I hope that every single free-to-play RPG designer takes a look at Order of Souls from here on out, because it shows how to make a simplified RPG without dumbing it down.
The problem with many free-to-play RPGs is that they wind up automating the combat, in part to make it easier for a casual player, but also it forces players to make poor strategic decisions in the name of spending more in the game. And where many games feature just simple attacks whose effects should be transparent, it’s not always clear to the player what many of these attacks do.
But not Order of Souls. It’s as if Silver Dice took a look at the genre, and said “how do we make an actual, respectful version of this genre?”
The answer comes in player agency. Namely, actually having a say in how the combat comes out. The combat features battles where three player characters take on a set of enemies of varying numbers. Each team alternates turns, and any one character can make a move each turn – but only one character, and only one non-potion action.
These actions are regulated by mana, which regenerates each turn, and helps draw the line between the less-powerful attacks and the ones that can hit groups or cause effects like stun, burn, or poison. It’s also possible to have a character wait to regain more mana than the automatic amount of one per turn, but this does allow the enemy a free turn to attack.
So while battles are simplified, they’re not too simple. It’s possible to deploy actual tactics, and it’s hard to say that a casual player couldn’t pick up on this. The tutorial does its share of hand-holding, but soon enough players are off fighting battles, collecting souls, crafting items, and all that fun stuff.
Souls represent a key part of the game, both in terms of its premise and as part of the meta-game. Characters both have their base class, along with a soul that grants them secondary stats and abilities. These souls can be collected as the spoils of battles or bought with runes – and the runes buy the rarer, higher-quality ones. It’s also possible to use other souls to upgrade existing ones, and to spend credits on crafting items, which take time or currency to complete. There’s a PVP mode where players fight other players’ teams, but it’s asynchronous, and it’s easy to imagine a real player fighting differently.
This game doesn’t escape its free-to-play RPG roots; it just exists intelligently in them. It values the player. $4.99 for the overpowered rogue class was money well spent. And for an RPG, it doesn’t skimp on the narrative: there are actual story sections where players can make decisions that may affect how the events play out. This doesn’t happen to a dramatic degree, but at least there’s that agency, that idea that hey – I have some control of what’s going on here. Or, at least the illusion thereof, and I’m fine with that. Plus, the game does a great job at creating a dramatic atmosphere throughout.
I don’t think Order of Souls is for the hardcore RPG player – the one who regularly buys Kemco’s games or has no qualms shelling out $15-$20 for the latest Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest port. But for the player who wants a casual RPG that doesn’t feel like it’s dumbed-down? Order of Souls is a great choice.