Portal Knights Review

Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Android, and iOS.

It’s very hard to look at Portal Knights and not see Minecraft. Minecraft has done quite a bit to put its mark on gaming in the past nine years, and almost any game that has blocky graphics draws the comparison. Portal Knights has that same style of blocks, and so I feel it’s only expected to be compared to Minecraft and how it improves or changes on the formula. That’s where we begin looking at the third and final Humble Bundle Monthly title for July 2018.

To be honest, Portal Knights does a lot to differentiate itself from Minecraft. It claims to be a cooperative 3d sandbox action RPG, and in practice all of that is true. Portal Knights has multiplayer, it is 3D and does have sandbox elements and there are action and RPG elements as well. After playing over twenty hours, I feel that the action and RPG elements seem to be what Portal Knights is really steered towards.

Portal Knights actually reminds me of another game, Dragon Quest Builders. It too is a “Minecraftian RPG” but instead with more of a focus on quests and fighting than building. Dragon Quest Builders’ greatest flaw, in my opinion, was to never be ported to PC, so there is definitely space for Portal Knights to exist on Steam, even if it is similar to Dragon Quest Builders.

The reason for these comparisons is due to the graphics of Portal Knights. The majority of objects in Portal Knights is generated with a cube based world that Minecraft is known for. The world can be mined in one-meter by one-meter blocks. The player is able to place those blocks and explore the world.

It’s not a problem to have a similar style to another game in my book, especially when the style is so basic. Portal Knights does a great job giving a similar experience to the world. However, it breaks away from the rules of the block world quite early and often. Trees try to look semi-realistic and are given a round trunk and leaves. When the player breaks one, the entire object breaks instead of a piece of it. Shrubbery and other objects also don’t ascribe to the same artistic rules of the world.

Sorry about the technical issues on this video.

It’s these artifacts that hurt the graphics in my opinion. It’s hard to look at the lego style castle and have it stand next to a well-sculpted tree and believe they both belong in the same universe. If you look at a lego tree it’s not as square as the rest of the pieces of a set, but it also fits in with the same artistic style. Instead, Portal Knights seems to use the cube style from Minecraft in its buildings and then quickly ditches it outside of those buildings, and the end result feels like two different games linked together.

Still, the game is about more than the graphics. There is a story in Portal Knights, which is a decent move to elevate the game above Minecraft’s “Just build” mentality. In this case, the story is about a fracture that has the main player rebuild (or really repair) the portals. It sounds nice. The real issue I have with the game is that everything I just said is shown in a pair of bookended Cinematics. One is shown at the beginning and the other shown after the final boss. The game never builds the world or the story from that point on.

There are actions the game wants you to take, and a few characters that tell you what to do, but for the most part they are simply telling you actions to take, and they don’t build the world or the mythos at all. Just “kill two Great Beasts” which become the gatekeeping bosses for the game. What do you do after that? Kill the third boss. And then the ending cinematic plays. For a game that is trying to differentiate itself from another by making an RPG, there is not a lot of Role to play in this game sadly.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate when the story becomes more important than the gameplay, but the problem is this game doesn’t even attempt to have a narrative or a story. It’s just two single cinematic moments tying the game together, the entire twentyish hours between is played more like an old NES adventure game, where the player just wanders and finds bosses.

The game starts with a simple customization system, it’s a little too simplistic with just choosing eye choices, mouth choice, and hair color and class then you’re pushed on to the world selection.

So I made my character, choosing a warrior, and of course calling him Kinglink. It didn’t mean too much to me, and the final character look probably isn’t that different than any other characters that people made, but in reality, most of these RPGs never show the character and so I don’t mind that much. I wouldn’t have minded a little more personalization.

The game separates the idea of the character and the world, similar to how Terraria does it. Your character has an inventory and style, but can go into different worlds. They even can make chests and supplies on each world so there are places for them to get their items.

It’s a good system, there is actually a choice of how big you want the worlds as well, small medium or large, but really that becomes how much space you want to traverse before you go on to the next island.

Each world actually has 48 islands for you to explore. Each island has portals to other islands, and so the goal is to find the portal to open the way to another place. Islands have specific resources on them as well as people (some of which will give quests). It’s a good concept and it’ll keep you playing.

I started with a medium world and what I quickly found is that medium worlds are quite large, that means to find items and more importantly, portals which I’m supposed to repair (and takes you to the next world) became a real hassle. I didn’t feel the desire to explore in the game, as it’s randomly created each time, and it doesn’t usually create interesting locations. There are chests of loot but they refill if you leave an island and return so the loot is usually pretty limited.

What I didn’t know is that the player should aim to build a compass as soon as possible in the game to assist with the finding of the portals. This is something I went to the wiki for, and yes, similar to Minecraft there’s a need to use a wiki at least for some parts of the game. The game constantly will say a crafting recipe needs X but it doesn’t make it clear how to find that X or what it is.

So without knowing about compasses, I created a second world, with smaller islands. This showed me a lot of behind the scenes informationt, the biggest change I noticed was that “randomly generated worlds” just meant the land the world is on. Early on in the game, you find Fort Finch on the third island. That fort looks the same on both of my worlds. It’s nice to look at but I started to realize much of this “procedurally generated game” wasn’t procedurally generated. The placement of objects could change (though the fort was one large object so it always looks the same) but forts, smithies, and towers all are going to look the same, and the characters appear on the same islands from what I saw.

It’s a shame when the illusion of randomness is broken, but here it was shattered quite quickly, which is disappointing because while I didn’t get the feeling I wanted to replay a 20 hour game, I know a lot of people who enjoy creating worlds repeatedly in Terraria or other games just to see what they might find out there. That probably won’t fly here, as each world feels too similar.

This looks like a cool special location in the game, but it’s a repeated location with a dungeon below it.

The first island in the game is the tutorial world, and that seems to always be about the same. It took me a single game day to run through almost all the quests for it, as you can see some of it in my first look. Each quest teaches you something basic in the game and it works well. Eventually, you move on to the next island.

The problem is, both times I moved to the second island, it was night time. Nights are dangerous in this game as hollow knights get summoned and start to walk around, ready to aggro the player and the fact is, the difference from level 1 to level 2 is a decent leap. More importantly, the combat in the game takes some getting used to.

I wish I could say the devs allow you to sleep the night away, but they don’t. There is no way to advance time, so later in the game I would go to my forge and try to do something to kill time. It’s a missed opportunity because while giving a challenging experience, that challenge can sometimes make the game significantly harder for no more reward.

The big rewards in the game are experience and leveling. Levels will make you more powerful, as long as you figure out which stats to invest your money into, for warriors it’s Constitution and Strength, the normal choices. These are typical RPG styles for gamers and they don’t stray too far from them.

There are also talents to earn every five levels. At level ten I got my most important talent, Fortification which allowed me to stand still and gain a lot of health back quickly, removing the need for healing potions. Otherwise, most of the talent are minor upgrades. They’re useful but they don’t feel like they change much.

The leveling feels more critical than the rewards for leveling because, statistically, you want to be on or above the level of your enemies and each island you go to raises the levels of the enemies. It’s not a major problem in the first two collections of Islands or “acts” as the game constantly throws experience at you for quests and the difference in experience points between levels is rather small.

When you reach the third act that’s when the game pulls the rug out from under you. Instead of leveling up at a relatively fast past, I found fewer quests being available, and while I had to grind to earn the fragments to open the portals for Green stones, I still wasn’t leveling up nearly as fast as the previous islands did. Ultimately, after doing all the quests, I ended up having to grind quite a bit to make up levels, and that’s not as fun.

The quest system in the game is good, but most of the time it’s something as simple as “mine some ore” or “make me X weapon”. Both are good quests, they just all feel generic. With the exception of the quests to earn the major keystones for the bosses which are a bit involved, there is also trading a crafted item, find a person, find a number of objects, and kill certain enemies. All of these feel generic after you do them once or twice.

The game also has this idea of “events”, so you might see a world event where monkeys have attacked an island. This sounds like a good place to get a few levels, but rather than a quest system, you just are tasked with killing a certain number of monkeys that are leveled to your character’s level. You don’t even receive a bonus on experience or anything. It’s just a 60-minute timer on a quest that has a few enemies in a new area.

There are other events, but there are really four types of events. The first is to simply find a chest and loot it. Mostly it’s just about looking around an area and finding a very obvious object that has a chest, which usually drops at least one end game crafting item (Energy Crystals). The second is the enemies quest. However, those are just as simple as killing the enemies and not receiving a reward. There’s also an event where they want you to challenge the player to kill specific enemies and get a rare drop, I believe they should drop a recipe but I never stuck around long enough to get it.

Finally, there are major 12 hour or 8-day quests. The former is a trial of skills, that I did once and never felt the need to again, and the second is a shop that pops up. Both are interesting for gameplay purposes, but personally, these didn’t assist with the real problem of the game (finding an interesting way to get levels and experience) . They just felt like pointless tasks to try to elongate the game. I did a number of them but finally stopped after about 20 because they all seemed to feel the same.

So with the leveling out of the way, we can talk about combat, and the combat is pretty strong in Portal Knights. Enemies tend to have big wind ups to warn you when to dodge out of the way, and then return for a couple of shots. If you take enemies one at a time, it’s a good system. However, most enemies try to bunch up. You can pull only one if you take your time with the process, however, even when you pull a couple, as long as you don’t stand between two or three of them, it’s relatively easy to beat them.

Levels are critical here like I said. I don’t believe the exact difference in level matters, however, the stat points you earn per level will make a major difference. Having gear from a higher tier, or just a couple of extra points in your key stat will help you out in fights.

The issue with combat is it all feels the same after a while. There are 16 types of enemies, that sounds like a lot, but you’ll see them all very quickly. Each enemy has between 4 and 6 variants and you’ll see those throughout the game. The issue becomes that on the final levels you see maggots that you saw in the first area, and the real difference is the number of hit points that they have. They’ll take a similar number of attacks, though, and drop similar loot. After a while, I stopped wondering “What enemies I would see next” And started playing “Will I see any skeletons on this next island” because they kept appearing.

The game does have some improvements on these style of games. I mentioned the fort that doesn’t change before. The good news is that fort actually has a number of shops. The game often has characters willing to sell you items for money, and that’s a rather interesting change from Minecraft, which used a poor barter system.

The downside is that money is hard to come by, and overall most of the items to purchase have little reason to buy them. It’s great to get a new pet who follows you, but most things I wanted to buy were very expensive, and the game is stingy with money.

It brings us to another problem I have with the game. While there’s permanence in the game. I can build something and it’ll remain, I never felt the need to build anything. Minecraft didn’t have much else and building stuff was fun there to show off what you built, but in Portal Knights, you can show off builds, but there’s an entire game to help you avoid focusing on just building and you don’t earn a reward for building.

I ended up dropping all my necessary tools and workshops right next to a warp zone so I can return to that level when I needed to craft. Having a home didn’t seem important as no enemies got close enough and even if they did, I out leveled that area so fast I could take anything thrown at me.

The concept of the building something in the game seems like an afterthought. It’s odd because that’s what a lot of the items available in the shops are for, advanced architecture but overall I felt no need to really build a castle, or anything else.

There are other improvements that seem to get away from the games that this game took some inspiration from. Mining, for instance, is far easier than in Minecraft. Instead of having to look for ore, ore appears on different worlds. The second world, for instance, has copper ore. Instead of digging into the ground, much of the ore is on the surface. Mines can still work and be rich with deposits, but just walking around the surface will earn you similar levels of ore with far less digging required.

I really like Minecraft, and the hunt for ore, but that’s what Minecraft is about, resource acquisition and building with it. Having to work the same in Portal Knights would be tedious especially for how useful it is. Since the game constantly wants me to move from one island to the next at a quick pace, I prefer the ore being on the surface. I can quickly find what ore I need and then move on to another island instead of spending multiple hours on one small world.

In addition, tools in this game don’t actually break. They can run out of durability, but instead they need to be repaired by a number of sharpening stones, and even if they are broken they just lose some effectiveness, so a pickaxe that can break a brick in two blows might take five, but it’ll still break a brick the same as it always has.

There are 48 islands in a universe/world. I only saw 46 in my experience, I’m actually not sure which two I was missing, but I was able to see the entire game and the epilogue level. So the levels I missed don’t appear to be important to the story/progression of the game.

At the same time, there are a number of levels that aren’t important just due to them not leading anywhere (having 0 exit portals) or just one of the many multiple paths. That would be fine, but there are so many islands in this game, and most of them feel the same. You will find copper ore on the second island, but you’ll see copper ore so many times, that it’s no longer a precious resource. In fact, most of the resources in the game are very plentiful.

The trick in the game is that each of the three major bosses appear to unlock the next tier of forges, ore, and items. There are level requirements for the crafted items that require that tier of ore, but the big goal is to beat the boss so you can make the next forge. This works most of the time, except in the third act for the third boss, where the game decides to throw in the second tier before the final boss for some reason. Not sure exactly why it decided to switch up the items and the ore midway through the act but it came a bit too late for my tastes.

Bosses also have unique totems, like this.

The bosses themselves are pretty easy if you pay attention to the combat and dodge at the right times and learn their fights. The first two bosses were simple, and I feel the third only gave me trouble because I tried to fight him at level 24. At level 27 I was able to easily take him down.

Honestly, so many of my problems from the game just came from the third act. It feels slowed down compared to the other acts and too much grinding was required with it. I enjoyed the game up to the second boss, but so much of the game seems to derail after that point or get in the way of the player. It’s an odd situation.

Though not all my problems are in the third act. For a game that’s been out for over two years, I found a number of bugs and glitches with it, and most feel like they should have been caught by now.

I’ve actually warped back to the home base a couple of times and couldn’t move until I exited the game and returned.

The game stayed open on a black screen twice adding over 20 hours to my play time, and making everyone think I was still playing it.

There was a point where I was unable to speak to people, in that the game would soft lock on me. I posted about it in the forums, but it took the devs about a week to respond. Restarting my entire computer seemed to fix it, but I’m not sure what caused it.

The game glitched and didn’t autosave and then froze on me. I ended up losing about three hours of early game progress. That really annoyed me.

Any time I alt-tab, or the computer goes to sleep while the game was fullscreen, the game would complain about a lost D3D device and crash. Most games don’t have that issue.

This game has been out for over a year and was in early access before that. It seems a lot of stuff is still getting added to the game, but as I look at the patch notes, I notice a lot of it seems like things, if desired, probably should have been in before it launched the game.

It’s an interesting game, and one I enjoyed playing quite a bit at the beginning, but I realized about halfway through the game, that the story wasn’t there, the game never evolved past the original idea of itself. The gameplay also started to wear on me. By the time I reached that third act, I keep mentioning I was getting bored with the game. It’s not that I wanted to play something else, but rather that the game changed from a friendly experience to one where it was making me grind for my levels.

Where I could level early in the game and do so quickly, I now had to be punished to earn even a single level with either doing multiple quests or killing many enemies. It’s a shame because if the game ended at the second boss, I might have given this game a much higher score.

Instead, it took the game that had the most promise for me in this month’s Humble Bundle and turned it into the one game I grudgingly recommend. If you want an RPG with a look of Minecraft on PC, Portal Knights has it. Though I think the reason I recommend it is lack of competition on the platform (that I played), the fact Dragon Quest Builders hasn’t come to the platform, and the fact that it’s only twenty dollars makes it an acceptable purchase.

At the end of the day I give this game a low recommendation, and that translates into a


Final Thoughts: While it starts on a refreshing feeling that mixes Minecraft with an RPG, it eventually wears out the welcome and becomes a game that I beat, but I could have given up halfway through.

Stats: 24 hours played 23/29 achievements earned.