Sometimes, we're a little slow here at GameCritics.com. Usually, we'll have a game reviewed shortly after its release, but occasionally our relatively small staff gets overwhelmed and overlooks a game. Hey, we do our best, but pobody's nerfect. Alert readers might notice that Nightcaster has been on store shelves for well over a year. Heck, the sequel is already out! It was an Xbox launch title meant to fill the action/role-playing gap represented by games such as the Diablo series for the PC. Perusing our games inventory for the site, I noticed that Nightcaster was still there after all this time, perhaps an overlooked gem—a sleeper hit, so to speak.
Boy, was I wrong. Nightcaster wasn't a sleeper hit—it was just a snoozer. Less a role-playing game (RPG) and more an action brawler in the vein of Sword Of The Berzerk, Nightcaster is an action fantasy in which a mysterious evil has overrun a mythical land, and Arran, our hero, has taken upon himself to purge the world of this evil with an arsenal of deadly magic spells. Part Legend Of Zelda, part Lord Of The Rings, Nightcaster exudes an indistinctive mythos, though a surprisingly well-developed one, that has become far too cliché in the action-RPG genre.
Arran has four 'schools' of magic at his disposal: light, dark, fire, and water. He is given the opportunity to specialize in one school of magic, so that subsequent stats are affected accordingly; for example, if he becomes a light mage, his light spells will become more powerful but his dark spells will be weaker. He will also collect objects during the game that increase the power of his spells, increase his health, or teach new spells.
If all this sounds like a solid setup, it is. But poor implementation can flatten even the best of ideas. During the game, Arran confronts a variety of monsters. Each is color coded to represent the school of magic they are strongest with. A light creature, for example can be damaged by fire or water spells and is most vulnerable to dark spells, but is immune to light spells. Arran is moved with the left thumbstick in what begins as a traditional third-person view. When confronted with enemies, the right thumbstick moves an orb around the screen as the view shifts to a three-quarters overhead view. Arran can have any four spells (one for each school) at his disposal at any time; the left trigger cycles through them to arm one of them for use. Combat is as simple as moving the orb in the vicinity of an opponent and pulling the right trigger. Generally, it's not necessary to cycle through the different spells since any enemy will be damaged by three of the four schools of magic. So if you are a dark mage, you can keep a powerful dark spell equipped and easily polish off most opposition. When you encounter dark enemies, you simply switch to another magic school long enough to defeat them. Enemies grow in strength and number, but Arran also accumulates enough power that the difficulty doesn't increase substantially. Save points are fairly numerous as well, so a losing battle is generally not a frustrating experience.
Nightcaster seems like a battle system without a role-playing game. There is little variety or depth to the combat, and even in the presence of assorted power-ups it becomes painfully repetitive after only a short while. The story is very well developed considering the narrowly focused nature of the gameplay, and the idea of multiple schools of magic had potential to be much more fleshed out. But sadly, Nightcaster seems like a simplistic action title masquerading as a role-playing game hastily developed to fill out the Xbox's launch lineup rather than the smartly crafted action-adventure it might have been. Further marred by a below-average presentation (even for a first-generation Xbox title), Nightcaster is a title that has earned the dust it's collected.