In Verbis Virtus (The Power of Words) is the geek’s dream game. You play a wizard and cast spells by shouting their words into your mic. Ok, you just need to speak them, but come on? Shouting’s the way to go!
Genre(s): Action Adventure
Developer: Indomitus Games
Publisher: Meridian 4
Release Date: April 2015
Played: Main Story (2 Endings)
At the game’s opening you’re travelling the desert and come across a mysterious temple. You, the player, won’t really know what’s going on, what you’re doing there or who your protagonist is. But as you explore, face the temple’s devious challenges and puzzles, find new spells and read documents, you’ll not only piece together your character’s motivation but also the Temple’s and world’s backstory.
The character’s arc is simple. He has a single purpose and it drives him forward, but you won’t know much until his journal reveals it to you. He’s a silent protagonist and the journal pages are his only voice, the only way he can talk to you. Otherwise, he’s just a blank slate, a faceless avatar.
The world’s story on the other hand is multilayered and quite complex, and it has hundreds of tiny clues to what is really going on in the game that you might miss. The lore you find tells you about the civilisation before the Temple, the structure itself, the study of magic and the religion. These all tie to the plot in one way or another and at the same time make the game world feel grander. But the lore pieces can be quite dark. There is one in particular about a girl trying to be useful that freaked me the hell out.
The Temple is home to different locations, from stone rooms and caverns to deep chasms filled with strange mystical lights. And that is just the base floor. Without spoiling much, there are two main levels of the temple, the lower and upper. The lower is closer to the typical fantasy temple, while the upper I nicknamed The Jedi Temple, technological and made of steel and glass. But beyond aesthetics, the visuals are amazing. Early in the game you come across a cavern with beautiful waterfalls and multicoloured lights. I was so busy looking at the spectacle of magic and lights I didn’t see the swarm of tiny enemies coming and I died.
The environments were amazing but the creature design lacked polish. There are only a handful of enemies and while the bosses (yes there are those) all look amazing, the cannon fodder looks plain and dull. One of the earliest enemies is a red-eyed brown monster with three tentacles coming out its back. The tentacles look like wires, and the creature has a basic and quite bland texture, with almost no features visible. Worst of all, while at first it seems like the red eye is shining, the truth is it has a red light-box floating in front it. Their AI is often buggy so I had many chances to look them up close and I was disappointed to find them so bland.
Another enemy, further down the line is a Lich-like creature, a floating robed skeleton and this one also looks too plain for a game that offers so many beautifully detailed environments and wonderful magic effects.
The spell effects are hands-down fantastic. There are subtle ones like the Light spells, a flickering and pulsing ball of light in your hand, and Telekinesis, a semi-transparent hand grasping things, and then are the amazingly flashy ones like the Fire Seal, a pulsing sigil that blows up on command, or the teleportation spell, with its ripple visual effects and floating sigils to mark where you can teleport to. From now on, every time I’m lost in some dreamland of my choosing or writing about sorcerers, this is how I’ll see many spells in my mind.
For a game revolving around words, there aren’t many spoken in the game. There is only one voiced character and it’s difficult to judge the voice acting when she speaks a strange and made-up tongue, as it’s impossible to tell if she’s using the proper inflection or not.
In Verbis Virtus’ music I found had a different effect depending on whom was listening. There was a piece in the Jedi Temple that I found soothing and wonderful—then again, I have a thing for piano pieces—so I called over my cousin and told him to listen to it. His response, “that’s a pretty eerie tune” and only after he mentioned it did I recognize the somber tones in the piece that gave it the unnerving quality he felt. And it’s the same for most of the background music, and because of it, the music tells as much a story as the lore you find. It’s impressive.
Voice recognition is the most important aspect of this game if we’re being honest and I’d love to tell you it’s amazing and we should all hail Indomitus Games as our overlords. But that’s not the case (besides, I’ve already called dibs on the world, sorry), as the voice recognition will often fail and cast a different spell to the one you want. This is partly because of how it plays with regional accents and the finicky nature of voice recognition in general. To help, Indomitus built in a couple of voice profiles and even a system for you to ‘train’ the recognition system so it works with the way you speak. I never had the need to do this as my English is a pretty neutral accent-less American one (or at least that’s what I tell myself).
The other problem with the voice recognition system is the vocabulary. What I mean by this is the spell formula (the words you speak) design. Formulae in the game’s made-up language, Maha’ki, share too many words, so it’s not surprising that the voice recognition gets confused with them from time to time. You can change the formula language in the options to English but the formulae become much longer and more complex. For example, the Maha’ki formula for the ice beam is “Ibohn Ektoh,” which is quite easy to say and pronounce, even when you’re running from three monsters and trying to kill them; but the English one is “Freeze by Ice,” which in the same circumstances I squish together or say so fast the voice recognition failed. Another example and one where regional accent plays heavily into is the TK spell, “Obi Kehnu” in Maha’ki but “Mind Over Matter” in English. Just think of them many ways someone can say “Matter.”
Personally, I would’ve expanded the Maha’ki lexicon, to make the different spells as unique as possible. Thankfully, you can do this on your own, as the vocabulary files are editable in your game folder. I’m currently working on making the light spell respond to the word Muffin and the teleport to Boogabooga. If you want to suggest words I use, be my guest! For Russians, someone has already created a Russian pack for the game, which you can get on the Steam forums. There is also one for Latin for the Roman Empire survivors or old-school Catholic priests among you.
But when it works, it’s quite easy to learn and use and if you forget a spell you still have it in the journal and they come with an example pronunciation.
Puzzles will almost exclusively depend on spells in one way or another, particularly Telekinesis if you have to use other objects. Indomitus didn’t play it safe with its design but took a risk and many of the spells have timing. You’ll use one spell to trigger a change and then have to react with another to follow up. For example, later in the game you have a redirecting light puzzle and you need to use coloured cubes to change the light’s hue before it hits a switch. The first switch is Red but as soon as the light hits it, it shifts to a yellow one, so you need to find a way to knock off one of the colour cubes out of the way at that specific moment. Because of what I mentioned above with the voice recognition system, these timing puzzles can lead to a certain degree of frustration, but they are very clever. Telekinesis-focused puzzles require a lot more precision and will often not have any timing involved, but instead you’ll have environmental hazards and even enemies.
As I mentioned, there aren’t many enemies but the ones present are quite deadly (except the little crawly bugs) and hard to fight with the voice control, especially early in the game when your only real choice is to run. Once you have your first fire spell you can start defending yourself properly though. The one-eyed bastards I mentioned in the visual section of this review are difficult enough on their own but then the game starts throwing them at you in packs and always, always, in confined quarters. I often uttered a curse or two along with the spell words when fighting them.
The lich like enemies on the other hand are pushovers. When you read about them and what they can do you think them extremely complicated. But when you realise you can use the same spell to counter everything they do, they lose their enemy appeal.
Bosses are puzzles themselves, as they should be in a game like this. The first one buzzes around extremely fast and fires projectiles at you. It’s impossible to hit it when you figure out how to return fire, unless you use another spell first to give you a window. The last one is impossible to kill until you figure out what you need to do to actually damage it and then it becomes much easier. Then there’s the bastard that chases you across lava pits…it’s where I lost my voice playing the game. That is, until I realised there was a second version of the Teleport spell that creates a floating sigil. You can use it to mark where you want to go and that way I got through those sections.
I enjoyed my time with In Verbis Virtus, and while the voice rec cost me my voice for a week and possibly gave me an ulcer, it’s an extremely innovating title and I want to know what Indomitus games come up with next.
4.5/5 – Amazing!