Every now and then amidst the bleak end of the world and shooting everything that moves on screen blockbuster games I play, a soft spoken but pleasant surprise brings a much needed blast of colour and hope to my gaming. Stories: The Path of Destinies took me by surprise on every level and even as I write these words I am smiling.
Growing up I had a real passion for ‘Text Adventure Books’ where the story was told by reading a chapter and at the end being given a choice of where to go in the story next by picking an option and going to the page number where that decision played out. This is why I have such a fondness for TellTale Series of games. Player choice is a powerful story telling device and Stories: The Path of Destinies uses it far as its foundation than any other game right now.
Our main hero is Reynardo, a cunning FOX and Rogue who has lead a life of adventuring but is now quite happily avoiding all the drama in the world but is suddenly dragged into the battle between the brave rebellion and the evil Mad Emperor with his army of Ravens. Entrusted to protect an enchanted book from falling into the hands of the Emperor, the player is tasked with steering Reynardo through the story and to find the ‘True Path’ to a happy ending.
It is that very journey to find the true story path that makes Stories such a clever and wonderful gaming experience. The game is played via the Enchanted Book which is read out to the player by the superb Narrator voiced by the brilliant Julian Casey. The Narrator has a very busy job as he not only reads out the story as it unfolds along the paths that the choices made by the player makes but to also bring the various characters to life by voicing what they have to say. Such is the great job by Julian Casey, the very different personalities of each character all come to life and lift the story telling off the pages of the Enchanted Book. It is worthwhile taking your time to listen out for the subtle but witty lines of banter delivered during gameplay by the Narrator with some great surprise moments and pop culture references made that just made my smile bigger.
Through player choice the aim is to unlock the true path in the story, this requires discovering four truths that Reynardo must learn in order to unlock that path. Consisting of five chapters, the Enchanted Book will offer two or three options for the player to pick that will shape a different story route. The Narrator will give a short description as to where each direction may lead. Do you choose to save a long time friend in Lapino the rabbit who has been captured by the enemy or decide to find a legendary super weapon and try to destroy the Emperor once and for all?
Each choice will steer the story differently with consequences playing out for choice not taken and trying to guess what those consequences may be will shape the choices to come later on though some will have a few surprising twists. I found myself trying to pick ones that felt the most heroic and good but soon found that the implied route of a decision option often led to very different outcomes for Reynardo. The only way to know if your picks were successful is by reaching the end chapter and seeing how the story played out. Whatever the outcome, the pages of the Enchanted Book will turn back to the beginning and will each time until you find the correct truths and unlock the true path. Now the player will have learned via the last outcome of previous choices so can make a more educated path the next time. The narration will also change to reflect past choices and what discoveries have been made about characters and path options which can help the player avoid making the same mistakes again.
The world of Stories: The Path of Destinies is a gorgeous and brightly drawn world with a musical score that helps set the tone and feel of each chapter location. There are multiple routes through each level area with some only becoming available after completing previous story attempts. This is a well thought out design as you will be revisiting each location a good number of times and you explore different story paths so having new areas to explore will reveal new secrets and act as shortcuts later on. The art style is just so pleasant on the eye that I could still appreciate the little details and touches even after multiple trips through.
The combat will see Reynardo taking on increasingly tougher Raven enemies and has a deceptively simply system. Attacks all come from a single button system and a fighting style that I found very similar to the Arkham game series. You can counter enemy attacks and follow-up with a strike and as your combo grows you can trigger a free flow attack to multiple enemies. Your combat skills can be upgraded add you progress with XP earned from combat and attacks can be buffed by using one of the four magical hero swords that you can craft from collecting materials looted from chests and once upgraded can augment attacks with elemental damage of fire or ice, to slow time in battle and to restore health. It will take several replays to unlock all the skills and hero swords which is why they will all carry over each time the Enchanted Book begins again. This does help remove some of the potential grind fatigue as each playthrough makes Reynardo stronger and enemies increase in number to balance out and more areas of each level open up as each hero sword acts as a key to unlock their coloured doors which block off areas and hide secrets.
I really loved my time with Stories: The Path of Destinies from the combat to the story telling unfolding based on every decision I made. I completed the ‘True Path’ twice before penning this review, once from just playing on my own and in a way I would play any game and a second during a Twitch stream where I allowed the good people in chat to vote on what choices to make. What came as a surprise was that the stories unlocked on both plays were completely different. The four truths and ultimate True Path will always be the same outcome but there are twenty five stories that can be told just by making different choices in order to learn those four truths. That is a whole bunch of adventures the player can forge and experience whilst playing and thanks to the Narrator will have plenty of fun moments to find.
It is a game deserving of more fanfare than it has with all the big blockbuster titles out now but it offers a staggering amount of gameplay for a price less than that of a map pack. Reynardo and I shared many glorious adventures across many lifetimes and though I know how the story truly ends, I still smile when opening the Enchanted Book to create just one more tale in the fantastical world of Stories: The Path of Destinies.