It must be a hard life being a hero in a fantasy swords’n’sorcerors game. You work long hours, trade small talk with nobody more interesting than a scared villager and you don’t get any paid holiday. And then there’s the clothes you have to wear; those leather straps must chafe something awful. That’s why we’d rather not switch careers with the red-haired protagonist of Xanadu NEXT. That, and the fact that he/she (the visuals aren’t detailed enough to be sure either way) is stuck within a game of terrifically boring proportions.
The storyline, always a key element of these role-playing romps, is the same old guff about the village chief’s daughter going missing, and who is inevitably linked with the mysterious events taking place in the forest outside, namely strange beasts, evil overlords and the threat of never-ending darkness. As you’re the obliging sort, you set off on a quest to find the girl, slay the bad guy and save the day.
This is achieved by wandering around the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired landscapes, hacking anything you come across to pieces with your sword and solving basic puzzles, such as pushing crates onto switches and finding your way around the maze-like levels. The more nasties you despatch, the more money and experience you accumulate, which can later be spent on sharper weapons and bigger muscles or brains, depending upon whether you’re a beefcake barbarian or mystical mage.
All this is played out in three grainy dimensions in front of you, with you overseeing proceedings from an angle that’s not unlike the one you’d get from a hotel balcony. Holiday Inn really is expanding its chain of hotels these days... And despite the allure of the 3D landscape, it’s actually an anticlimax to play through. The poorly-defined visuals and agricultural control system make fighting with the beasties (quite literally) a hit and miss affair and it also means that each room or area of the landscape has to be loaded before you enter it. This means frustrating and frequent periods of inactivity as you wait for the next bit of the map to load.
It’s not all bad, mind. There’s a nifty set of collector cards to lay your digital hands on as you progress through the game, each with a nice piece of fantasy artwork depicting a denizen of the Xanadu world. Some of these cards can be used to summon friendly gods and monsters to help you fend off a particularly nasty enemy, while others are simply there to be swapped with your buddies via Bluetooth. The game also ticks all of the requisite fantasy role-playing boxes, too, with ghostly weapons, magic spells and more character statistics than you can shake an enchanted quarterstaff at.
But Xanadu NEXT is too slow, too repetitive and burdened with a control system that could generously be called ‘antiquated’. Unless you’re a fantasy role-playing nut who’s already completed The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey, and wants a new challenge, there’s little here that’ll provide any kind of job satisfaction.