Portal Knights Early Access: Familiar, Frantic, Fun
Portal Knights, the highly-anticipated free-form game from Keen Games, has finally been released for early access, and is already one of the best sellers on Steam. Taking inspiration from Minecraft, Zelda, and open world games of all types, Portal Knights manages to be unique and interesting enough within a well-worn formula to have broad appeal, even though the game itself feels a little unfinished (and it is -- the game is currently in early access, so buyer beware).
Thinking with portals
The central idea of Portal Knights is pretty straightforward – the world has been shattered into a bunch of smaller islands that are only accessible with portals, and knights – like yourself – are needed to defeat the baddies defending them.
Your knight does this through a variety of familiar activities -- chopping down trees to make shelter and tools, mining stone and ore to make weapons, and fighting the wandering mobs who always show up at the worst possible time to ruin your intricately designed summer home.
You can choose from one of three classes –warrior, ranger, and mage – who play more or less like you expect them to. As you level, you can choose skills that help you fight, or mine, or loot, but generally the classes are good at what you think they're good at -- warriors are tough and fight, rangers are quick and fight from range, and wizards blast thing with spells.
If building is more your thing, you can probably stick with the starter island, but most players will want to explore. You do that by gathering portal stones and opening a doorway to the next island -- these are randomly generated, making for pretty much infinite exploration opportunities.
If you get far enough, you have to face some nasty bosses -- the fights are fun, if a little repetitive, but it's nice to have something to work toward.
The same, but different
If this sounds a lot like Minecraft to you, you wouldn't be far off -- a lot of the key components are basically the same. You build, you farm, you fight, you explore.
That being said, there are definitely enough differences to make Portal Knights stand out.
For one, your avatar is significantly more customizable than in Minecraft, both at the start and in terms of clothing (and it's a lot less blocky, for that matter) -- the models of Portal Knights are a lot less angular and more textured, though some people find that element of Minecraft charming. The cutesy look might not be for everyone, but the world feels a lot less like it's fighting against its own geometry.
The combat is also a lot more intuitive and engaging thanMinecraft -- there are more abilities, your character can lock on and roll, and you can play from first or third person.
To be clear, these aren't earth-shattering differences, but they do distinguish Portal Knights from its inspiration, and make this less of a rip-off and more of an homage.
Still a little rough around the edges
While Portal Knights has a lot going for it, it should be mentioned that the game is still in early access and is unfinished in places. The crafting system is shallow and it's pretty easy to blow through all the content and find yourself with nothing to do -- assuming that exploration and building aren't enough to keep you busy.
It might be worth waiting until Keen Games has had a little time to iron out the bugs for Portal Knights, but the game has a lot going for it, if you keep your expectations in line. Even though it's hard to articulate what makes it different from other games in the genre, it feels and plays differently. The controls are solid and the UI is intuitive, and it's very easy to get sucked into hours of exploring gathering, and building, which is what we're all after, right?