On the Right Track

Minecraft has had a pretty big influence on the game scene for a while now, it's design has been copied by various folks and I've always wanted a Minecraft game that's got a point, classes, levelling, structure and more wrapped up in the whole: build things and craft stuff to make you a better explorer.

Enter Portal Knights, which we took a look at a good while ago on PC. Enter Portal Knights for console, specifically in regards to this review - Xbox One.

Fractured But Very Whole

The world of Portal Knights has been broken into shards, bits of displaced landscape created by an event called the Fracture. Fortunately there are dormant portals that link these landscapes together and this is where you come in - as a Portal Knight it's up to you to go swanning off through the nearest portal to discover what lies beyond it. Unlike Minecraft though, this is a structured sandbox adventure game, with RPG elements that tie the whole thing together pretty well.

You create a customised character, male or female, from a variety of features - all in cute-graphics form. I'm reminded of Mii creation on the Nintendo Wii moons ago, only more expansive. You can also pick your class between the classic knight (warrior), ranger (archer), wizard (mage) classes and this determines your starting equipment.

Name your creation and then pick if you want to make a small or large universe to explore.

Then you can dive right into the game, as the terrain/world generator hums away during a portal transition (loading screen) to Squire's Knoll. This level and all following levels are procedurally generated across the board, from landmass to monsters and resources. It follows rules though, so it's not totally random in that regard.

What you get (and I tried 3 different universes) are some varied areas, so you never get the same game more than once.

The Adventure Begins

Once you're in Squire's Knoll, you're free to explore this small(ish) starting area. You can battle the monsters found there, dig down to find various treasure and complete the tutorial tasks that will lead you to your first portal. There's a real sense of 'game' here and the adventure feels fun, fresh and unlike many sandbox crafting games - engaging.

Right from the get-go I found myself drawn toward a large hill, just beyond it was a broken down old farm house with a thatched roof. A tiny dilapidated farm that looked so sad, it needed some love and fortunately formed part of the tutorial area. After around 30m or so it looked a lot better, and provided me with a neat little base of operations from where I could experiment with crafting, building new crafting stations and start to create a small home.

My base after a few hours:

Portal Knights follows the Minecraft style of breaking things to make other things. Pretty soon you can gather the right materials to sort out your busted Workbench, fix it, get it up and running and start crafting other tools that will help you in the long run. The usual stone axe and so on, so you can chop down trees.

As a tip, gather as much raw stone as you can, because Portal Knights has a great way of restoring your tools durability - sharpening stones. They're easy to make, you can carry a lot of them and you only need to use a couple to restore every bit of durability to your equipped tools/weapons in the quick-action bar.

You'll note that you don't have much in the way of weapon, armour, or crafting available to you at the start - this is because you need to jump to a new area that may well have what you need. Each land has a varying spread of materials etc and there are 48 of them to explore, punctuated by actual boss fights that you need to think about rather than just mash attack.

As you defeat enemies they'll usually drop portal shards, these are colour-coded to the various portals that can appear in the land maps. To begin with, blue is the colour that I found the most of and that's what I needed to open up a portal on my starting island.

Once I'd crafted 6 complete Portal Stones I was able to slot them into the portal and BOOM, new world time!

It's OK though, you're never stuck in Portal Knights, you can always fast travel back to the world you set as home and later on you can craft a landing pad that lets you set where you travel back to in that world. The ease of exploration adds to the beauty and simplicity of the game, a game that wants you to have FUN rather than fight it every step of the way.

Fight Fight Fight

Combat in Portal Knights is a joy, it's slick, simple and surprisingly tactical since you have enemies that have various attack patterns, abilities, moves and so forth. You lock on with your left trigger, and then you can pepper the bad guy with arrows, spells, sword blows whilst also dodging at the right time to avoid their attacks.

I'd chosen Sir Bowmanstein, the ranger, so I spend a lot of my time in either first or third (you can switch by clicking in the right stick) person view shooting arrows at my enemies and dodge-rolling around them like a badass.

Fighting gets you loot, coins, portal shards, little hearts to replenish your health if you don't want to use food/potions/magic and XP. Get enough XP and you can level, here you can put points into your stats, lending a very RPG element to the game - rangers do well with agility and so on. Each stat tells you exactly what it's going to do, and how much damage it'll increase for your classes weapon. You're not left in the dark, it's very transparent in that regard - like all the best RPGs.

At various milestones you'll also unlock abilities which change things about the character. As a ranger, I chose one ability that let me gain more power as long as I stood still. My damage increased and I used that power a lot to snipe at enemies from afar.

Boss fights are another matter, they require you to think, sometimes outside the box.

Build Your Character

Portal Knights wins out for me over so many of the sandbox Minecraft-style games because there's character progression, you level, you gain powers, you create new equipment and upgrade your existing crafting stations to allow you to keep taking the fight to more powerful foes as you progress through the 48 worlds on offer. I started out with weak equipment, a weapon that was perfect for the low level enemies in the starting area and I was able to slowly gather what I needed from the other worlds through those portals, building up Sir Bowmanstein to copper weapons and tools, and now iron...

The sense of progression is great here and it's cleverly gated behind the boss of area 1.

Once you're past that boss you'll gain access to area 2, or zone 2 whatever you want to call it. Here I found iron, things changed, my weapons and gear got much much better.

Bowmanstein hit level 14 last night and I realised that I've had a fantastic time with this game.

Making a Home

Portal Knights lets you build to your hearts content, up, down (underground) and has an intuitive system for building that is similar, yet better than Minecraft due to an enhanced build distance and procedural texturing. You can construct some pretty elaborate things in Portal Knights and you can build fairly high towers just by standing on the floor, cutting down on the amount of time that you need to make makeshift building platforms out of dirt to get the build you want.

I love making castle/keep style structures, so when I made a furnace that let me combine stone and dirt to craft up some neat building materials that was it. I had to make a tower.

I was able to use the same blocks to craft up a path as well.

It's because Portal Knights has procedural textures that know what a particular element is supposed to look like. It'll create a cobbled surface for a floor for example, but the same block will also texture as a ceiling correctly, as well as walls too. Put a hole in, then you'll get a nice keep-style window complete with the correct texture to give it a lintel and so on.

It makes building in the game a lot of fun, and also makes it extremely rewarding.

Eventful

Portal Knights also has events that trigger on different maps, you'll see them pop up on your expansive world map and can travel there to participate. You may have to kill x-bad guys in a certain time, or find a hidden treasure chest. These events add spice to the whole thing and you get loot/XP as a reward.

Quests

There are minor quests out there given by various NPCs that you can find. Again, these offer different rewards and can sometimes unlock cool new blueprints that give you new items or decorative features for your home.

All for One

You can play the game solo, or couch co-op with a friend, or you can jump online with up to 3 other friends and explore the worlds of Portal Knights together. I'm a big co-op game fan so the latter makes me extremely happy when it shows up in a game.

Curious Worlds

Portal Knights has a lovely cartoon-esque design to the graphics, from the cute characters, to the worlds themselves. It has full day/night cycles, weather and some of these things tie into the event system as well. It runs at a lovely clip on the Xbox One and I've not seen any slowdown, on the trial I had some, with crashes, but the full game especially now there's a Day One patch has provided me with hours of bug free fun and frolics amongst 13 or so worlds so far.

It's a joy to explore above and below ground.

Sound of Portals

The music is themed to each world and changes based on the area, or if you're in combat, the sound design is solid and there's a great set of ambient sounds that kick in when you're in various areas. The sound set used for dungeons is particularly creepy and adds to the atmosphere of those locations perfectly. There's some voice, in a Sims-esque manner providing accompaniment to the RPG style text dialogue that pops up when you talk to an NPC.

A Knight For Adventure

I've not had this much fun with any Minecraft style game for a while now, and the clever design of Portal Knights in terms of how it offers the adventure keeps me jumping back in. I take a break now and then to add a bit more to my home area, craft a few more bits of equipment when I have my resources and look to improving my storage at my home workshop.

When a game can draw you in like this and the minutes turn into hours, you know you've got a good game with a solid foundation that the developers keep on building atop of. I've seen Portal Knights transform from the PC original build to where it is today, and honestly, I can't wait to see what they do next!

Now, it's time to go and build another wing on my farm. Which now looks like this: