Monday 21 August 2023

Testament: The Order of High Human Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

While I have a fondness for mid-market, smaller scale titles, Testament falls a little limp in too many places for me to be able to recommend it. As an action game, it feels light and low on impact. As a story, I was left a bit underwhelmed too often. The stealth elements are hard to engage with. The RPG systems a bit arbitrary. Yet, it does have some good, even great aspects to it. So, I am more sad than incredulous at Testament.

As I try to get my thoughts straight about what Testament is, it occurs to me that it’s a good demonstration why I feel it falls short. I should start with things I’m sure of, however, and say that it is a first-person, action-adventure in a dark fantasy setting. Looking at the developer, Fairyship Games, website, and the website for Testament itself, this seems to be an attempt to create a series of games about the land of Tessara with all these odd moving parts. There’re divine lords, orc-like humanoids, more recognisable animalia, and strange unnatural aberrations, as well as different spiritual powers and sects. It washed over me, but it’s spirited enough and done with some degree of enthusiasm and conviction. It very rarely, however, made too much sense. You play as Aran (a sort of gruff fallen angel-lord type; bit earnest, bit vague) who has lost his powers and has been captured by a talking tree. I felt there might be a creepy woodland vibe for the whole game, but it shifts about to different locales.

The visuals are great. Not amazingly cohesive, but it has an atmosphere. There’s a tonne of slick wetness, bloom and brightness going on. Very flashy use of effects. I enjoyed the dingy caves and manky woods, more than the temples and mountains. Visually, the GUI and HUD are ugly, and break the gains of the nice art and design, sadly.

Similarly, the writing plays coy and vague, wasting any good ideas hiding in the world. Throwing around unestablished lore and world-building with no context. With little or no connection, sympathy, information, or motivation to be or help, at least, Aran move forward on his quest, I hoped to find fun in the gameplay and have the story be a bumbling side-dish. Your daily bread is first person action, mostly swords and arrows. These both feel damp and too light when executed and when they land. With little feedback, it did dirty on some good, fun villain designs. I rarely felt weight or result of action. Stealth can be employed to clear areas of enemies, but it becomes a bit of a guessing game with hard to ascertain distances of awareness and sloppy AI.

A real shock here, for me, was that one of the more enjoyable parts of Testament were platforming sections. What’s that? First-person platforming sections? No, I’m not a High Human (yuk yuk). There are some genuinely creative platforming sections with some interesting environmental puzzles. No, it doesn’t feel as good as Dying Light or Mirror’s Edge or something like that, but for a game that has so much spaghetti thrown at the wall, this one of the bits that has stuck.

Progression is blocked by bosses that what you might expect. A bigger, tougher version of a mob, or a big creature. These were mostly frustrating, exposing some of the lack of interaction between stamina, energy, health, and attack styles systems. The challenge is in the wrong place; rather than feeling as if I was losing a skill battle, I felt like I’d been given poorly optimised tools to do the job with.

As I trundled through Testament, I did lose interest I’m afraid and did fail to finish. A final criticism is the length, which is a co-morbidity of the pacing of the story. It struggled to move me to investment, as there was only so long I could be sort of into it. The world looks fun and there is something lurking back there, but too many dull systems amounted to a misfire here. I hope that the dev looks to tighten the focus of any future titles. Testament could have been a quite engaging action story if it were half the time and markedly less flabby.

Overall 5/10

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