For many of you the story behind Balrum will sound all too familiar – An indie team set out to build an RPG, promising ye olde RPG experience all but forgotten today. However, unlike the dime a dozen RPG Maker clones so often seen on Steam Greenlight, the game isn’t merely cashing in on nostalgia; instead it’s a true love letter to the open world RPGs of yesteryear.
To be blunt, Balrum is about as Ultima as you can get without Lord British putting in an appearance. From the isometric view and menu, to the complex if a little overcomplicated systems, every part of this screams mid-90s RPG and comes with all the freedom those games were famed for. Set off in one direction and there is no telling what you’ll bump into, as the setting is packed to the gills with major discoveries to be made while walking across the continent. While there’s certainly a world-ending plot tying everything together, the sheer variety of secrets, tomes of lore and minor sub-quests are what will keep you hooked for hours on end.
Oddly enough for a game of this nature, the harvesting mechanics are where it truly shines. This is a crafting fanatic’s wet dream, and the extremely detailed and dynamic item forging and farming mechanics can produce no end of new items. Even in the starting village, just wandering slightly off the beaten path will reward you with no end of raw materials to work with. This focus overrides the normal murder-boss-take-loot themes dominant in so many games today; going hand in hand with the dynamic environmental shifts and survival mechanics, it gives Balrum a very distinct feel bereft in so many modern Elder Scrolls style big budget releases.
Unfortunately Balrum’s flaws quickly begin to show the moment you push past exploration and into combat. Simply put, if you were hoping for dynamic or tactical battles, you’re going to be fresh out of luck here, as it all boils down to full-on slugging matches. Short of spamming a single effective attack much of the time, occasionally complimented by being drip fed healing potions, there’s little choice to be had in these fights. This might have been mitigated by a rapid scaling system or multiple characters, but the glacial pace and lack of companions (barring one pet) makes this flaw all the more obvious.
Still, the bad certainly doesn’t wash out the good here. While it will certainly be an acquired taste, fans of Arcanum, Eschalon and Divine Divinity would do well to grab this one at the earliest opportunity. At its current price, there are few better bargains to be found on Steam.
BALRUM / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: BALCONY TEAM / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW