Emerging at the height of Dungeons & Dragon’s popularity, pioneering first-person dungeon-crawlers of the 80s like Wizardry and Might and Magic sought to capture the magic of the tabletop RPG in the virtual world. Over the past few decades, this niche genre seems to have faded into obscurity, however, it now seems, much like D&D itself, to be making a comeback. While the influence of those games can be seen in everything from JRPG Zanki Zero: Last Beginning to VR title The Mage’s Tale, Operencia: The Stolen Sun may be the most authentic and refreshing take on the genre in decades.
Hungarian developer Zen Studios, primarily known for their licensed pinball games, may seem an odd fit for a project like Operencia, yet their extensive experience with both puzzle design and strategic gameplay plays perfectly into the dungeon-crawl genre. Operencia strikes a perfect balance between complexity and accessibility, at once honouring the traditions of the genre and reinvigorating them into something that feels contemporary. Narratively, Operencia treads common ground with a timeless tale of good versus evil yet thanks to sharp writing, charismatic voice acting and compelling world-building this story remains engaging through every beat.
Operencia’s fantastical world, despite appearing a little generic, manages to distinguish itself with a sense history and place that at once feels familiar and unique, drawing on both fantasy tropes and European history and mythology. Even its more mundane elements, be that animated skeletons or dingy dungeons are imbued with personality by a distinct art style that sits somewhere between cartoon and realism. Ruined castles and moonlit forests are brought to life with atmospheric lighting, immersive audio and a vibrant colour palette; rays of light refract and luminous mushrooms loom while an enchanting score dances beneath the hums, clanks, roars and crackles that populate the world around you.
At the core of Operencia’s wonderfully well-realized world are its three pillars of gameplay: exploration, puzzles and combat. Staying true to convention, movement unfolds across a grid which while at first may feel restrictive, especially by modern standards, lends a gratifying methodical quality to traversing each level. Equally, this movement system puts the power to pursue or avoid enemies in your hands while removing the busy work from backtracking. Operencia’s modular structure encourages you to revisit areas, allowing you to fast between bonfires save points, and rewards you for doing so either with access to new areas or with a bounty of loot, be it gear, gold or potion recipes.
Equally smart in their design, Operencia’s puzzles each present you with a fresh inventive challenge. Some may have you remember a certain pattern of numbers, symbols or movements while others require the use of artefacts; unique items like Stoneheart, a hammer which reconstructs shattered rubble or the Griffin Feather, a magical quill that allows you to levitate objects. These puzzles are perfectly paced throughout levels, offering worthy tests of wit without being too abstruse. The lack of a waypoint did at times leave me a little lost, forcing me to carefully retrace my steps in search of whatever hidden item or path I needed to find to complete a puzzle or advance through a level. However, for the most part, the path to progression is clear and moments of frustration are few and far between.
Much like its puzzles, Operencia’s combat presents a steady challenge that consistently makes you feel empowered but never complacent. Turn-based battles place you face to face with enemies who position themselves along three rows, each denoting their range from your party. Each member in your party of four, including your custom protagonist who can specialise as either a Hunter, Warrior or Mage class, wields their own set of skills, some of which are best used up close while others prove more effective at long range. Alongside basic melee, ranged and defensive actions are dozens of spells and skills, from focused physical feats like Bash or Somersault to area attacks and elemental effects like Asphyxiation or Combustion which deal sustained poison or fire damage to all foes.
Thanks to bold UI design, a clear set of tutorials and the intuitive feel of its turn-based ebb and flow, combat quickly becomes second nature. Simple enough to be instantly understood yet deep enough to demand a considered approach to every encounter, Operencia’s combat is perfectly balanced. With a set number of enemies in each area, none of which respawn, the game’s progression loop aims to do away with grinding in favour of combat that champions smart resource management over the raw power of your party’s stats. This means at times I would hit what seemed like an impossible difficulty spike, only to reconfigure and respec my party before returning to prevail.
Quality of life measures like an optimise gear option which automatically selects the best gear from your inventory for each character works alongside the ability to respec at any time to create an efficient, fluid roleplaying experience that encourages you to experiment and explore. The addition of party actions, special moves that do everything from decimating enemy forces to resurrecting fallen allies, and potions, brewable concoctions which heal health, buff energy and damage foes, both add an extra layer to combat, expanding your tactical options and ensuring combat never becomes stale.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun combines the best aspects of old-school dungeon crawlers with the conveniences of modern game design to deliver a finely-tuned roleplaying experience. While it may lack some of the narrative nuance or mechanical complexity found in games like Divinity: Original Sin 2 or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Operencia’s accessibility never feels detrimental to its sense of immersion. With tactical combat, a streamlined progression system, inventive puzzle and level design and compelling world-building, Operencia is proof that this genre has life in it yet.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/108.5/10
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a revitalisation of the dungeon-crawl genre. In merging the best of the genre's old-school staples with the conveniences of modern design sensibilities, Operencia delivers a sublimely well-balanced roleplaying experience, one brought to life with excellent art and audio design and a compellingly crafted world.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.