First Impressions: Exanima

With the recent Greenlight success of Exanima, I thought it appropriate to give my copy a try and write up my impressions of the game thus far. For those who are unaware, Exanima is being developed by Bare Mettle Entertainment and is an isometric action-RPG with roguelike elements. It is a prelude to Bare Mettle’s larger project, Sui Generis, which gives Bare Mettle an opportunity to polish and test gameplay mechanics in a smaller environment before injecting them into Sui Generis’ larger world. I have spent about eight hours playing Exanima, and I am ready to give my first impressions.

Exanima features two main gameplay modes as of now, the normal dungeon-crawling, and an arena mode where you fight enemy after enemy in an attempt to get as far as you can. I played a bit of the arena mode, but stayed mostly in the dungeon-crawling as I found it to be more engaging than fighting random enemies in a single room. Initially, Exanima drops you into a light character creation screen. There aren’t too many options, but it’s definitely possible to make some nice looking characters in it. Also, keep in mind that the game is currently in Beta so the character creation may be expanded as development continues. You spawn into the dungeon with nothing but the clothes that you are wearing (if you chose to wear clothes) and no indication of where you need to go. There is a note in your inventory that provides a very vague bit of backstory, but other than that, there is no information provided about who or where you are. If it is your first time playing Exanima, make sure to look at the quick start guide in the controls section of the options menu. This provides some much-needed information that will be almost impossible to survive without. I will be the first to say it took me ten minutes to figure out how to open the first door. Once I got that door open, ¬†however, I was greeted with a gorgeous and atmospheric dungeon to explore and I did not have to worry about someone telling me where I needed to go. I was free to explore the entire dungeon, which I have yet to completely explore even after eight hours of play time. It is also important to understand that Exanima has permadeath. Meaning, if you die in the dungeon you will be forced to start over from the beginning. Again, I’ve not progressed amazingly far into the game, so I’m not sure if there is a checkpoint system of any kind, but I doubt that there is based on what I’ve seen.

For anyone who read my previous Greenlight Spotlight about the game, you will know that the combat and movement in Exanima are momentum-based. There is a strong focus on physics and understanding how to manipulate your character in order to execute successful attacks is crucial to defeating any enemies in the game. I highly recommend you practice some swings in the starting room before you attempt to move on, as I found the combat to be extremely difficult to learn, but rewarding when you finally got the hang of it. The combat can be slightly similar to the Mount and Blade series in a way. Click the mouse button, and swing the mouse in the direction you’d like your weapon to go. There is also an overhead swing that you can execute by double-clicking and swinging the mouse. Blocking is done automatically as long as you are not trying to attack while the enemy’s weapon is coming towards you. Again, the combat system is not a simple one to grasp, but there are some fantastic things that you can do with it, and the depth of the combat is where Exanima really begins to shine.

Exanima’s inventory system is a bit weird at the current time. You can almost compare it to the inventory Tetris that you have to play in other games such as Diablo, but items can be placed directly on top of each other and do not snap to any grid. Being a bit of a neat freak when it comes to inventory, I often spent many minutes organizing items, which left me longing for an auto-arrange option or at least a grid to place the items in to make it a bit easier to navigate. In terms of the things that go in the inventory, i.e. weapons and armor, you will want to grab upgrades as soon as possible. The weapons in the starting room are incredibly bad and must be replaced with better equipment as soon as you can find it. Picking up items is very simple, although not as automatic as in other titles. In Exanima, you have to left-click and drag the item into your inventory panel in order to place it into your inventory, and then drag it onto your character portrait if you’d like to equip it. Most items in the game can be moved in some way. As you can see in the above screenshot, there is a door being blocked by debris, which you can move out of the way in order to access the room behind the door. I really like the ability to move things around in games, even if it is impractical or useless. The more freedom a game gives, the better.

Finally, I’d like to discuss the movement system. In order to move your character, you can either right-click and drag and have your character move in that direction, or you can use WASD and shift to sprint. I will say that both control schemes are equally useful, as I found myself using mouse-driven movement outside of combat and keyboard movement when I was in a fight. During a fight, using the WASD movement made it easier to make small adjustments and dodge enemy attacks, which I don’t think I could have done as successfully had I been using the mouse to move. One thing to watch out for when you are moving is beams, barrels, and other debris. Remember, Exanima is a physics-driven game and it is so easy to literally fall flat on your face. I can’t count the number of times I was running from an enemy and tripped over a beam, only to fall on my face and be chopped to bits as I tried to get up. This is one of my favorite features of the game, just because of the hilarious facepalm moments that can result in tripping over an object.

Exanima is a very fun game when push comes to shove. I love the momentum of the combat system and the look of the environments. The atmospheric effect that the audio and the visuals combine to create is fantastic, and really helps to give the game a unique feel. I would definitely recommend taking a look at Exanima if you are interested and have the funds. You can currently contribute, much like Kickstarter, to receive early access to the beta versions of not only Exanima, but Sui Generis as well when it releases. If you’d like to participate in the discussion on the forums, they can be found here.

Has anyone else had a chance to try out Exanima? What are your initial thoughts?