World-building is tricky: when done well, readers and audiences stumble into a fictional universe with minimal friction. Handled poorly, the process of introduction to a brave new world is jarring, failing to weave the spell that provides a modicum of reality. Falling into the latter category is Seven: The Days Long Gone—a new RPG from a small group of Polish developers whose previous credits include The Witcher series and Kholat. While a poor introduction can be overcome with solid storytelling and characters, Fool’s Theory’s clumsy implementation of those additional narrative elements and certain gameplay traits ensures the title is never able to rise beyond its tedious opening moments.
An extended piece of narration introduces the game’s lore, threading a tapestry of hubris, war, destruction, and reconstruction to lead to the present moment. Unfortunately, the world is far less interesting than the developers think, reflecting little besides the well-worn cliché of a cyberpunk dystopia resulting from humanity reaching beyond its means. A tired setting can provide a novel experience, as in Divinity: Original Sin II, but Seven’s Vetrall Empire is dismal—drained of hope—and the developers seem to take a perverse joy in emphasising the brutality of the world. The opening information dump about the origins of the empire feels unnecessary within the context of the first few hours, and its specifics are forgotten by the time it becomes relevant. Furthermore, despite the intermittent intrusions in gameplay for long-winded explanations on ancillary topics, the story takes pleasure in obfuscation.
After a heist goes terribly wrong, protagonist Teriel finds himself fused to an ancient spirit, with this possession being the catalyst for an unclear mission on the prison island of Peh. The sense of mystery aims to be central to maintaining the player’s interest in Seven, but Fool’s Theory’s attempt to emulate the drip-feed of clues traditional to the form falls flat. The informational breadcrumbs are few and far between, and the open structure of the game means that hours can pass without any real progress being made. Some of the side missions are more inventive and thoughtful—more attuned to the characterisation of Teriel—than those typically found in RPGs, which makes them feel like worthwhile diversions rather than time sinks. However, the quality on offer is not uniform and, even for the exemplars, is not enough to prevent them detracting from the main story by emphasising the glacial pacing. Disappointingly, the poor narrative construction bleeds into gameplay, as the presence and prominence of some RPG elements do not become evident until certain points of the story bring them to light.
Both the lack of visibility and slow provision of character growth mechanics is baffling, turning the game into a rather bland stealth-action title for a frustratingly long period. Adding flavour to the basic stealth and combat is, respectively, a “sense mode” (which allows Teriel to slow down and speed up time, as well as acquire information on NPCs) and different fighting styles for each weapon type, but neither feature is able to overcome the humdrum nature of the core systems. Comparatively, the unlocking of new skills feels like a revelation, opening up pathways to tailor the experience to a preferred playstyle, but even the expansion of options is not enough to overcome the dissatisfaction arising from the clunky mechanics. Nevertheless, the shortcomings of the moment-to-moment gameplay would not be as evident without the high difficulty. When already on alert, NPCs have an almost preternatural ability to sense Teriel’s presence, forcing combat scenarios. While the right combination of weapons and skills is usually enough to take down one adversary (even with their excessively high health and strength), guards rarely fight alone, and the overwhelming numbers invariably makes short work of Teriel. These issues are exacerbated by the flawed auto-save function that tends to either allow vast amounts of time to pass between saves or activate at the most inopportune times, such as the player being swarmed by foes. Simply put, the system lacks the intuitiveness to be as useful as possible, making the post-launch addition of quicksaving a godsend. Even so, the unpredictability of the system, in conjunction with the problems elsewhere, is a recipe for frustration.
A strong, engaging lead character might have been enough to allow players to persevere through the myriad shortcomings of the game, but Teriel does not live up to such hopes. Billed as a master thief, he aims to adhere to the archetype of the lovable rogue. However, Han Solo or Nathan Drake he is not. Gruff attitudes and potty mouths can be played against more palatable characters to create a rugged charm, but Teriel has no such foil. Many of the Vetrall Empire’s denizens are equally as brusque and arrogant as Teriel, resulting in a race to the bottom as each character vies against the next over who is the most unpleasant. As if to drive the point home, the voice acting is almost universally gravelly, meant to emphasise the brutality of the world, but instead only serving to heighten its monotony. Thus, the characters contribute to the cliché of the world, but the sense of over-familiarity recedes slightly within some of the surprisingly diverse locales.
The prison island of Peh is wonderfully varied, nestling together slums, swamps, townships, and much more in a bizarrely harmonious arrangement. Although players scarcely see other parts of the world, the opening city is equally grungy, with its opulence and flickering electronic billboards a veneer over the grime of backstreets and hidden ways. Working alongside the dirtiness to bring a sense of consistency to the wildly disparate settings is the roughly-hewn cel-shaded art style. While the aesthetic is effective, the labyrinthine construction of some buildings can, on rare occasions, make navigation a chore, even with the freedom to rotate the isometric camera at will. Bolstering the strong visuals is an excellent audio accompaniment, barring the voice acting. Though the ambience lacks the crowd or animal noises that one might expect to find in the game’s environments, the gentle sounds nevertheless manage to evoke space accurately. The effect is enhanced when the score takes over, with its punchy riffs and darkly orchestral background music helping to set a tone of barely contained violence. In concert with the universally on-point sound effects, these elements make Seven into an indisputable aural delight. Sadly, the audiovisual presentation seems to have taken precedence during production, resulting in a game that feels as though it suffers from wildly misdirected development resources.
Given the lineage of the developers, Seven: The Days Long Gone had the potential to be one of the last sleeper hits of 2017. Unfortunately, the game falls short in almost every respect. While the title is sure to appeal to some fans, the grim, meandering story; uninspiring world; and unclear RPG mechanics make recommending it to a general audience impossible. As eye-catching as Seven’s cel-shaded world can be, it lacks for anything to retain the player’s attention.
Reviewed on PC.