Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Magnetic Realms
Here’s the thing about Exile’s End: take any of its component parts in isolation, and none of them are particularly terrible. Yet add them all up, and the end result is a pretty crummy game.
In other words, it’s basically the inverse of the idea that something can be more than the sum of its parts. Take the graphics, for example: much like everything else in the game, they’re going for a late-’80s/early=’90s vibe. The thing is, they’re a little too polished to pull that off. Consequently, it’s not good enough to be noteworthy, and they’re not bad enough to be endearing. They’re just blandly mediocre, at best.
Or take the map and its exploration. Exile’s End is designed to be a Metroidvania-style platformer, which means lots of uncovering its world square by square. Unfortunately, this falters in every respect imaginable. Like many games of its ilk, Exile’s End demands constant backtracking, except the areas aren’t diverse or interesting enough to be memorable, and there are few signposts or markers that help you keep track of where you are. Even worse, it often feels like the game’s sense of space is a little off; sure the map shows roughly where you are, but it never feels like the different squares line up the way the game says they do, making navigation tricky.
Also making navigation tricky: the fact that the controls suck. Or, more specifically, there’s no way to look at your surrounding area. Considering that a) early on in the game even jumping down slightly high hills can kill you and b) there are numerous other places where the ground beneath you holds nasty, often fatal surprises, you’d think the least the game could do is provide you with a slightly movable camera. Instead, it forces you to make constant leaps of faith, which are about as fun as you can imagine.
That, however, is nothing compared to Exile’s End’s most egregious sin: a horribly broken save system. See, this game saves your progress every time you enter a new room. While that’s theoretically not the worst thing in the world — plenty of games commit the opposite crime of not saving enough — here it’s implemented in the dumbest way imaginable. It saves your status at the point you enter the room, which includes your weapons and your health bar. It also immediately forgets everything you did prior to entering a room. Taken together, that means that if you, say, throw a rock at an enemy (because, by the way, early on rocks are your only weapons) and then move on to the next room, that rock will no longer be there to pick up again, but the enemy will be there when and if you double back. On top of that, it means it’s very easy to get stuck in a cycle of instant death, whereby you enter a room with minimal health left, you get killed, and then continuing the game means that you start again in that room with minimal health. Combine all those things with the fact there are barely any items to be found, whether weapons or health boosts, and you can see why Exile’s End gets annoying really quickly.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s not just annoying, it makes for a terrible game. As I said up top, none of Exile’s End’s issues are fatal by themselves, but take them together and you have a picture of a game in which the wrong design choices were made every step of the way. There’s no one thing that’s especially objectionable, but there are a whole bunch of things that add up to make one title you should avoid at all costs.