[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Despite it having been out for over a year on the PC, I’d never heard of Portal Knights. Within an hour of booting it up, I immediately knew why, and that realisation made me sad. The reason me, you and probably many others have glanced past Portal Knights is because it is so reminiscent of just a ton of other games that you’ll have played elsewhere. Minecraft, Terraria, Dragon Quest Builders, Zelda – they are all here, and that’s cutting the list short if I’m being perfectly honest.
My natural instinct when it comes to games like that is to ignore them, because it’s so rare that a game takes the best bits (or even just the good bits) from so many games and makes them work together. I’ll make an exception for Portal Knights though, because once I had spent some time with it, I felt myself succumbing more and more to its charms.
At the simplest level, Portal Knights is a basic, third person action game with light RPG features, crafting and such like. The game takes place on a series of themed, procedurally generated floating islands, and perhaps the only unique thing about Portal Knights is the mechanic that binds these islands together.
Progress from one island to the next depends (usually) on two things: firstly, finding the next portal and secondly, finding enough crystal shards of the correct colour to craft them into the blocks that will make it operate.
Each island is incredibly similar in design to one of the biomes in Minecraft, albeit with a substantial makeover that affords me the license to say that I actually think Portal Knights is quite an attractive game.
From the early islands of grass, sand and snow to those featuring a dark miasma that tend to spawn later, each is as cute as a button. Players chop, dig and mine their way through each island in exactly the same way as they do in Minecraft, and then build them back up again with workbenches, houses, anvils and all the usual accoutrements that facilitate crafting and progression in games of this kind. They say that there is nothing new under the sun, and that’s true of crafting in Portal Knights – from the first wooden sword to the last titanium pickaxe, you’ll have seen it all before.
Combat is perhaps a bit more interesting than it is in many games of this kind, but it still falls drastically short of truly competent action RPG’s such as Zelda. The L2 button is used to lock on to an enemy, and depending on whether you chose the warrior, mage or ranger class, you’ll circle around them hurling projectiles or darting in to bash with a melee weapon.
Most daytime enemies are dumb and fairly straightforward to defeat, but there are some boss islands that feature much tougher opponents. Similarly at night, the enemies become drastically more challenging to defeat, with many having attacks that will kill you in a few hits at most.
Thankfully a core attraction of Portal Knights is the ability to call upon up to three other players in drop in, drop out cooperative multiplayer. Having some pals (and especially a balanced team) to face these tougher opponents is really useful, but more than anything it simply amplifies the fun considerably. The downside of Portal Knights familiarity was a feeling that I had done this all before. It’s a lot like starting a new world in Minecraft – it seems a good idea at the time, but when the realisation that you have no equipment, no house and no idea where to start sinks in, it can be just as daunting as it is exciting.
That said, if you were thinking of starting a new world in Minecraft but just haven’t got around to it, then why not do it in Portal Knights instead? The islands act like microbiomes, each of which has its own unique resources, and the combat is better. The graphics are also so similar to those of Minecraft that they could be considered a high definition remake of Mojang’s seminal mine and craft-em-up. The appeal of Portal Knights is amplified massively by having friends that will join in, and when I referred to the similarity with Terraria earlier, I meant that the game has bosses, treasures and other reasons to drive the player forwards, which is something Minecraft has never excelled at.
You could do a lot worse with your time and money than spend it on Portal Knights, so for that reason, if it sounds like your cup of tea, then you should certainly: