Unreviewable - Vendir: Plague of Lies

Posted by Campbell Bird on February 28th, 2023
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I have a lot of mixed feelings with my time with Vendir: Plague of Lies. It's an experience that in some moments are incredible in their ambition and execution and in others is sloggy and irritating. Most of the highest points of the game I've encountered without having to engage with the game's free-to-play monetization model, but I have also run up against its pinch points that push players to pay and they feel horrible.

With all of that in mind, it feels kind of impossible to assign a score to it. It is goodbad and badgood. You should play it but also not. Or maybe watch someone play it. Or maybe just play the dialog quests in the starting area and quit as soon as you have to fight something. I don't really know. I am still intrigued to keep playing it but every time I do I almost always end up quitting out of frustration once I encounter a random battle with enemies that would seem defeatable if I fed the game a considerable amount of money that I don't think it deserves.

I'm not just going to have you take my word on the good stuff that is in there, though, so let me explain a bit. Vendir: Plague of Lies is a free-to-play rpg that seems to be taking inspiration from old-school PC titles like Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, etc. It's an isometric game where you control and upgrade a character as you see fit, all while choosing how they interact with the world, primarily through quests.

Where it really breaks from feeling like a clone or generic title though is in its inspired writing. The dialog is goofy and self-aware but also surprisingly clever and contains some nuance and depth. There are whole quests designed around talking to people for long stretches of time to learn about the world of Vendir or helping characters work through personal issues. I wouldn't say that all of it completely expertly done, but the lengths that this game goes to illustrate character personalities and meaningfully engage with them is admirable. It's also just refreshing to interact with characters who speak to each other in more than just the safest, most utilitarian ways, like so many quest-givers in rpgs often do.

Some of these dialog-heavy interactions aren't just isolated to individual quests, either. Occasionally, you'll come across someone who may offer to pay you to re-engage with someone you're already acquainted with and you already may know based on your previous time with that person how they might feel about the proposition. You may also be given conflicting instructions from multiple parties and you can choose your own path which--also refreshingly--isn't used in service of some "good vs. evil" meter but rather as just a way for you to decide how you want to play your character in this world.

To make all of this even more appealing, Vendir: Plague of Lies is also one of the funniest games I've played in awhile. Whether it's the game serving up a surprising and unexpected dialog options, giving towns funny names, or just having characters curse in fun ways, every interaction feels like a little gift of discovery, even if they aren't in service of a specific quest or leveling up your character.

For all of this great writing and quest design, though, there aren't many compelling mechanics propping up the rest of the game. Character creation and customization offers some theoretically creative options, but it doesn't take very long to feel outclassed by most enemies you come across. In battles that happen to be manageable, the strategic options at your disposal don't actually end up feeling very different from most run-of-the mill rpgs with turn-based combat.

If you find yourself defeated in combat (which will invariably happen, and likely pretty often), you'll respawn in the nearest town with half health for you and your party. You can replenish this by visiting doctors and paying exorbitant amounts of currency to heal up or by going through an arduous foraging and crafting system to make healing items and using them. Given your defeat, you also are tempted to gear up, but shops have super high currency prices as well.

Even if you manage to afford an upgraded piece of gear, it will only get you so far, so I often found myself bouncing to a different quest line that is hopefully easier given my current level. I say "hopefully" because Vendir doesn't really indicate how strong you need to be to do any specific quests, and it feels like the game's zones and random encounters just scale up as you level up so you never really get a good sense of where you should be or what you should be doing to get stronger.

It also doesn't help that Vendir has some other strange issues going on with it. For example, the active touch area in the inventory screen isn't always lined up with what is being displayed so you may tap on an item to inspect it and nothing happens. Also, some quests just give you the wrong instructions, like a quest I completed last night that told me the person I needed to speak to was in a certain town, but it turns out she is actually located somewhere else entirely.

It's during these low periods where quests stray into combat and involve a lot of traveling or bug navigation that Vendir really falls apart, especially as the only real way to alleviate any of these agonizing times is by paying the problem away. This might be ok if the payment model felt like buying a specific permanent unlock or something similar, but such a purchase does not exist here. Instead, your only option is to purchase "Witch Pearls," which are a surprisingly limited premium currency. They appear to only be useful for revealing additional equipment drops from combat encounters. You can't seem to use it to purchase gold or anything else, which (in addition to being a consumable you will be encouraged to buy over and over again) makes them feel like a poor value proposition, even if you wanted to pay to support the game.

All of that said, none of these sore spots (of which there are many)take away from some of the magic that happens in Vendir if you get on a streak of just talking to people to earn experience and currency to keep building out your character. These times are some of the most fun I've had playing a mobile rpg. The game is truly an anomaly in that sense, and I plan to keep on seeing if I can push through the dreadful aspects of it to enjoy more of its writing and personality.

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