About two years ago I checked out Portal Knights on Steam Early Access. It was just a preview at the time; not a full-on review of the game. I enjoyed my time with the game as it reminded me a lot of Minecraft, of which I had played a bit of the Wii U version, but that was it. At the time, I created a mage in Portal Knights because I gravitate towards spellcasters in role-playing games. I’m not saying that was a mistake on my part, but as someone playing the game for the first time, maybe going with the traditionally squishy class wasn’t the best choice. Now it’s almost two years later and I received the opportunity to review the Nintendo Switch version, so let’s see how this plays out now that I have an idea of what I’m doing.
When you first start, you can choose from Play Online, Play Offline, and Local Multiplayer. The first and third options allow you to take one of your characters and either host a game in one of your worlds or join in someone else’s world. The second option is essentially single-player. Sadly, I don’t have any friends with this game yet, and, believe it or not, I couldn’t find any games to join at the time of this review—so I couldn’t really check out the multiplayer options.
When starting a single-player game you’ll create your character and name your world. You can have up to five characters and three worlds stored, and the worlds are all randomly generated so you’ll never get the exact same world twice. In addition, you can choose whether to have a small or large world size. For my world I went with a large size. The island sizes are pretty big with plenty to explore…and the occasional mini-island out in the air that you’ll have to build your way to if you want to explore it. Your knight can be one of three classes: warrior, ranger, or mage, each with their own methods of attacks such as swords, bows, and wands. After that you’re plopped down in the first randomly generated island and your adventure begins.
The goal of each island is to find a portal, of which there is at least one in each area, and fill the portal with the required number of certain-colored blocks to proceed to the next island. From here a lot of the game is similar to Minecraft as you can gather various things and turn them into useful tools and items via a crafting table or furnace. You’ll also find various enemies wandering around with some tougher enemies appearing at night. There are also quests you can complete that, along with defeating enemies and while mining, can earn you experience. After obtaining a certain amount of experience you’ll level up and will have a couple of points you can put into various attributes such as strength, constitution, and agility. Naturally you’ll want to put points into attributes that play to your class’s strengths.
As stated, there’s a huge Minecraft-style element to the game in that you can mine just about anything you see that’s not an enemy. If you’re like me, you’ll want to mine just about everything you can find. Even random blocks of dirt have their uses. When I first played the Steam version in Early Access, I didn’t do a whole lot of mining other than giving myself a few basics to start with; I just ran around the island, found the portal, and once I had enough energy shards of the correct color, I’d create enough blocks to fill the portal and move on. Sure, I had enemies to deal with that grew stronger the further into the game I went, but I was a more interested in seeing the next island and discovering new things to mine. If you actually try that now you’ll likely hit a brick wall…hard. After getting a few islands in, I started coming across more difficult enemies. It was then that I learned that crafting is very important. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was to begin with, but I spent a lot more time crafting items in the early going this time around than I did on the Steam version. Keep in mind that any tools you craft, such as weapons, axes, picks, and so on, will have durability that will degrade over time. When it runs out you can still use the item (and repair them using a sharpening stone), but it’ll only be half as effective.
Each island has a landing portal. You can backtrack to any island you’ve previously been to with these portals. You can also set any island to be your home. Tapping the Home button on the map will transport you to that specific island without having to find it on the map. Since the maps are randomly generated for each world you create, this may not always be the case 100 percent of the time, but my first island had a small house with a small garden next to it. I basically ended up making that house my home in the world and crafted a few things such as a furnace, drafting table, and an anvil to make more items with. Then I spent several hours just gathering various materials from the islands I had been to at that point to prepare me for what lies ahead. One of my biggest personal issues with Minecraft was just not knowing what I needed in order to make certain items, or how to arrange them in the crafting window properly. Here, not only can you see all available items, but you can craft what items you need to craft your final item. You can see on the map screen the materials you can mine from that island. Early on, when I needed a bunch of copper to make things, I knew I could go to level 1-02 to find the copper ore that I needed.
I mentioned that all islands have at least one portal you can activate, while some have multiple portals. I also mentioned that you’ll occasionally come across some quests you can do for rewards and experience. These can actually go hand in hand. If you look at the map you can see lines where various islands connect to each other and you’ll also see an island that has a skull on it. That’s a boss and you have to basically find your way around the islands to make a path to get to that boss island. Along the way though you’ll come across boss-related quests. One of the first ones I had was in level 1-04 and I ultimately got a green orb that has a boss key icon in the upper-left corner (the island has a giant key on it on the map screen to let you know that island is kind of important). Now that I had this item I needed to make my way to the boss, which didn’t seem too difficult of a task, but it’s all about finding the correct portals to get to where you need to go; and with everything being randomly generated, it means that you’ll never have the same world twice.
I’ve enjoyed my time with Portal Knights on the Switch, but is there anything that I didn’t like? Well, sort of. I kind of already mentioned the first thing, that early on I hit a brick wall where I had to stop, gather a bunch of materials, and craft new items to help with my survival. I do get that a lot of the game is mining and crafting, but only a few islands in I had to start working towards crafting new gear outside of what I already had on (in my case, the Squire clothing used for a Warrior) as well as a new copper long sword as enemies were getting tougher. It also doesn’t help that even on the earlier islands enemies will gang up on you. If you chose to play as a Warrior and have to get up close to defeat your enemies, you’ll have to master how to dodge enemy attacks to survive. This is complicated further when you have multiple enemies to contend with, and if it’s dark out at the time, it makes enemies harder to see without a good light source. The other main issue I have is somewhat of a nitpick, and that’s the load times, specifically when traveling between islands. Whether you’re using a portal to travel or choosing a location on the map, it takes at least 20 seconds or so, if not more, for the next area to load. Granted, I get that it is generating a random island, so I understand why it takes that long. That's why it’s just a minor nitpick from me. But it does kind of slow things down. Not enough to completely take me out of the game or anything.
The final nitpick is that since this is on a console and you’re using a controller, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to mine or place something exactly where you want to. When placing or mining something you’ll see an outline of a blue block in front of you. That shows where the item will be placed or where you’ll start mining at, no matter which way you’re facing. In other words, the targeting reticle, for lack of a better term here, moves with the camera, not with you. I’ve had many times where I wanted to mine what was in front of me but move the camera to a better position, only to have my character suddenly turn around and start mining where I’m pointing the camera. I get why this happens and it doesn’t take long to get used to. Plus it’s a bit easier in first-person mode (click the thumb stick on the right joy-con) since moving the camera also turns you. Again, just a minor nitpick.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Portal Knights on the Nintendo Switch. It did take a small bit of time adjusting to the controls since I was used to using a mouse and keyboard on Steam. Even now I’ll still use L and R when I meant to hit ZL or ZR, but it didn’t take long to adapt to the Joy-Cons. The game does seem a bit tougher when playing as a Warrior since you won’t have any ranged attacks. That basically means you’ll likely have to spend even more time grinding up materials to craft better gear for yourself. I’m okay with that though as it does kind of present more of a challenge. If you enjoy games like Minecraft and are looking for something similar, Portal Knights is a good one to check out.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.