Geneforge 1 is an old-school (and actually old) fantasy RPG game.
And at first, that is all it would seem to be.
There are a lot of things about Geneforge 1 that are familar if you have ever played this kind of game. The turn-based encounter and combat system, the tedious quests, the really bad art; I took my first look at it and said “oh fuck, this again.” But something that I didn’t expect from a game like this was the story. All in all, a fantasy RPG ultimately rests on its ability to tell a story. This is why table-top RPG games like Dungeons & Dragons have done so well; if your storytelling Dungeon Master is creative enough, your game will be immensely enjoyable, even if you are playing in a basement and everyone smells like they haven’t showered in a millennium. To emulate the success of a table-top RPG, a game would need to have a great storyline, good combat system, and plenty to explore. So while Geneforge 1 is not unlike every fantasy RPG out there, it does have a good combat system beyond the trappings of turn-based events as well as a large map to clear of monsters. This would all be for naught if the storyline was not as good as it.
Ok, I’ll stop beating around the bush. The game goes like this: you either play as a Shaper, Guardian, or Agent, which any gamer worth his Doritos salt will recognize as Mage, Paladin, and Rogue classes. Their abilities are similar to the typical classes too, but they are extremely well balanced. You don’t need a tank to protect you as a Shaper, but you do need to be careful. You can slink around as an Agent, but you are at a severe disadvantage because you aren’t able to shape (the equivalent of summoning creatures). The Guardian class is balanced between them, with some magical ability as well as decent fighting ability.
I started the game as a Shaper, since I never pick the mage class and the game seemed to be optimized for a Shaper run-through. At some point I got enough shit to summon my first creature, which they called a Fyora but I swear to God is just a fire-breathing velociraptor. After summoning more velociraptors, I made my way around the island of Sucia, which I have been predictably shipwrecked on. And, of course, the island of Sucia is barred from Shaper travel for two hundred years, so you’re the first to get fucked over by whatever caused your people to leave. This is where it gets interesting, though. The story has been built up to give you the impression you’re entering a wild, monster-filled jungle of an island where you’ll gather old tech to make a boat and gtfo. That’s not at all what happens. I’ll spare the spoilers to anyone interested in checking it out. And, true to the RPG elements, your choices will matter, so be careful.
The combat system deserves a little lip-service here. Again, in true RPG fashion, you can and will die from something you should be able to 1-shot. Now THAT’S a turn-based combat system D&D can be proud of. Just make sure you save often. Other than that, you have your little velociraptors who, if you aren’t careful and don’t give them enough intelligence, will just fight their little selves to death. You can control them if you do make them smart, and that can produce some interesting results in combat. The art, as aforementioned, sucks. Like, reaaaaally sucks. Like, even for 2001 it sucks. But you can at least make out objects, enemies, and the like, so noticing how bad it is quickly falls to the back of your mind. And the map is pretty expansive, so for a small indie team to sacrifice art for the sake of having a full and immersive game is quite forgivable. The music is… unfortunate. By which there is none. But it really does play into the immersion. Instead of some awful MIDI score, you are plied with nature sounds when you’re in the monster areas, and town sounds in the settlements. It makes for a more natural feel of the game.
I feel it is necessary to mention that I took TWO days to play this game, although the hourly total is around the same that I devoted to the earlier YoG posts. The main reason I tried to play it more was that I felt I hadn’t given it a fair chance; it takes quite some time to get far into the game. In the amount of time I played, I only advanced about 5 map tiles… of 77. Admittedly, I’m a perfectionist, so someone who is interested in completing the game but not 100% will be able to in far less time. Consistent play could last a few weeks to finish it.
I recommend this game ONLY if something like a fantasy RPG with a great storyline interests you. It takes a little bit to get hooked into the game, so some patience is required. I definitely plan to come back and finish it, if only to learn the secrets of Sucia Island. And to fight with little velociraptors, that too.
I obtained this game in an indie bundle for very cheap, but the Geneforge series (1-5) is available on the official website for $30, as well on Steam for $20, so you don’t have to break the bank to get it.