‘Stories: The Path of Destinies’ Video Game Review
The Indie gaming scene these days is the place to go for an injection of truly innovative and interesting games to inoculate yourself from the big-name gaming industry’s spreading plague of sequelitis. One such Indie developer is Spearhead Games, a group of developers that left Ubisoft Montreal back in 2011 and has released three games since 2013. Their latest release, Stories: The Path of Destinies, is a great game that probably flew under your radar. So kick back and hear the tale of this wonderful, possibly overlooked, gem.
Easily, the first thing that will jump out at you about Stories are the visuals. The stages in which you control Reynardo, the cycloptic, roguish anthropomorphic fox who has recently come out of retirement, are brought to life using a vibrantly colored and crisp cel-shaded style à la The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The visuals are beautiful and you can tell that lots of love and care went into fleshing out the world that Spearhead Games has created.
The whimsical music throughout the game works to further establish the tone and the game keeps its narrative going by the use of a narrator. The narrator is engaging and does a great job of voicing all the different characters, like the reader in an audiobook, and the developer’s humor shows through with witty comments and jokes throughout the game, similar to the narrator in The Stanley Parable.
Speaking of Zelda, the gameplay can be thought of as a mixture between the hack-and-slash action (even including a hookshot-like item used for platforming and combat) from the Zelda titles mixed with the leveling and countering system from the Batman Arkham series. You counter by moving your control stick and hitting the attack button toward the attacker who is identified with an exclamation point over their head. This is easy while one-on-one, but when you have two or more enemies attacking you in rapid succession it can be quite the challenge. The importance of countering definitely increases as the game starts throwing larger hordes of enemies at you.
When combat ends, you gain experience that is predicated on how well you performed. The combat experience you receive is based on how many foes you fought, the longest combo you achieved, the style, and if you were hit. Style is the one area you can really shine by using different tactics in combat. The use of actions, such as using the hook to rip a shield from your enemy or grabbing and throwing him over a ledge, earns you more style experience.
The experience you gain through combat gives you skill points that are used to increase your skills through four tiers that are unlocked as you proceed through the game. The kicker is that you have to find an altar to use the skill points you earn and actually gain new abilities. There is at least one altar in most levels and you will get an arrow pointing in the direction of the next one whenever you gain a new skill point.
Along with the leveling of Reynardo himself, you can use crafting tables you encounter in the world to upgrade and create new swords. There are four different swords, each with two levels and their own magical ability, that can be created after collecting ore and different essences from treasure chests that you find throughout the levels. Creating the different swords can also be used to unlock doors that are color/elementally coded to each sword to gain access to new areas and chests. The crafting tables are also used to manage your gauntlet which holds up to three Gems that you can usually collect from rare red chests. Each Gem has its own abilities and can become more effective depending on the level of Gem you find.
The combat is fun and the crafting and upgrading system will keep you wanting to crack the skulls of more ravens, but the most interesting part of the game is how it unfolds. Each “Story” is made up of four levels and four decisions the player can make determining what Reynardo’s next action will be. Once you finish your first Story, you will learn a “Truth” and be sent back to the beginning of the game, keeping all the equipment and skills you have unlocked, where you can make alternate decisions that will branch off differently depending on what choices you make. It is important to unlock these Truths because they are how you unlock further tiers in your skill tree. There are 24 different stories that can be completed, which you can do if you wish, but you can also just do the minimum to learn all the Truths and beat the Hero Story to see the canon ending of the game.
Spearhead Games has built an adventure around replaying the same levels with different outcomes based on player decision and it’s truly fascinating. With the option to unlock all the Stories, explore all the levels, and unlock all the skills, the game can last anywhere from 5-7 hours to as long as you wish. There is a lot of replay value in this, but how could there not be since replaying is part of the story! A slight, but ultimately insignificant, downside to the game is that there are only five different foe types. Having so few enemy types can seem like a big problem, but usually they come in waves that make the player strategize to best defeat them in a satisfying way. Overall, Stories: The Path of Destinies is an original experience. Let’s hope that Spearhead Studios can continue with innovative ideas in the future.
Stories: The Path of Destinies was reviewed on PC via Steam and is also available on PlayStation 4. A copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer.