If there’s one thing that old school RPG fans like to do, it’s to tell the whipper snappers out there that RPGs were better back when it was also top down, isometric, and sometimes even turned based. InXile and Obsidian led the charge a few years back with the mighty Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity, while Harebrained Schemes relentlessly threw Shadowrun game after Shadowrun game at us. Those of us who truly feared 3D and ray tracing in our graphics had a safe refuge. So, what does Seven: Enhanced Edition bring to the table?
S:EE is a remastering of Seven: The Days Long Gone, which was released in 2017 to a fair bit of acclaim. With it’s bright cell shaded looks that gloss over what is the dark and gritty world of the prison island of Peh, you take on the role of Teriel; a master criminal. But not masterful enough to not get his shit fried in the first ten minutes and incarcerated on an island that’s locked down by brutal guards and visa passes that prevent you from unregulated (official) travel. Oh, and there’s the matter of the daemon in his head manipulating him for his own nefarious ends. You know, another day at the office.
As the story unfolds you learn that current day civilization bows down to Drugun, a god-like figure responsible for the advent of the new technological age that humanity finds itself in after almost coming to the brink of destruction in ages past, which The Days Long Gone suffix of the original game references. Strewn throughout the game are his toughs, that rule the island of Peh with a brutal Technomagical fist, as well as the Biomancers; a faction of devoted to Drugun that spew religious ravings to anyone who will listen.
And this is the crowning glory of S:EE. The world of the Vetrall Empire, the lore, the juxtaposition of high tech futurism against the brutality of prison life and the hopelessness of the slums is expertly woven together to create a truly fascinating world. You could stick your head into a bucket of the lore and not come up for months. The memories section of the menu screen is regularly updated with information about characters, factions, enemies, technology and more besides that flesh out the world and really allow you to melt into it.
S:EE wants to be many things. As a self-described “open world, isometric stealth and action roleplaying game” it’s certainly casting it’s net wide and pays homage to a slew of games from the past. As a master thief Teriel is blessed with cat-like reflexes which allow him to run, jump and climb his way over almost any obstacle. The parkour element is very reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed and original Thief series, albeit from a different angle. I remember the first time I was able to make Ezio dance his way across the rooftops from rooftop to rope to shop sign, or have Garret whisk himself away into the dead of night to avoid a horde of roving guards.
Teriel can stand up to both stealth icons. The character movement is fluid and for the most part it’s easy to tell what you can run on and what will provide you with a quick path to the load screen. Because you will die in the early game. A lot. While intuitive, creating the smooth runs of isometric tomfoolery that the sample videos show for the game takes a surprising amount of effort. Delivering a world that’s explorable through freeform player exploration works sublimely well through some terrifically varied environments. One moment you’ll be sneaking through bushes in a rich man’s garden to steal a shiny knick knack, the next you’ll be in the sewers wandering past cart loads of corpses.
S:EE begins to show it’s cracks when the meat and potatoes of the gameplay and UI come to bear. The menu and inventory system is a good decade out of date with an inventory system that decided to put the character loadout and the rest of the inventory on two separate screens so actually gearing Teriel is a complete pain in the ass. The UI, to it’s credit is sleek and vibrant, the health/mana bars just short of a Bethesda lawsuit for borrowing Dishonored assets. The minimalist experience really does play to the aesthetic, but perhaps the biggest issue with S:EE lie at two of the critical aspects of any RPG; combat and progression.
S:EE boasts that any situation can be approached several ways, whether it be firing magic off, swinging blades or sneaking around guards to achieve your goals. For better or worse, you’ll be sneaking. Or, you’re supposed to be sneaking. The game is so blatantly designed in favour to sneak it’s a wonder they didn’t pull the Human Revolution trick and reward you more for taking the stealthy route. When the crap hits the fan and guards come running, the combat is clunky and feels lacklustre.
Character progression works very differently in S:EE. Usually in an RPG, you level up your character and choose a new perk or buy a new skill. S:EE decided this was stupid and instead you have to scour the world finding Chips to insert into your progression tree and gradually unlock as you gain ability points. Such a system might not be such a bad thing in itself, but when S:EE presents itself as a game where you can play any way you like, having players have to actively search out for the skills and upgrades for their preferred method of play seems a little disjointed.
There’s a lot to unpack in S:EE. It’s head crushingly deep, and those of us who enjoy the fast-paced roguelike stealth ‘em up will find a boat load to love about it. Under the clunky UI and questionable progression choices there is a gem of a game that will offer dozens of hours of exploration, questing and a story in a world that’ll have you dreaming of electric sheep all night long. Personally the overall experience feels like someone jammed the annoying stealth from Commandos 2 into Fallout: Tactics. While not a terribly unpleasant experience, running through S:EE after having played Shadowrun: Hong Kong or the similarly rough Age of Decadence leaves you with no doubt that IMGN.PRO have some brilliant ideas and visions for bringing worlds to life, but actually living in them is a bit bland.
Note: Review was done by M. Alexander.