2011's easily misspellable Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon is what'd plop out nine months after if you left a copy of Wizardry 7 and Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail alone in a closet with a bottle of chilled Pinot Noir, a Tom Jones album and a king-sized double bed (it's a king-sized closet!). Its aspirations are, in an approximate order of importance, to feed you a challenging series of strategic turn-based fights, unique and thought-out game mechanics, rampant trope-subverting humor and an intriguing plot in a surprisingly captivating high fantasy world. Principal author Rampant Coyote aka Jay Barnson briefs you thus in the manual:
"Frayed Knights is a computer role-playing game inspired by classic CRPGs of the past, particularly of the 1980s and 1990s, and by years of playing “dice-and-paper” role-playing games. It’s an effort to recapture the spirit of those old days in a modern (if decidedly low-budget) format, but with a dose of humor... That’s not to say that the game is all jokes and parody – far from it. Underneath, I think you’ll find it is a solid “hard-core” RPG with plenty of fun and juicy game mechanics to thrill and challenge you."
You'll be exploring a lovingly hand-crafted and charming little 3D world, one you might end up sacrificing some thirty-odd fleeting hours to. There isn't an overabundance of cheap fetch quests. There aren't any bland generic conversations or mass-edited dungeons. Every place you visit has something unique going on. This is wonderful if you got bored of The Elder Scrolls a while back. The loading times between areas, on the other hand, are long and some of them, as many noted, are quite barren. Specifically the town could have had a smaller scale as most of its terrain is just negative space. I didn't find trodding through it, or the other locations, terribly odious myself: it's just the dreary reality of these bottom-feeding adventurers' life as it unfolds through the party's eyes. In their world, places of interest have often already been picked over, plans pre-empted, backs pre-stabbed... and sometimes you've just got to take a hike!
Manual perusal is a very worthy investment. You'll have to get the hang of fatigue management as the party's exploration efficiency keeps declining over lengthy outings. You'll need to get acquainted with drama stars: multi-purpose tools that accrue whenever something *dramatic* has happened, included to disencourage save scumming. Even lockpicking has an interface of the likes I've not encountered anywhere else (not that I've played many of this game's influencers). Furthermore, the game is kind of stingy with the information you're given on the various skills and abilities, and thus beyond the manual, you may even want to use relevant parts of the strategy guide on the side.
The learning curve, unfortunately, extends into the game's UI (one of its really obvious weaknesses) which over time will become servicable if not exactly pleasant. This is somewhat alleviated by the difficulty: If you keep the min-maxing to moderate levels, and don't go out of your way to grind (thankfully not required), the fights stay non-trivial enough so you'll find yourself desperately paging through spellbooks and rummaging knapsacks anyway while your brain whirs away at producing cunning solutions. I had some of the most harrowing encounters that came THIS CLOSE (imagine a nearly closed pinch!) to a full-party wipe without ever actually having to take to the save files. There's a constant teetering between exploring further and returning to town for supplies and a good rest before proverbial shit hits the fan, and it mostly feels like your own fault if it does.
The complexity of Frayed Knights really is quite astonishing for a game that at first glance takes a light-hearted approach on the genre. Even though the characters are set from the start, you can adapt them to a more particular role within the squad. The magically modest can still invest a reasonable number of points into the arcane arts to be able to chip in with healing or curses. The rogue could buy all the defensive buffs, equip two shields and defend each turn to become a rampart for the rest of the party (for me he was a bit useless in combat the way I'd built him). Given the time, I'd very happily have experimented with all kinds of configurations. That's exactly why it's great there's a bit of berth for being less optimized.
The writing, I hope, you'll find at least entertaining if not side-splitting most of the time. It's enough to have made the four protagonists grow on me and to want to tag along on further adventures. I don't know how much I'd like the genuine old-skool RPGs that I've heard so much about but this is certainly a great piece of advertisement for them. While it's not clear when Frayed Knights 2 might be coming out, Rampant Coyote has been blogging on the project, so you can at least be the first to hear about it.
TIWICs = Things I Wish I'd Known
- To learn a spell from a scroll, you have to 'use' it in the inventory at which point it gives you an extra prompt. If this prompt doesn't have the option to learn it, that character is currently unable to, either because they're too low-level or they don't have the Arcane Runes ability.
- Don't miss the "extra info" button in the spellbook.
- The spell Ozzy Poppies has the wrong targeting info (or an implementation bug): it's cast on a single target,
not the whole enemy group. There may have been a few more cases of misinformation of this kind.
- To see a target enemy's status, including how long some effect will linger, you have to click at the center of the action select wheel.
- Save scumming takes some of the game's enjoyment away: if the sound of having to return to town semi-frequently to get properly rested doesn't appeal to you, this may not be the game for you.
- Drama points, unlike what the in-game info suggests, ARE saved when you save the game normally and resume via the "continue" option. They're only lost if you manually reload some save file.
- I'm not sure but I don't know if searching for ambushes actually works. The party only spotted one once in what felt like a scripted event despite often checking near the right places.
- Don't forget to actually sometimes consume consumable items. You'll get the opportunity to stock up on everything you could want later in the game (and the items stop having a real purpose anyway) so no need to hoard them till the end. I had a huge surplus of silver coins I never spent on anything.
Reviewed by: LotBlind