Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Keen Games
Genre: RPG / Sandbox
Release Dates: 18 May 2017 (Xbox One & PS4) / 23 November 2017 (Nintendo Switch)
Price: 19,99€ (Steam)
I'll start my review by saying this, if you are a parent looking for kid-friendly games to introduce your younglings to video games I highly recommend picking up Portal Knights for them because honestly this is the game I wish existed when I was 7. The colorful graphics, combined with fun and easy to learn gameplay that sparks creativity and teaches kids the basics of construction, loot management and simple yet addictive combat are all elements that offer a valuable stepping stone, preparing them for their future endeavors with video games, while still offering limitless replayability and reasons to come back regularly to your home island. Another reason why I think this is a great fit for kids is the lack of a complex storyline, which might come as a disappointment to older players, but does leave the window open for kids to use their imagination in order to create their own universe and stories, something that benefits a lot from the block building mechanic made popular by Minecraft.
That being said, for older players Portal Knights might not be such a long lasting experience simply because there is a lot of repetition with different elements of the game, something that younger players don't seem to mind as much as we do. Nonetheless, as someone in his 20s after 200 hours spent with Portal Knights I still feel like my adventure could continue with a possible future update simply because after all that time spent building enormous structures on my own island complete with fountains, gardens and secret pathways, I would be open to even more quests and new islands in order to build even more amazing stuff, and that is where the gameplay hook works the best. Even though avoiding the comparison to Minecraft is impossible since there are lots of similarities, Portal Knights adds on that with boss fights, quests, multiple themed islands and hundreds of different items, armor and weapons, but at the same time it is missing some of the more complex elements such as redstone or minecarts, so many of those crazy things that people build in Minecraft are not possible here.
As vague as the story is, there is some charm in the way it is presented, because once again it encourages you to use your imagination to fill in the missing blanks, the only guidelines for you are the short tutorial and the backstory of the Portal Knights in their quest to vanquish the evil, which basically means beating all the bosses and exploring islands with smaller quests in between, which are usually either a crafting quest, a looting quest or the traditional kill x number of x enemy quest, but the motivation to keep you going is different than it is in most RPGs, as the reward for completing a quest is usually gold which isn't as important to the overall experience as it may seem, but instead finding an NPC that you can move to your home island and unlocking the ability to purchase items from it while in your base helps the overall building loop as each new discovery will motivate you to make more space on your home island and craft more. On top of that you will constantly find new recipes, items, pieces of furniture, decorations and blocks until you have almost everything you could possibly need to build your dream base. 7
The main element in Portal Knights is the building mechanic, which not only allows you to build insane structures and decorate them with various items, but it's also a requirement when it comes to building bridges to access new areas as well as other platforming smaller challenges. There are many quests to complete in Portal Knights in addition to the Event Quests system that rotates a bunch of quest objectives on all of the islands that you have already unlocked, so doing the same quest a second time will be a different experience when done on another island, but just as the normal quests those suffer from the same lack of variety problem, which ultimately falls down to the simplistic combat gameplay, but on the bright side that does make Portal Knights accessible to a wider audience, including kids who might not have a lot of video game experience yet.
The combat system is a combination of basic attacks and spells, but since basic attacks are usually the biggest damage dealers as well as the quickest way to defeat most enemies, you will probably end up using only a few skills such as heal or enrage over the course of the entire game, simply because just as everything else, skills take up one inventory space, so carrying around the ones that are rarely used might not be a good idea as you could instead use that space to carry more resources back to your home island. The only real challenge comes from the boss battles which have a predetermined set of moves, so even if on your first tries it might take you a while to anticipate and react to every boss skill, once you learn the pattern defeating those shouldn't be too much hassle.
As mentioned before, if you like building games Portal Knights will keep you occupied for a long time, from furniture items to dozens of different block types to seeds, crafting items and anything in between, there are lots of different things to collect and build on your island. Even with its limited potential when it comes to building automation, the building mechanic is still a very addictive and relaxing experience, one that can be enjoyed alone in singleplayer or together in either local Split Screen Co-op or online multiplayer in a simple and quick manner, my only complaint being that for some reason characters are locked to the player that created them, so if you want to play the character created with a second controller while you were playing co-op in singleplayer mode, you can't, unless you connect the second controller and leave the first character AFK in split-screen, which seems like a weird thing to do. 7.5
Compared to other building games like Minecraft or Dragon Quest Builders, Portal Knights has a very clean and easy to manage interface and the overall graphics can appeal to all audiences due to their cartoony look, but at the same time there are dozens of different blocks that tie together in a very clean way, many making it impossible to notice the block edges as the game has an adaptive block system, meaning their appearance can change depending on how many of them you stack next to each other and where do you place them. The characters fit the overall world nicely enough, although they are missing some personality, as facial expressions are missing and dialogue is text only.
There are 48 different islands as of now, and even though some of them will surprise you the first time you travel there either with bright colors or new plants, blocks and items, but in reality most of them are similar to others, so leaving minor differences aside there are maybe 10 different themes, each used for at least 3 islands, so when it comes to environment variety there is definitely room for more. 7
There is no voice acting, only random gibberish sounds that NPCs make similar to the language from The Sims, but the written dialogue is simplistic and concise enough so even first graders can read in between the lines, but even if your kid cannot yet read, the dialogue is something that can be skipped without any negative impact on the overall game experience, as the story is partially told via cutscenes and mostly experienced through your imagination. The soundtrack although very repetitive does fit the relaxing mood of the game when exploring or building, with more energetic tunes playing during boss battles, but nonetheless Portal Knights can be played with your own music in the background without missing anything important. 6.5
Portal Knights is best played in Co-Op with 2 players or more, as not only does it make building easier and faster the more people you have, but it encourages you to build more and increases cooperation as you manage your resources across all players trying to build the next thing. That being said, the game can be played alone just fine and if you are digging the building mechanic the hours might fly by as you try to build a pyramid, a hotel or an underground hidden base, and that is where replayability comes from. 9.5
Regardless of who you're buying this for, your kids, your younger sibling or for yourself, Portal Knights can be quite an unique experience, although with its decent amount of flaws, but if you like building things or know someone who does, you or that someone will most likely enjoy this game. There is also an incentive to come back regularly due to updates, shifting event quests and weekly rewards, so this might be a good choice for your kids' first games as a service game that they can regularly come back to and expand their island without milking your credit card dry in the process. 7.5