Flailing: Exanima

Exanima is the early release of the kickstarted open-world game Sui Generis, by Bare Mettle Entertainment, a prologue designed to show the current state of the game. What it displays is a 3D world rendered with interactive collision physics and active lighting that moves around you, and people that stumble over furniture and flail about like little brothers shouting, “It’s not my fault if you walk into my stick!”

It’s hard to evaluate the game on anything more than the combat right now, because that’s most of what’s there. Exanima includes two options, a mystery where you wake up in a dungeon, and an arena combat mode. Initial forays into the mysterious dungeon taught me that I needed to know how to fight, so I turned to the arena.

Combat is… complicated. Exanima makes a point of dealing damage not simply based on weapon, but based on its heft, sharpness, speed at time of contact, and what part of the weapon you hit with. In other words, the physics of the attack. Unfortunately, you can only attack in broad, sweeping flails, either side-to-side or over-the-head, and nothing is quick about your attacks.

At least your enemies are in the same boat. By intent, it becomes a timing game. You have to flail from the correct side at the right time, making sure you’re in range for your strike and out of range for theirs, or at least that yours hits first. It’s hard, I think also by intent. Exanima combat simultaneously feels like something I want to get better at and something that should not have taken this long to become good at. After a couple hours in the arena, I don’t have any consistency with success. I feel like I’m still flailing as much as my character.

Which means when I return to the dungeon, my best bet is to avoid combat. So I run away when I can, and fight when I must. There’s some realism to that, and realism is obviously a goal for the designers. But I need to feel myself ascending the skill curve to enjoy a game, and I don’t know if that’s going to come soon enough. I also need some understanding of why things happen, and the people wandering the dungeon seem to attack me or ignore me based on some algorithm that is completely opaque to me.

I’ll go back to the arena. The game is different enough from anything else I’ve played that I’m going to keep flailing at it for a while. I don’t know for how long. Long enough to wish the designers had provided a retry option rather than kicking you out to the main menu every time you die in the arena, at least. It feels a bit like they’re flailing at game design, but I somewhat think they know exactly what they’re doing, even if it might not be for me in the long run.

You can get Exanima on Steam for $14.99, or at the developer’s store.

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