On first look, Portal Knights screams similarities to Minecraft. It looks blocky, you can build and craft stuff and there is some rudimentary combat. In truth, it’s probably more akin to Dragon Quest Builders (itself compared to Minecraft) but given the cutesy characters and third person point of view, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the same game.
The aim of the game is basically to just build stuff and be a badass. Story threads are light, and there is more sandbox than story. As you start, you’ll pick one of three classes and give yourself an appropriate skin-tone and RPG-obligatory beard, and set off on your adventure to smash things up.
A tutorial by way of initial tasks takes you through the fundamentals, but I quickly became confused at the UI. In truth, I became confused at what sort of game it was at all initially – should I be building stuff or fighting stuff or finding stuff?
And that is my biggest problem with Portal Knights. What exactly are you meant to do? The tutorial level sets the tone. The world is set up in a specific way, and one of the first things you come across is a half built house. One of the tutorial tasks is to put five bricks towards building the house. You do, and it’s done – but there’s more to build. There’s no reason to continue building the house (other than unless your OCD doesn’t let you) and it’s not clear where to go – taking to higher land reveals some objective markers for other parts of your test.
Let’s imagine that you do decide to finish the house (as I did) – after all, being a semi-sandbox game, you surely have it within your gift to do this. But the building and crafting mechanics are a hindrance as much as anything. With the option for a first person view, Portal Knights has you ‘look’ where you want to build. It works like Minecraft really, but you’ll want to be in third person for the combat elements. Even in FPS mode, having to ‘aim’ to place blocks is more challenging that it should be, and I’d find myself placing blocks in the wrong place and having to smash them up to redo.
The crafting mechanic is frankly, awful. Menus and layers within menus make it unclear exactly where you need to look to find things and how you switch between equipping stuff, inventory management and material building. It gets slightly easier as you learn the layout but different use of the triggers to cycle through results in an exercise in frustration rather than intuition.
Exploring is also a bit limited. Unlike Dragon Quest Builders, whilst there is a narrative, the worlds are set in ‘levels’ with predefined objectives and it is challenging to find anything else worth doing aside from the objectives. As such, levels feel a bit sparse. In Dragon Quest there was always a chance you may come across a hidden task. In Minecraft, gems could be found literally anywhere and rewarded exploration.
Further disappointment comes from the combat. Mileage varies slightly depending on class (Ranger, Warrior or Mage) but the experience is much the same – slight annoyance. I played as a Warrior, and the combat mechanic works a lot like Zelda. If you see an enemy you can approach as you’d like, but as soon as you engage in combat it switches to a ‘locked’ view. Here, you can easily skirt around your enemy and dodge, and attack. But this is all that it’s limited to, and combat for me would usually go the same way. I’d run up to an enemy and just hold the Right Trigger to keep spamming my sword until they died. The dodging is the only really skillful element of this, but I quickly managed to break the system. Very early you’ll encounter a low flying enemy. I’d have to jump and slash to hit the enemy, then as I’m locked on, I can’t jump, so am left swinging wildly below. I’d need to disengage lock on, jump, hit, lock on again as that is enabled as soon as you attack, disengage, repeat. Annoying.
Co-op is a redeeming feature, as you can play with up to three friends to explore and build your worlds. RPG elements sit below but are mostly superficial really. As a good introduction to this style of game it is worth a look as it has more structure than Minecraft and is less challenging than Dragon Quest Builders, but ultimately not as good as either.
Reviewed on PS4