Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, and Switch (future release)
I’ve never really been able to get into Minecraft. Maybe it’s the lack of clear direction, the overtly simplistic visuals, or the fever-esque fandom that shoves it down my throat at every turn, but it’s one of those games that I feel like I already know too much about without having invested a lot of time in it myself. Cultural oversaturation, as I like to call it. That being said, it doesn’t mean I don’t like procedurally generated worlds.
Roblox has a special place in my heart, Terraria and Starbound both scratch specific itches, and now Portal Knights, along with Dragon Quest Builders, both layer on addictive RPG elements to keep pushing you through their randomized, blocky environments. It’s effective and feels like a natural evolution that I’m excited to see iterated upon in the years to come.
A Whole New World
It doesn’t take much to get you into Portal Knights. The game’s opening monologue talks about fractured worlds and gates and magical portals and heroes on a quest for adventure and other such fluffy context that ultimately doesn’t matter. This isn’t a game you play for the story.
Everything starts at character creation, where you can pick either a Warrior, Mage, or Ranger as a class, choose your gender, and customize their appearance. Everything from hairstyle, hair color, skin tone, and facial design can be tweaked, allowing for a fair deal of personalization. From there, you choose how large each of your worlds will be – an important choice since they can get fairly large, though never quite Minecraft-scale – and then you’re off.
Each time you boot up a universe, the levels (or worlds, as they’re known) will adhere to a specific biome or theme, but the layouts will be different. For example, when first starting the game you’re surrounded by lots of green plants and a traditional fantasy-esque world. Every time you start a new universe or make a new character that world is going to have the same themes within it, but will actually have a different layout. Hills will rise and fall in new ways, buildings won’t be in the same spot, and so on.
Starting From The Bottom
When you first get started, Portal Knights does a better job than perhaps any of its competitors at simply giving you a purpose and sense of direction from the very beginning. You have clear direction about what to do, how to fight enemies, how to build, and what to build. In this way, Portal Knights feels like a very objective-driven game at first, but it quickly opens up after you get out of the starting area.
Each class plays differently enough that it’s worth starting a game with each of them just to see which style fits your preferred gameplay format. Warriors are predictably up-close fighters, while Rangers can hang back from a distance, peppering enemies with arrows. Mages are similar to Rangers in their long-distance fighting focus, but with a very different intent and style.
All three of the classes level up and acquire different skills over the course of the game, which help define their style and role even further. They’re balanced and don’t feel redundant at all, which is excellent considering the game’s potential for cooperative multiplayer.
Gather Your Party
Whereas Dragon Quest Builders leans into its RPG roots for a more complex adventure, Portal Knights instead focuses on social connection. When you load into a world, you can have friends join you (both split screen and over the internet) to fight enemies, collect loot, and build things together. Many of the worlds contain large and powerful boss enemies that can technically be defeated alone, but really are designed to be tackled by a group.
The core of your progression in Portal Knights is attached to constructing portals to continue exploring more worlds. Each world you visit has a door that must be rebuilt before you can progress to the next world. You’ll find materials to craft the blocks to rebuild the door by fighting enemies and exploring each environment. Since they all have dedicated biomes such as a jungle, desert, or something else, they also all have unique crafting materials spread across the game.
While adventuring on a world there will occasionally be an event that could pop up with a specific quest of some kind that’s attached to a timer – this gives you an additional purpose to your travels. Many areas also have NPCs that are happy to chat and issue quests as well. In this way, Portal Knights comes off as a more fully realized game world with dedicated tasks and direction to keep pushing you forward.
The building element is downplayed significantly in Portal Knights for the most part, although it’s all still here. There’s a massive inventory to sift through, an action bar to assign items, and crafting recipes to adhere to. You can make some truly massive structures and have a lot of fun building things with friends, but the core of the experience revolves around the adventure and exploration of it all, more so than freeform building. You’re still better off with Minecraft if that’s what you’re most interested in.