Remember the Fallout games? Many reviewers (this one included) still think of Fallout and Fallout 2 as the pinnacle of role playing gaming on the PC. Seal Of Evil, a new budget title set in ancient China, hearkens back to the old Fallout days, which is a mixed blessing to say the least.
Sure it's not a turn-based adventure set in a post apocalyptic future, but Seal Of Evil is strongly reminiscent of Fallout in presentation and tone. Seal Of Evil's top down view of the world where you control your tiny minions looks very similar to Fallout 2, and both games present an immersive world which easily sucks you into its own set of rules and logic. Of course, Fallout 2 had its heyday years ago, so those expecting a system-pushing game with the latest graphics may be disappointed with Seal Of Evil's decidedly low-tech approach.
Seal Of Evil mixes real Chinese history with mythology, and takes place during the Warring States period (476-206 BC) where the powerhouse state of Qin is striving to unite all of the Chinese kingdoms through whatever means necessary. Resisting invasion is the small state of East Baiyue, and when the leaders of the land die under mysterious circumstances, it's up to a small band of adventurers to set things right.
Unlike most other RPGs, Seal Of Evil does not allow you to create your own characters from scratch. To begin with, you are given preset characters which are aligned to broad classes (such as witch, wizard, paladin, assassin and beastman), but as the game progresses you can individually tweak each character's attributes. Instead of traditional RPG attributes such as stamina and agility, Seal Of Evil features elemental ones which affect different aspects of a character. Upping your Metal attribute, for example, increases attack, while adding to Wood increases health.
You traverse the world of Seal Of Evil in a three-person party, although you can only directly control one character at a time (with the other two following your lead). Battles occur in real time, but you can pause at any point to assign attacks using the spacebar. Like Diablo 2, players can assign physical or magical attacks to either mouse button, but unlike Diablo 2, Seal of Evil never becomes a mad click-fest as your characters generally attack enemies repeatedly once they're spotted without any extra input from you. Your companions' AI is generally good, with the characters knowing when to heal and use spells in battle.
Gameplay in Seal Of Evil is pretty standard RPG-fare - you're given several main quests to complete plus are offered dozens of mini-quests that you can take on at your discretion. Seal Of Evil also features different endings and quest paths depending on how your character reacts to certain situations. While it's not as open ended as the Fallout games, the branching storylines do lend Seal Of Evil some replay value.
While Seal Of Evil doesn't break new ground when it comes to gameplay, perhaps its most innovative feature is its unique item creation tool, which basically allows a player to make (and improve) virtually any weapon/armour that suits. Throughout the course of the game, players will acquire different materials from a wide variety of sources (such as fallen enemies, trees, rocks, rewards for quests, etc). These materials, which all feature different attributes that affect attack, defense and magic, can be mixed and matched to create completely unique items. There's no hard and fast rule as to how to mix materials, leaving a player open to experiment to their heart's content.
Seal Of Evil lacks some of the whizz-bangery of newer RPGs, with graphics definitely not its strongpoint. That's not to say the game world looks dull - on the contrary, the environments in Seal Of Evil are well detailed, but it certainly doesn't have the finesse of a Neverwinter Nights. Still, this lack of graphic punch means Seal Of Evil will run smoothly on most systems, with its minimum specs being 128MB RAM, a 350Mhz processor and a 4MB video card. Sound in the game is passable, although most of the voice-overs are horribly over the top.
With its immersive gameplay and innovative item creation tool, Seal Of Evil will appeal to hard core RPG fanatics who want a unique experience and aren't bothered by a lack of graphical finesse.
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