Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition

Review by Toger
April 2005

For nearly 300 years, Taryn Arkor ruled the Heretic Kingdoms with an iron hand. Cruel and tyrannical, his reign as Theocrat was not only a hardship for his subjects; the female descendants of his line were sacrificed in order to preserve his power and rule. The source of his supremacy is an immensely powerful sword known as the Godslayer, which is said to have slain the God of the Land.

Unwilling to allow his reign of terror to continue further, rebels plotted Taryn's assassination and the destruction of the Godslayer. Unable to destroy the Godslayer, the rebels have hidden the mighty sword from any who would attempt to, once again, take it up as a symbol of religious power and authority. As peace returns to the Heretic Kingdoms, the Inquisition takes hold to stamp out all religion in order to maintain that tenuous peace.

One day, the protectors of the Godslayer are murdered and the sword stolen. Determined to prevent the rise of any who would lay claim to the sword's power, the Inquisition sets out to find and destroy the sword, once and for all. Thus begins an epic adventure for our young Inquisitor initiate. It's up to her, and you, to destroy the sword. Or will she take up the sword and proclaim herself God?

Developed by 3D People, Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition is a combat-based isometric RPG similar to the granddaddy of all action/RPGs, Diablo. Now, before you commence to groaning that's it just another hack 'n' slash, I want you know that there are several features that vastly differentiate Heretic Kingdoms from other games in this genre. So, stick with me and read on ...

The game's mechanics are fairly standard RPG fare, with the majority of tasks accomplished via a left mouse click—equipping items, moving from one place to another, managing your inventory and chatting with the various NPCs that you'll meet—while a right-click is used to attack. Hold down the right mouse button to keep attacking or the left mouse button to move continuously toward the cursor. I, myself, preferred using the single-point-and-click method of moving, as I always seemed to get hung up on a piece of background when constantly moving.

You'll also use several keyboard commands for items dropped into quick slots—great for swapping out weapons or healing on the fly—or to access your character sheet, inventory, quests and attunements. (I can see that questioning look. Attunements? We'll talk about those in just a bit.) There's also a keyboard command for a minimap, but it didn't seem to work. All I got was a blank square where the map belonged. As of this writing, there is a v1.5 beta patch that's supposed to fix the map malfunction and a couple of other items, but I'd already finished the game by the time the patch was released.

Speaking of the minimap, most of the game areas are relatively small, so a map isn't really required. However, once I reached the city of Kyallisar, a map would have been handy, as that city is fairly large and somewhat complex. Good thing the city has "street" signs and I have a decent sense of direction.

I should also mention the limited inventory—there are only 16 slots available initially. You will find or be able to buy bags and pouches that will increase your ability to carry more treasure. There are also opportunities to purchase a house that, along with a bed to rest for the night, will include a rather large chest in which to store various items. One issue of carrying bags/pouches is that any quest items stored within the bag aren't recognized as being in your possession. What that means is if you've retrieved the herbs required to save the magistrate's son and stored them in a bag, the dialogue option to give those herbs to the magistrate won't appear until you've moved the herbs back into your main inventory. A small niggle, to be sure.

Heretic Kingdoms' combat is real-time and fairly streamlined. If using ranged attacks, you never have to worry about running out of arrows. Using magic? You'll never run out of mana, as magic doesn't depend on it to function. Just aim, cast, wait for the spell to recharge and cast again. Just don't stand still while you're waiting for that magical item to recharge. Actually, it's best if you don't stand still for any reason, especially if you're new to a particular location, because it's a sure way to get yourself killed.

For me, this meant coming up with an actual strategy instead of just wading into combat and wildly swinging, hoping to make the best of a bad situation. The best strategy in the beginning of the game, while not the most satisfying, is "hit and run."

Saving in Heretic Kingdoms will be different from what you've seen before. You can save anywhere, but you cannot save over a previous file, as the game time-stamps and names each save based on the current area and the in-game day/time. There's also a limit to the number of saves you can store in the save subdirectory. (If you the play like I do and save after each skirmish, you'll end up with a multitude of save files.) On the upside, the game does autosave after the completion of each quest.

As with most games in this genre, you'll be asked to choose the element—fire, air, earth or water—with which you wish to align yourself. Unlike those other games, at no point are you locked into any specific element; you can even elect to wield an element-neutral weapon. Any weapons you already possess can also have their elements changed by a mage, for a small fee.

Attunements are where Heretic Kingdoms veers wildly to the left with regard to other action RPGs; think of attunements as skills. In other games, you only acquire skills as you level; in Heretic Kingdoms, you obtain skills by actually using items that you find or buy. Every piece of equipment—be it armor, weapon or jewelry—has an attunement connected to it. Once you've used that piece of equipment long enough and met its specific requirement, you unlock the associated attunement and are able to tap into that skill at any time, even if you get rid of the item linked to that attunement. Sounds confusing, doesn't it?

As an example: you're using a militia bow that carries the air element. As you use the bow, you'll notice that the attribute for the bow shows a percentage that increases with use. Once you hit 100%, you'll unlock the Thunder Arrow attunement, which you can then choose as an "Active Attunement" the next time you rest for the night. When you have Thunder Arrow active and are carrying any type of bow, your arrow will momentarily stun your opponents for a small amount of time. If you're carrying a sword or mage's wand, then that particular attunement is useless. There are approximately 100 possible attunements.

Since you're limited in the total number of simultaneous active attunements, a large part of the strategy of Heretic Kingdoms is deciding which attunements to activate. As you advance in levels, the number of concurrent active attunements increases. I know it seems confusing, but it really does become clearer once you've played around with a couple of items and have actually unlocked an attunement or two.

Another novel feature is the Dreamworld, which is a parallel universe that's inhabited by ghosts and other noncorporeal entities. You can freely travel between the two worlds, even during combat, and for some quests this will be necessary. You can use the Dreamworld as a quick exit if things aren't going your way during a battle; however, it's entirely possible that you'll find it's not exactly the safe haven you thought.

Wandering through the Dreamworld, you'll find special locations called "hex marks" where you can pick up additional advancement points that go toward raising your stats. The critters in this world won't drop treasure, but they will release Essence when you dispatch them. Essence will help you unlock attunements faster than normal, so you'll want to be sure to explore both worlds in all locations.

Another difference is the way healing is handled. In other games, you'll buy or collect hundreds of elixirs to quaff during combat to keep you at full health. In Heretic Kingdoms, your healing item is limitless. However (there's always a "however"), every time you restore hit points, your Blood Points (maximum health) will reduce by a proportional amount. Basically, it boils down to the fact that each time you have to heal in the field, you'll get a little weaker, so it behooves you to have a definite combat strategy. Restoring your hit and blood points to their maximum requires resting overnight at a campfire or in a warm bed.

Voice work, superbly done by Tom Baker, is limited to narration during cutscenes. All other characters are heard primarily through grunts and groans while taking damage during combat. I enjoyed the variety of ambient sounds: birds singing, water rushing headlong down a river, my character's footsteps crunching ice and snow, the wind blowing in the open expanses of the plains and the satisfying "thunk" of an arrow finding its intended target.

Music for Heretic Kingdoms is symphonic and fairly unobtrusive. Unless I heard the music ramping up to indicate combat, I really didn't notice it. In all honesty, the music's crescendo signaling combat was a great help to let me know when to nock another arrow!

Graphically, Heretic Kingdoms is rather pretty with its prerendered 2D backgrounds and fully animated 3D models. There's an amazing amount of detail to be seen: butterflies flit through the forest, chickens peck in a barnyard, trees and grasses blow in the wind, smoke curls from chimneys and fish flop in baskets in the bustling market as they await a lucky customer. The default view is top-down and high above the action, but you can zoom in for a closer look by using the mouse wheel.

There are a variety of locales that include the barren, wind-swept Sura Wastes, the frozen, desolate expanses of the Red Smoke Mountains and the lush, wooded areas surrounding the village of Arethen. You'll also witness the regular cycle of night and day and changes in the weather.

Spell effects are striking. I was particularly partial to the attunement "combustion," which set enemies ablaze in a huge ball o'fire. Also, your character's avatar will change appearance based on the weapons and/or armor that you're currently wearing.

The hand-drawn cutscenes really "rocked my world." Instead of the heavily computer-animated cutscenes you'll find in other games, Heretic Kingdoms sports gorgeous, soft, colored pen-and-ink static scenes that serve to highlight the narrative. I found myself clapping like a schoolgirl each time I realized more exposition was imminent.

When I first began to play, I complained that I wanted the ability to make my responses more or less snarky, but then I realized that would have made the game just like any other. The fact that the main character comes across as having "seen it all before" was much more realistic. Some of her responses to situations made me laugh out loud.

I also enjoyed Heretic Kingdoms' story. While a good number of games' stories rely strictly on good versus evil, this game seeks to let you make your own choices. The marketing blurb on the box states that all of your actions will have consequences within the game world; however, some of those choices are so subtly integrated into the story, you won't realize you've made a definitive choice until you're affected by it later in the game.

Overall, Heretic Kingdoms is fun, fun, fun and destined to be a sleeper hit. The few niggles—lack of a functioning map, long load times later in the game and the fact that the game is a bit unbalanced at the beginning—never really affected my enjoyment of the game. With its engaging story and completely different skill system, it's definitely worth your while to pick it up and play. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: 3D People/Merscom
Publisher: Got Game (North America)
Release Date: April 2005

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

1.2 GHz Intel compatible processor (1.6 GHz recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB DirectX 8.1 compatible graphic card (64 MB recommended)
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP (2000/XP recommended)
DirectX 9.0a or later
2 GB free hard drive space
CD-ROM drive

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