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Friday, March 9, 2018

Wellspring (Bevontule) - The Friday FREE GAME Feature!


Open world exploration meets tactical turn-based combat in this modernized CRPG.

Wellspring: Altar of Roots (formerly known as Bevontule) is a fantasy RPG being created by Multithreaded Games and currently has a playable demo. You play as a trio of adventurers investigating a strange event which caused a ship to crash. Along the way, you'll explore mysterious ruins, collect treasure, battle an assortment of monsters and learn more about both the world setting and your characters' motivations.



As is customary with newer RPGs, the world is readily accessible for you to explore. You control and see just one member of the trio during exploration, though the other party members are with you at all times. The world is packed with secluded areas, ruins and other features, but is laid out in such a way you don't feel overwhelmed. In terms of level design, it's smartly built and reminds me a bit of the Gothic series. Unfortunately, you don't have the freedom of movement found in many open world games, as climbing and even jumping aren't part of your repertoire. In this way, Wellspring feels a little more like an early BioWare or Witcher game, which are admittedly still good even with restricted movement. Since extra mobility also means added challenges in level design, there's good reason for keeping characters rooted to the ground.

While exploration takes a more modern approach, Wellspring's combat finds influence from the early days of graphical RPGs, opting for tactical turn-based combat. Encountering an enemy loads a combat screen with surroundings similar (but not exact) to where you're currently exploring. Just as one character represents the group in the open world, a single monster may represent several enemies once combat begins. A turn order appears on the right hand side of the screen, allowing you to know when each participant acts next.

Paying attention to the turn order and what abilities your enemies are executing is very important. Powerful abilities (both for your characters and enemy mobs) typically take extra time to complete. Maneuvering to keep your targets in range (as well as to avoid enemy attacks) takes a little getting used to, but is a crucial to your success against the tougher encounters.

Using a modern engine, distance is literal instead of using a square or hex grid like in games of the past. Each ability has a range which is graphically represented by a ring centered over your character (a feature found in modern "tactics" games). While it's no surprise that melee attacks have a short range, melee-heavy encounters quickly turn messy as everyone's grouped so close together. At first I was bothered by this, but I soon realized it is more accurate than the neat and tidy look of every character in its own square found in older titles. In all, combat retains the feel of classic tactical RPGs.

There's a lot more packed into the Wellspring demo than a couple of ample-sized zones to explore. Your trio of characters each have their own skill tree with both passive and active effects for them to obtain. At the early levels (aka this demo's content), picking and using new skills seems fairly simple, but the information available hints at a deeper system later on. For example, "Upgrade" is listed as an option for skills, but doesn't seem to work yet. In addition, characters have an equip limit on skills, meaning you'll eventually have a limited loadout.

Your party of characters are pre-defined (as opposed to player-created), but the game is telling a specific story and this allows for a more coherent experience. Dialogue between the characters and NPCs are chock full of references to factions, locations and events pertaining to the setting. This gives you the feeling of being in a large, lore-filled world with a rich history, which is a great way to tease what Wellspring has in store. I found the trio of characters quite interesting, as they don't fit the stereotypical hero theme. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that two of them are possibly underlings of a crime boss or despot, and they aren't necessarily good guys.

Speaking of dialogue, you're going to want to pay full attention to your interaction with NPCs and probably even keep a notebook handy. Quests are delivered through dialogue which seemingly can't be repeated, and the game currently doesn't have a quest log. I'm not certain if this is an intentional decision or an unimplemented feature, but the lack of a quest log is notably jarring, even to someone like me who loves games that "don't hold your hand". I can't imagine this game being remotely playable without a walkthrough should you ever take an extended break from it and/or not take notes outside of the game. I'm really hoping a quest log (or at least an in-game note feature) is implemented, as there's really no good reason for excluding it in today's games.

Since the game is only in a playable demo state, I'm not sure if it's relevant to discuss audiovisual elements as they are highly subject to change. I'll compromise by being brief - the graphics aren't cutting edge, but they are totally acceptable for a demo. The music feels a little too modern for what seems to be a primarily fantasy setting, but it's far from the worst thing ever.

Overall, the Wellspring demo is fairly impressive and I'm really hoping to see the project become a full-fledged game. It's definitely worth checking out if you like turn-based tactic RPGs with a focus on the story.

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