A Father tells his son a bedtime story, about a boy, who sets out on a perilous journey to save his father and the rest of his Viking village’s warriors. This is story is Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim.
Genre(s): Action Adventure
Publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing
Release Date: April 2016
Played: Main campaign
Purchase At: Steam
I wanted to like Cornerstone. I previewed it months ago and spoke of some of the issues it had, and I hoped against all hope that they would fix these problems. They didn’t and they just pile on. I’m disappointed, completely.
Let’s get the good out of the way, since there’s so little of it.
I liked Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim’s visuals, loved how characters, environments and items looked somewhere between plastic and wooden, as if they were all part of some giant board game. It helps with the lighthearted tone of the game and the game’s blocky character design feel like a natural choice instead of a limitation. If this was indeed a conscious choice, they nailed it.
The music is good, what little there is of it. Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim has appalling sound design. The developers don’t know when it’s good to not have any sound effects and when they’re most useful. You go through entire segments of the game’s islands, particularly Borja, the first one, without a single background note and no environmental effects, not even the chirping of birds. A cutscene later on has a character casting a spell on you to help you reach your goal, and this scene is completely mute. Here’s a tip, if you’re gonna go for the big display of magic and/or the big quest moment, give me a jingle at least. Help me understand and feel the importance of this moment!
The Final Boss fight song is outstanding, and I felt pumped because of it. There’s an epic choir with a powerful tune and it’s only a shame they wasted the song on such a bland final fight, one you could use a WoW term for: add fight. Where you just fight normal enemies and mostly deal with ambient perils. You have to one-hit-kill about ten enemies that deal almost no damage to you, while avoiding telegraphed and easily avoidable attacks from the main boss. Then you have to crack three crystals on its head when it comes down to head-butt you. It is as simple and as dull as it sounds. But the music that goes with it is amazing!
Often games in this style bill themselves as being similar or in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim’s developers did so in their Kickstarter campaign. Such comparisons only make me judge the game in a harsher way, as nothing in this game is superior to the Nintendo Classic, least of all the combat and sea exploration.
Combat is a dull affair. Characters fight very slowly and telegraph their attacks so much that you can step back and avoid them without ever having to use a shield. Blocking opens them for counterattacks, but your stamina bar compounds the slow-paced combat issue by only letting you take a couple of sluggish swipes at them. Even with fast weapons, you can barely do two or three attacks before it runs out. The combat is not challenging, there’s no nuance in enemy encounters and it all feels tedious and repetitive.
There are a total of three boss fights in the game. The other two are rather simple with the first one being so tedious as to almost make me lose all desire to keep playing. You fight on a platform filled with fire-breathing turrets, poison gas traps and barrels of oil. Sounds interesting right? The problem comes from the boss only taking one hit before he disappears and pops up somewhere else. It makes the fight slow and sluggish. Worst of all, if you manage to cover him in oil and have him stand in the path of the flames, he’ll take such a minuscule amount of damage it becomes entirely pointless.
The ‘dungeons’, meaning the island treks you do before the boss fights aren’t as bad but they border on repetitiveness, with a single concept and mechanic used in the same way over and over, with no added complexity or challenge. Islands in Song of Tyrim are one-trick-ponies.
Sea exploration is bland and frankly annoying. You go into the open seas, using your map to make sure you’re heading in the right course, but if you were hoping to find challenges along the way, such as enemy fights or monsters, or even random NPCs to talk to, then you’ll be very disappointed. There is nothing in the open seas in Cornerstone: Song of Tyrim except for random debris that literally pop up from the below the waves in your path. At first, I tried to avoid these, but by the end I didn’t care enough to do so. One of the worst things about it is that the game loads the islands as you approach them, making the entire game freeze and stutter as it does so.
The crafting system is good and easy to understand and it was the one part of the game that I truly liked. I wish we’d had more items to build, particularly better weapons and shields, some with more durability as the ones you do craft break faster than sugar-glass bottles. Too often I had to back away from an enemy, pretty much tell them, “Stop! Hammer Time!” Before I went to actually hammer and cobble something new together. I wanted to create more things aside from weapons, and boxes. I wanted to improve my ship, add weapons to it, increase its speed and handling. But you don’t and thus the system feels wildly underused.
This is a very short game, one I finished in one sitting. There’s very little to do outside of the main quest and the rewards for secondary ones aren’t interesting enough to engage me. Characters attempt to be funny but at most throw out very hit & miss non-sequiturs, anachronistic references and some very clear “adult” jokes that miss their mark almost every time. The plot itself is a straight rescue mission that tries to add more stakes to its narrative but fails at every point. The major villains are laughable and never manage to make an impression, particularly when you realise nothing really bad happened to the Viking men, they’re perfectly fine. Like everything else in this game, the storytelling and characterisation are bland.
But what truly brings the game down is its alarming lack of polish. Textures glitch, collision detection is wonky, controls fail to respond and the ship veers off course if you leave it along for a microsecond. NPCs forget quest progress and question you about stuff you’ve already turned in. The first boss de-spawned in the middle of the fight, forcing me to restart it. My ship capsized on its own at one point. There is so much wrong in terms of quality assurance—without even mentioning the frequent freezes and crashes—that I’m appalled that this game is making it to the market in this condition.
As I said, I wanted to like Cornerstone: Song of Tyrim, I really did. It had the elements there for a phenomenal game and the potential to blow every other game, including The Wind Waker, clear out of the water, but it just failed. It simply failed and I’m truly disappointed.
2/5 – Disappointing