Hack and Slash games, I find, can be very hit or miss a lot of the time. There’s a trade-off to be made with them in that what is gained through accessibility and straightforwardness is compensated for in a loss of replayability and depth. Most games in the genre tend to be mindless, linear romps that are fun enough for the first run if the gameplay is solid enough, but lack the depth to make a second playthrough all that enticing.
Hard to be a God hopes to change that and has drawn inspiration and lore from the world of the Strugatsky brothers‘ novel. You may remember that the Strugatsky’s wrote Roadside Picnic, the inspiration and source material behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (though having read the book I can tell you the game deviates massively from the original premise).
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We’ll get into the specifics of the plot and the novel in a moment, but rest assured that this is one science fiction’s most developed and well-regarded universes that Burut Entertainment is drawing from here – so there’s definitely room for this to become one of the deepest and most involving hack and slash games ever. That’s especially true when you throw in some basic RPG elements, a non-linear game design and a complex new disguise system.
Still, whether or not the game is any good is ultimately going to depend on one thing; just how hard is it to be a God?
Easy to be a Sod?
Hard to be a God may be a well respected novel in some circles, but it’s very likely that you’ve never actually heard of the book despite that, so all me to fill you in on the premise of the game.
The game involves two planets – Earth and Arkanar. Arkanar was once very similar to our home planet but, where the culture our home moved to embrace technology and create cool new websites, Arkanar stayed grounded in the middle ages. The distant planet, which was also home to strange creatures as well as the dominant human cut off contact with Earth after a long and bitter war and the two went about their separate evolutionary paths.
God says: Dost thou know where I can refill my horse?
Until now, that is... as Earth has started infiltrating Arkanar with secret agents whose job is to investigate the situation on this alien world.
Of course, not all of this is explained right away and the first hour or two of the game will have the player running around as a soldier of Arkanar, completing various quests and slowly being introduced to the game. Then, when the real story is ready to begin this is unveiled to the player and you’ll find yourself swept up in the meat of the game, fancy Earth technology slowly becoming available to you and making you as a God among your own people. Obviously, with such interplanetary intrigues rallying all around you your tasks will not be easy – it really is hard to be a God.
If you’re a bit of a sci-fi purist then you’ll probably have noticed that the game is differing from the book a little and there’s none of the parables and deeply confusing metaphors that often crop up in books by the Strugatsky brothers. Personally, I think that’s a good thing too – there are only so many cloaked metaphors about Nazi skeletons in the forest that I can stand.
Still, story is all well and good, but gameplay is what really matters for a game – Tetris proved that. So, shoving aside the lofty origins of the game’s inspiration, let’s take a look at how the game actually works.