“Leave the familiar world behind and step into the fantastic unknown with Portal Knights!” Well, at least that’s what the game description said. Portal Knights is a Minecraft-esque crafting adventure game developed by Keen Games and published by 505 Games. The game boasts a lot of features along with a more modern look for voxel crafting games, and I for one started to believe that this could very well be Minecraft Plus. Enter a world torn apart by the Fracture, in which you, the Portal Knight, are tasked to reunite the lands and defeat the Portal Guardians– at least after crafting a house or maybe a castle with a nice moat on the side. On paper, the game resembled a hybrid between Diablo, Zelda, and Minecraft, serving a glorious concoction of RPG elements, tactical combat, exploration, and crafting.
At its core, Portal Knights leans closer to its Action RPG roots, rewarding players who explore with an array of secrets, just as games like Diablo would. The game also features your everyday vanilla RPG archetypes (Warrior, Ranger, and Mage), with each class sporting its own weapon proficiency and preferred stats. Characters also level up as they would in action RPGs, unlocking some passive skills via class-specific skill trees and allowing them to effectively combat the game’s many perils. Other than house-building, crafting also plays a huge role into the mix by letting players equip stronger gear and craft various spells that can really aid them in their journey.
Of course, while everything looks great at first glance, what matters is the actual experience. So, how was Portal Knights? Let’s find out!
Forward And Back
Unlike other building games, Portal Knights’ randomly generated worlds are segregated and connected via portals. This means that in order to progress to the next area, players must build portals using the portal shards they acquire from either combat or gathering. Each world has its own set of materials you can use for the various things you can craft, making it a bit of a pain to go back and forth when you run out of certain ore for your recipes.
I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve had to go back to a previous level just for a couple of linen to finish my gear. On the bright side, revisiting an earlier level is as simple as clicking on the map and pressing ‘travel.’ Afterward, you’ll be treated to a loading screen before arriving to your destination. Note that your progress on each world will be saved and will retain most of the changes you’ve implemented even after leaving it. While the whole portal thing isn’t that big of a deal when playing alone, it does become quite bothersome when playing with a group. For some strange reason, the game forces you and your party to always be in the same area, which means that if you hit that travel button, your friends will be teleported along with you. A minor setback, but still a waste of time.
Go Big Or Go Home
If you’re playing with friends, and have a pretty decent rig, I would suggest setting the map scale to large. Small maps don’t offer much to explore and will have little space to work with when building your big projects. Also be careful when digging underground, as one wrong move can often lead to you falling off the map. It’s a big sin to see the edge of the map without the aid of a vista in sandbox building games, and while it does add up to the game’s lore, it’s still just something that limits the player’s creativity.
Pick Up The Pace
Portal Knights doesn’t offer much inventory space for players to effectively gather and loot while adventuring. Even with the inclusion of storage chests, I often found myself scurrying back to camp to unload most of my spoils. Keep in mind that areas are instanced, so you’ll have to teleport back every time you need to access the chests you’ve placed on previous realms. The game’s tiered crafting format also bottlenecks a lot in this aspect, as players would often need the biggest chest available even on early levels, and materials for the bigger ones are not made available until much later in the game. You can always craft a lot of small chests to remedy the situation, but if that’s the case, then what’s the point of wasting higher-tiered materials for a bigger one? Honestly, I couldn’t help but feel that the developers wanted me to proceed at a very slow pace.
The game features a small lineup of bosses known as Portal Guardians, each with their own simple mechanics that make the experience fun the first time you encounter them. There are three bosses in all and most of the mechanics feel the same, with them being untargetable until you hit something on the stage that makes them vulnerable enough for you to hack and slash.
Gameplay – 7/10
The gameplay is fairly easy to get into, and is accessible for kids. You have giant worlds waiting to be explored, with gear level and portal shards as your only hurdle along the way. There’s also no real consequence for dying either, as players will only lose a very small fraction of your gold upon defeat. This is nothing major, as the in-game currency is mostly useless and most of the important items are crafted. Combat is fairly simplistic, and while some enemies require a little strategy, most battles are won just by hacking and slashing.
Innovation – 5/10
As far as innovation goes, the game doesn’t really offer anything mind-blowing. Implementing a Diablo-like leveling system, as well as a skill tree for passives may look good on paper, but I often just found myself repeating the same things over and over. The problem doesn’t lie on its characters though but instead on the enemies, who demand little to no strategy. I know I shouldn’t expect that much combat depth from a building game, but the developers themselves said it featured ‘Tactical Combat.’
The tiered method of crafting also holds its share of ups and downs. While segregating equipment gives players a certain feeling of artisan advancement, I believe it hinders progression a lot more than it promotes it. Expect to spend more time farming earlier levels instead of investing your time on more current stages. The Boss fights are enjoyable, despite them mostly sharing the same mechanic, and they’re still a good break from the regular grind. The game also has its share of live events and quests, which mostly involve killing monsters or crafting something for a certain person. It’s a bit grindy, taking into account that experience points are a lot less valuable than the materials you’ll be using for crafting quests.
Community – 4/10
For something that is advertised as having good online gameplay, Portal Knights kind of lacks online functionality. I can’t say much about the community simply because you can only play with people who are on your friend list. Basically, the community only goes as far as the ones you have added or those who post their accomplishments and creations on the game’s Steam page or Reddit.This system could be greatly improved if it was just a little bit easier to play with other people.
Graphics/Sounds – 7/10
The game’s visuals are amazing and a big leap from other voxel building games. The terrain looks great, almost like a Minecraft for modern systems. My only gripe lies in its way of rendering water, which flows awkwardly on the game’s square-ish soil. To some extent, water functions more like an obstruction to your vision instead of complementing the game’s design.
The background music is forgettable at best, but it does its job of just being there. The sound effects are also quite generic and offer no crunch to each action.
Value for money – 4/10
I think the game’s value depends entirely on the person playing. If you’re not into building games, there are other games out there that justify their price more than this game. That is not to say that Portal Knights is terrible, but the market is already full of other titles that offer more options for people who want to exercise their creativity.
Overall – 5.5/10
If you’re into building games, Portal Knights may disappoint you. It offers much less than similar titles and does a bad job of figuring out what kind of game it truly is. The portal mechanic is annoying and it makes backtracking a chore. It flaunts itself as an online game, but does little to empower its multiplayer functionality. It encourages you to build but does so little to entice you to keep creating due to its poor inventory system and badly implemented tiered crafting.
It has scattered and finite resources that can create a huge problem, as there’s barely enough minerals to keep you building without compromising your character’s equipment. It’s a huge grind, with players spending more time looking for materials and backtracking than actually building things. The game feels raw, and I really hope they offer more updates in the future to smooth out its issues.