And the gameplay, while basically an evolution of the style of play found in the Rage of Mages
games, is quite solid. It'll frustrate a lot of players, especially if they try to play on 'Normal' mode, but there's enough fun here to last for days if it's your type of thing--and if you like a little thinking to go along with your hack-and-slash, chances are good that Evil Islands
will be right up your alley.
You are Zak, and you wake up on a stone altar with no recollection of how you got there or what you're supposed to be doing. Soon enough, a nearby village declares you as The Chosen, their redeemer. You need their help to find out what's going on, but of course they're going to want you to go on all sorts of quests, like a good saviour. Completing the quests both nets you experience and advances the storyline of the game, eventually spanning much more than the small area you start in.
That's not to say that the game isn't huge--the first major map you play in has hours of gameplay, and there are many more where that came from. Part of the Rage of Mages formula has always been packing a map full of excitement, and then forcing the player to learn where they can go and cannot . . . usually the hard way. That's still here in Evil Islands, and while it's not bad if you're used to that style of gameplay, the need to constantly save the game and the habit of walking into deathtraps can be somewhat disconcerting if you've never played Nival's other games.
The quests themselves often seem like fetch quests, which isn't generally far from the mark, but they often require a good deal of ingenuity to succeed at. Indeed, the ability to sneak around quietly and not cause much commotion is necessary to complete many of the quests--you'd get completely mauled if you weren't stealthy. Discovering the paths that you'll survive on is often a challenge, but it's certainly doable. As the game progresses, you also pick up companions, who can help you fight but whom you have to split the game experience with.
Evil Islands uses a character engine that's more Fallout than Diablo--you have a starting set of abilities, but you can tweak your character's skills and attributes as the game progresses without any hard and fast 'classes' that you must stay inside of. Boosting your melee or ranged attack abilities is simple enough; getting bonuses through 'Abilities' is simple at first but quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. You also get to make your own armour and weapons, using components you either find in the game or buy and blueprints. Considering the fact that solid armour is quite rare, especially in the beginning of the game, this sort of constructive ability is quite handy.
Combat can be simple or complex, as you prefer. You can choose to just have your characters attack the enemy, or you can command them to aim for specific body parts. If you damage an arm, the enemy will attack slower; if you damage the legs, they'll move slower . . . and so on. Indeed, the enemies can do the same sorts of damage to you, making your attacks frighteningly slow or stopping your ability to run away.
Actually, you can't run away anyways. There are a few balance issues in the game--while both the enemy and your characters can get in critical hits, the computer seems to never run out of stamina to run or cast spells, whereas your characters run out of it frighteningly quickly. This, added with the core difficulty of the game, may frustrate many gamers. But perseverence is key.
The game also supports multiplayer. There's a built-in 'matching server', but it would have been nice to have something like Gamespy Arcade support, where you could chat to people before you browsed for servers. That's being nit-picky, though.