Portal Knights does naturally draw immediately comparisons to other popular open world sandbox titles, with a square-based building block system that appears very reminiscent of games such as Minecraft or Terraria, but does not struggle to differentiate itself. Having finally been released from Early Access, this first complete version of the game does feel enjoyable, despite repetitive.
Portal Knight’s combat is not particularly great, yet is perhaps one of the more enjoyable parts of the game. The game combines a simplistic RPG system with the open world sandbox formula, allowing the player to choose between a Warrior, Mage or Ranger. In multiplayer, the synergy between the Warrior and the ranged attackers does make the game feel very co-operative, as the Warrior can often just draw the monster’s attacks away from the others, allowing the other classes pelt them with attacks from afar. The combat does feel smooth and its simplicity is perhaps beneficial for players who are more focused on building, but for a game so loaded with enemies, the variety of the gameplay is pretty underwhelming. The system’s repetitiveness quickly becomes monotonous, as practically every enemy can be beaten with just your standard left click basic attack and a combat roll. However, the three classes do feel different, and stylistically the differences between the three are somehow still impressive despite the entire game really being split between two button presses. The boss fights are pretty challenging until the players work out what they’re supposed to do, and from then on, they are no harder than regular monsters, other than having more health.
If you are coming into this game expecting a free, open world experience, you may be disappointed to find out that calling it open world is a stretch. The player progresses through different maps by finding and unlocking several “portals”, giving access to 44 different areas. The sizes of these areas are chosen by the player at the start of the game, between small, medium and large, and although the large maps are huge and can provide an open world vibe, it often prevents a player from progressing through to the next area due to difficulties related to finding the portals in such a massive space. These different areas also result in very many loading screens, which is part of why the game is very questionably open world. A large world will keep the player in the loading screen for a very long time, and even medium worlds can take too long for the player to want to travel frequently. The game does not incentivise the player to stay in a single area either; progressing to the next area is encouraged as it allows for players to discover and obtain new materials to craft new armours, weapons and blocks. As resources on each map tend to be exhausted fairly quickly, especially in smaller maps, it often feels like there’s nothing to do other than move on.
The locations of these portals can often be completely illogical too. Usually they are placed the island that you have spawned on, but they can be randomly inside cliff faces that are hidden from the player’s view or very difficult to get to, on floating islands way above your spawn point. This is also not the only problems the random map generator seems to have, as the spawn point can be placed way below the surface, even inside a dungeon, meaning that if the player dies, which can be extremely easy since the game’s map generator seems to enjoy making it very easy for the player to fall off the entire map, the player will have to make their way out of the entire dungeon again.
Of course, you can build a new spawn point when you gather the materials to. Unfortunately, building often includes a lot of waiting time, and creating a new spawn point will take the game eight minutes. Fortunately, you can leave and explore while these eight minutes pass, but nearly everything that you build can end up with the player spending a lot of time doing nothing other than waiting. The waiting times do feel simply pointless, as most things do not take eight minutes to make like the spawn points do. Metal bars take five seconds each per bar, meaning when the player makes them in bulk and has to wait a minute or two, there really isn’t anything for the player to do than essentially go AFK or just look blankly at their inventories, as it’s not long enough to get anything done in the game other than spend the majority of it in a waiting screen.
Building in the game often feels pointless and difficult and the game overall thrives far more as a combat-based RPG than a Minecraft-like builder. Placing blocks often feels illogical as you’ll often place blocks in places where they weren’t intended, and as you get forced to position yourself in very precise ways to get blocks where you want them to go, the process takes too long for building to be fun. These sandbox aspects don’t seem to be badly thought out outside of this, as there is a nice variation of attractive blocks, as well as decent furniture and other environments and buildings in the game do look very nice, but unfortunately the mechanics of the game, as of right now, feel too clunky to allow the player to make something like this themselves without frustration.
A basic storyline is attempted but features nothing other than an opening and ending cutscene, with some basic lines of text shown if the player is the current host of the world, while players that aren’t the host really don’t experience the storyline at all. The parts of story that are scattered around the game feel unnecessary and uncontextualized, and the plot does not incentivise the character to progress or “win” in any way. This is not to say that the game doesn’t make you want to play it more though, and the game is perfectly fine played without any interest in the plot. The plot’s existence, however, felt like it was added in as an afterthought, as if the creators believed it was mandatory as opposed to actually wanting it to be an interesting part of the game.
Exploration of maps are usually based around underground dungeons. This is generally unrewarding, as the chests you find rarely give you anything that helps you progress. Most of the loot in the game consists of fairly generic ore, potions, building blocks and general fodder. You won’t get armour pieces or weapons as drops, or really anything exciting that will make you want to explore for them more. Other than these dungeons, exploration is generally fairly limited, and the areas are usually based around “themes” rather than anything special. You won’t often find a large difference between two desert maps or two volcano maps, for instance. You’ll find several NPCs too, but they mostly do not have much value. Some are merchants, while some offer quests that give considerable EXP points, yet others seem to just be there to characterise the areas and make them feel a bit more alive, which doesn’t work when they are maybe the only NPC you will encounter in the area. Quests-wise, the game also generates “event” quests on occasion, but these never seem to reward the player with anything useful.
Multiplayer is the far more enjoyable way to play the game but is heavily reliant on if the players are willing to help each other. This is not an MMORPG nor is meant to be player like one. This is a heavily co-operative game and the players will constantly be gathering materials for others that they don’t necessarily need for themselves but are required by others in the party. When somebody in the group selects an area to teleport to, the entire team will be teleported there, and nobody in the group, not even the person who initiated the teleportation, can cancel it. This is an obvious problem with the game, and makes communicating with the others in your team key as the loading screens take so long that teleporting back to the original location would just result in a long period of boredom. This is not a game that can be played without co-operation, understanding and patience.
As a whole, this game is far from bad. It looks simple and pretty, is easy to get into and is relaxing, but lacks content and can often feel frustrating in the areas noted above. Still, this is a fun game to play with a friend or two, though perhaps not currently worth the £15 you’d have to spend on it. Do not expect a great open world sandbox experience, but do expect a simplistic and enjoyable RPG that can even be accessible to someone that you know who doesn’t usually play video games in the first place.