If we were to tell you an RPG existed that combined destructible environments with varied spell-casting you'd probably say that this sounded like something cool to try out, especially if you're inclined in the way of fantasy games, and at first glance of Scraping Bottom Games' Fictorum we also thought the same. This remained true for the first half an hour of play as well, but then the sheen of the initial idea and the fun mechanics wore off a little bit, and we started to see the cracks in Fictorum emerging.
Before you jump into the campaign you're given a tutorial which runs you through the basics of the experience, i.e. how to run, jump, and, most importantly, cast spells, which is key mechanic of the experience. This requires you to either shoot a projectile using the left mouse button (we played using the mouse and keyboard option on PC, but you can also use a controller), or you can tweak your spells. By holding the right mouse button you can select any number of three points on a triforce of runes and then use them to alter your spell, i.e. you can combine a multi-shot rune with that of high explosive to make a more devastating attack, or use a persist rune which makes your spells do more damage to enemies over time. All this consumes magic, however, which replenishes over time, and when you try to use spells when this gauge is too low, it lowers your health instead, so you can't just spam these really powerful spells.
After you've learned the basics, you then jump into a campaign, where you can design your Fictorum in whichever way you wish, altering their appearance with any combination of colours. The story goes that in times long gone the Fictorum were a faction that wielded mighty power, and all other factions in the land banded against them to destroy their supremacy, however, The Great Cataclysm was caused by a member of the Fictorum to envelop the world in shadow, and now you, as a last member, are on the run from those who seek to rid the world of your power. You therefore have to scurry across a number of maps, jumping from different mountain peaks each turn, away from your enemies, The Inquisition.
The map itself is randomised and node-based, and as you move from peak to peak the story unfolds via text on-screen, with randomised events. We say randomised, but that doesn't mean events don't repeat themselves, as you'll often see the same things crop up time and time again, word-for-word, which doesn't particular help immerse yourself in this grand story Scraping Bottom Games is attempting. As a result of these randomised events, though, you don't always have to do any fighting when you move from point to point, and sometimes you can just pass by or even gain or lose resources as a part of the quest.
The fights you then jump into are just as random, and involve getting to the exit of the level, a portal protected by different towers, either avoiding all enemies to get there or crushing them and looting the buildings scattered about. The looting can often be the most frustrating part about Fictorum, though, because enemies tend to come out of nowhere when you're in a house, and since the houses are brittle enough to crumble with one spell, attacking enemies in houses is pretty much guaranteed to bury you both in rubble.
The fragility of structures makes the destructible environments much less fun than they could be, as unlike games like Battlefield, there's no weight to your destruction. One spell, without any enhancements, can destroy a house or a stone fortress, and pieces fly away like they weigh nothing. It feels like you're destroying a model village a lot of the time, and sometimes the pieces glitch into each other, float in mid-air, or just disappear entirely on top of this. When you're not being buried under a collapsing house, though, you can actually find a lot of good loot, like rings, spells, health, armour, and more, and this does give some incentive to sticking around and having a look around the levels, rather than just cowering and escaping as fast as possible.
We were also impressed by enemy AI as well, as there are a number of enemies, the toughest of which are those that can also use spells against you. The challenging part here is that they have a tendency to aim to where you're going to be, not where you are - in other words, moving around and running away isn't the key to success here, as enemies will pick you out on the move with their concoction of deathly magic. This means you have to switch up your tactics a lot, then, to make sure you stay safe, especially since health doesn't regenerate, and sources of health are few and far between.
As the hours crept into our playthrough though, we found ourselves asking why we were bothering, and that's Fictorum's biggest shortcoming. After moving from peak to peak, battle to battle, map to map, it all starts to feel extremely repetitive, especially when you cycle through the same events on-screen as well. Granted, we pick up increasingly better gear, upgrade ourselves, and trade a bit, but all of this is just different methods to take on the same repetitive formula.
In short, the excellent spell-casting mechanic at the heart of Fictorum isn't enough to produce a well-rounded and enjoyable experience. Sure, it's great fun in the first hour or so to blow up buildings or multi-shot some enemies with your spells, but once you've done that time and time again over a number of different levels, the novelty wears off very quickly, so much so in fact that we found ourselves just rushing through levels to the portals to get done quicker. Without any meat to really sink your teeth into, then, Fictorum feels a little barebones, although we're interested to see if any other games will take a look at its spell-casting and learn something from it.