and a mist meter, which rises as you explore and represents the chance of a fallen monster transforming into a large, extremely tough version of itself. The pursuit of potions and food is your primary drive to exploring the castle, which is, simply put, gigantic. Nearly every room has some sort of benefit in it, even if it’s just picking up junk – there’s a ghostly vendor that appears infrequently, and he’ll happily take your rusted weapons or pieces of paper to buff your strength, defense, or magic power for a short time. There is a three-hundred item limit, though every item is weighted the same - a hundred tower shields take the same space as a hundred apples. While the hunger meter is nothing more than a time limit until death, and some might see it only as a nuisance, it still creates a sense of reward and a natural, compelling reason to explore your surroundings. For the record, the main character has quite the iron stomach, able to scarf down moldy bread, years-old donuts, and raw steaks lying near bloodstains with no ill effects – though it comes at the price of needing to eat three square meals every hour on pain of death.

There is a decent variety of enemies to fight, with even similar enemy types having multiple variations. Most will charge you when they see you, but even the puniest rat has some rudimentary AI: they’ll back off if you come in swinging, and the smarter ones, like orcs, will sidestep your advances. Mages and archers make an appearance late in the game, with both having a limited ammo/magic pool to work with. With good reflexes and quick movement, you can bait attacks or slip by them, avoiding all damage in an encounter, though the creatures are accurate enough to counter your tactics. With the scarce supplies offered by the castle, it makes each encounter tense, and you’ll need your focus to hold on to your pool of potions. There are three difficulty modes available: the hard mode makes enemies tougher and hit harder, while rogue mode additionally limits you to the timed autosave – which deletes itself if you die.

Unfortunately, the further you go, the less interesting the combat gets. As stated before, your options are limited to the three (functionally one) melee attacks, the one spell (that comes is different elemental flavors, but is still the same fireball type), and the two similar ranged weapons. Enemies will only drop keys, making their experience the only thing worth pursuing – you gain one stat point on leveling up, which you can place into upping your melee strength, max health and hunger, speed and ranged damage, or mana pool and spell power. Your level is capped at twenty, however, which is easily reachable by the second to last stage; after that, combat offers no benefit, only serving to drain your resources. The final types of enemies also move and attack much faster, making the typical “dodge and weave” defense ineffective. Since resources become rarer and rarer the deeper into Castle Torgeath you go, the risk/reward of exploration breaks down, and you’ll find yourself sprinting to the exit most of the time.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 80%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 1.5/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
+3 for showing the end result of occultism

That’s a shame, because the castle itself is worth exploring. You’ll find books and notes littered around the area, detailing both the distant and current history of the castle and the land around it. While the castle itself is not randomized and each aspect is hand-placed, the separate areas are rather nonsensically glued together with unrealistically long and winding hallways, and the many traps around the area don’t usually mesh with the surroundings. The set pieces themselves, however, are detailed and eye-catching. Objects are placed in realistic locations, with strategically placed weapons, skeletons, and bloodstains filling the gaps between the written notes – oftentimes, you’ll turn a corner and stumble onto a scene, letting you piece together what happened before finding the relevant text. While the writing itself isn’t anything spectacular, the attention to detail and the preference for showing rather than telling greatly enhances the experience, making exploring Castle Torgeath the main draw of the game.

As far as the actual graphical fidelity, there isn’t much to complain about. While certainly not high-end, the visuals are consistently pleasing. The enemies are decently animated, with each type and sub-type obvious at a glance – you’ll know exactly what your foe is capable of even without seeing it before. Important objects are somewhat brighter than the background, making them difficult to overlook. Likewise, the audio is competent throughout. The music tracks, split between exploration and combat, set their intended moods well and manage to survive constant looping without becoming annoying. The sound effects and voice acting are similarly fitting – the latter is present with every bit of spoken dialogue outside of the player character, and is usually pretty respectable. Simply put, the presentation is solid throughout.

Unfortunately, the game does not hold back as far as morality goes. While the actual player-driven violence is somewhat tame – short-lived clouds of blood on impact, with enemies falling over and eventually disappearing on death – the rest of it is rather intense. You’ll find skeletons and giant blood pools in many locations. A few levels have piles of grotesque severed body parts lying around, and you can pick them up to give to the vendor for a toughness increase. Pentagrams are common, with skeletons and blood from heavily implied human sacrifices perched nearby. You’ll fight skeletons and demons, mostly toward the end of the game. While your magic is limited to pedestrian elemental spells, evidence of summoning and other occult magic is everywhere – though it’s plainly obvious it didn’t do anyone any good. Some text references a pantheon of gods, but never gets specific – though some statues carry what looks to be a Christian cross. Mild swears, such as *ss and b*stard, are present but very infrequent. It’s also worth mentioning, though not necessarily a moral issue, that any arachnophobes should stay far, far away from Castle Torgeath.

Overall, Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness is a competent blend of a few different gameplay mechanics that might get stale but never fall apart completely. While the game's true strength is in the exploration, the combat never detracts too much until perhaps the very end; to its credit, the world was compelling enough to continue searching through even when the actual fighting was nothing but a detriment. At a more than fair $7.99 price point, and with game updates and balancing still coming through the pipeline, stepping into Castle Torgeath may very well be worth your while.

-Cadogan

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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