Game: Rimelands: Hammer of Thor
Genre: Turn-based dice RPG
System: Nintendo Switch (also on iOS)
Developer/Publisher: KYY Games | Qubic Games
Age Rating: EU: 7+| US: 10+
Price: £ 8.99 | $ 9.99 | € 9,99
Release Date: 4th October 2019
Review code courtesy of Qubic Games.
What attracted me to Rimelands: Hammer of Thor, the first game in a proposed series, was its genre and setting: a dice-based RPG unfolding in a steampunk world with Norse mythology. The protagonist is Redheaded Rose Cristo. Her grandma, who sends her on quests, reminds me of a wolf in disguise. Intrigued? So was I, but it went somewhat downhill from there.
The Switch port of a 2010 iPhone game, Rimelands boasts a well-designed combat system in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons. However, 9 years after its original release, this RPG feels graphically dated and short on variety.
Dice, dice, baby
For an RPG, Rimelands has some unexpected mechanics that I liked. But first, I should briefly explain its combat system, the real meat of the game.
Here are the basic principles regardless of which character path you choose—Barbarian, Assassin, or Shaman:
Attackers and defenders each roll a set of dice, which result in a combination of skulls, shields, or misses. While attacking you hope to roll more skulls than your opponent’s shields. If skulls exceed shields, you inflict damage. Correspondingly, while defending you try to roll as many shields as your opponent’s skulls, to successfully execute a block.
Now if it were all down to luck, combat would be exceedingly boring, wouldn’t it? But you’re given ways to influence the dice: through re-rolls, skills, and equipment.
For instance, you can always make one re-roll, at the cost of a Mana point—the game’s most important resource. But do you really want to use up precious Mana? Skills, acquired as you level up, can also lead to re-rolls—but again, at the cost of Mana points. Drinking potions will restore your Mana back to the maximum of five points, but you’ll still want to steward these carefully.
Beautifully simple and tight, but repetitive
I liked three design decisions which made the combat well-balanced.
The first was being able to switch equipment on the fly. In a typical D&D-style RPG (the classic Baldur’s Gate, for example), you can’t swap armor while in combat. But in Rimelands you can. In fact, you should switch armor, weapons, and accessories to tackle different kinds of enemies, depending on whether their attack style is melee, ranged, or magic. This keeps you on your toes. It also ensures that the game’s abundance of loot isn’t all redundant, since it’s best to have a spread of equipment at hand and not just your favorite pistol.
Secondly, there are two kinds of actions: actions that end your turn and actions that don’t. The latter type—such as drinking potions and changing equipment—are basically “free” actions, and they keep combat manageable.
Lastly, I liked being able to auto-regenerate health and Mana outside of combat. This keeps the game from being grindy; and in fact, you can’t grind because enemies don’t respawn once you’ve killed them.
Unfortunately, despite the game’s virtues—a good combat system, a lovely spread of randomized loot, and the choice between three skill paths—I began to lose a sense of curiosity mid-game.
Boredom set in halfway, after I had mastered certain Assassin skills. These skills, pitted against not-too-clever AI, let me easily tackle nearly all the enemies and bosses. By “easily,” I don’t mean that battles ended quickly. Rather, I had an effective but boring strategy that deployed the same sequence of actions again and again on paralyzed foes. It took at least four monotonous turns to dispatch an enemy. In other words: easy but tedious.
The boredom was also due to an overall lack of variety in enemies, specifically their skills, attack patterns, and immunities.
Combat aside, I also found hits and misses with other aspects of Rimelands: Hammer of Thor.
The music was a hit; the orchestral ambience compensated somewhat for aged 3D graphics. Back in 2010, the game probably looked marvelous on the iPhone. But the visuals are jarringly dated now compared to other Switch releases, including ports of older games. It doesn’t help that the areas in Rimelands are lacking in visual variety. One dungeon looks like another; one building looks like another.
The storytelling—both plot and dialogue—had lots of potential but flopped. While I take no issue with light storytelling or sparse dialogue, Rimelands’ exposition was a tad too speedy. It failed to create believable characters and a believable world in which Thor and fairies both exist. There were too many disparate story elements with too few connections. I was often left asking, “Wait, what just happened? Who? What? Why?”
I also encountered an issue with saving. Presumably, you can save any time outside of combat. However, I occasionally reloaded a game only to find myself in a slightly different situation. For example, after one reload, I appeared to be standing a familiar room; but the room had switched angle, the newly defeated enemies had respawned, and I was missing a new piece of armor. I had to fight those enemies again and reclaim the armor from a treasure chest. So I began to doubt the save function’s reliability.
Lastly—and this is a very minor issue—during the game’s first hour, I couldn’t figure out how to switch back from a ranged weapon to a melee weapon. It turns out: to make a melee attack, I simply needed to stand adjacent to the enemy and move in his direction (or tap him on the touchscreen). Secondly, I also didn’t know how to craft items from the Engineering screen until I realized that holding down the “A” button (or touchscreen) would do the trick. In both cases, a friendly tutorial reminder would have helped, and I suspect there wasn’t one because iPhone players would have figured this out intuitively by using their touchscreens.
Rimelands: Hammer of Thor was good for its original time and platform but will struggle to compete with other light RPGs on the Switch.
This game could be for you if you’re looking for something wholly combat-focused and if you might enjoy a dice-based system. It’s not for you if eye candy and storytelling matter.
8 hours isn’t a risky time investment. But I hesitate to recommend buying the game at full price when its decent combat system is the only real draw and yet failed to sustain my interest mid-way.
If Rimelands sees a second episode, I’d give it a shot if there are major improvements in the graphics, variety of enemies and environments, and storytelling.
Verdict: Not sure