STAFF REVIEW of Finding the Soul Orb (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 17, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Finding the Soul Orb Box art I’m all for small indie developers being able to create their vision, as they are usually quite a unique experience compared to the larger and popular games that most play. Finding the Soul Orb is one of those experiences, clearly a labor of love, but there’s always the question if it will resonate the same way with the audience as intended, or if it will get glossed over. A story driven game with a lot of linear walking paths, complete with a crossbow, werewolves and some very light puzzle elements, all while exploring some different landscapes. Even though there’s some very light combat elements, the vast majority of the experience is simply walking, so I’d still classify it primarily as a walking sim despite the other elements included.

As you explore the areas you find yourself in, and I use the term ‘explore’ quite loosely, as you’re actually quite restricted to where you can and can’t go, you’ll come across these circular stones that when stood on will give you snippets of the narrative. Whilst standing on these stones, there’s a fog that clouds your vision as text appears on screen, giving you a few sentences of the story each time. The story starts out interesting enough, set in medieval times about a King and his lands plagued by an onslaught of werewolves. A high wizard created something called the Soul Orb that was meant to protect the Kingdom, but then it was suddenly gone. This is where Alexander is talked to by the Soul Orb in his dreams, sets off to go find it, and save the Kingdom. There then is something about an evil wizard and some more backstory, but because of the small snippets of story at a time, it was quite difficult to follow along.

Honestly, even after the credits rolled and I finished all twelve chapters in a single sitting, I was still left confused due to numerous characters simply talked about in story without seeing anything or anyone. Even at the final cutscene, I was still confused as to what has happened. Now what? I have no idea, so don’t go in expecting some interesting narrative or big pay off at the end unfortunately.

Placed in a fantasy setting, you begin your journey by coming landing on shore from your ship on a small rowboat. As you land you see something far off in the distance and decide to start heading towards the mountains in the distance. There’s seemingly different difficulties, but what the actual differences are between the different versions of Easy, I’m unsure.

As you make your way up the opening pathway, this is your first indication at just how linear this experience is about to be. Not only are you confined to the main path laid out before you, but you quickly realize that you’re unable to veer from the designated path at all. Those ankle high shrubs, bushes and flowers means you’re unable to step over, and thus must go where designed. There’s little to no exploring allowed, which is a bit of a disappointment, as you can’t even deviate from the main path slightly, blocked in by invisible walls.

Controls are simplistic as they come, with movement assigned to the sticks as expected, Left Trigger to run, though it’s more of a brisk walk, and Right Trigger to shoot your crossbow once you find it early on in your adventure. Why the default is a slow walk, I’m unsure, so you have to hold the Left Trigger the whole time if you want to jog slightly faster. As you make your way across the dozen chapters, you’ll find the glowing rocks to stand on, giving you those snippets of story in text format. There are a few chapters though that you don’t even really play, as they are dream sequences with the Soul Orb talking to you for a few minutes, then you continue on your journey.

Played in first person, the majority of your experience will be walking from one area to the next. There are some very light puzzle and combat elements, but even calling them puzzles, aside from one, is a bit of a stretch. Puzzles boil down to shooting a switch with your crossbow, sometimes figuring out the order of the two or three handles to progress, and that’s it. There’s one puzzle that has you doing something different, not explained at all until a hint appeared on screen as I thought I was lost or stuck. And the last puzzle oddly enough, was quite difficult, having to shoot levers to rotate some pillars, though unsure of what the solution was until the game actually asked me if I wanted to automatically solve it. I appreciate the offer, but having more of a clue of how to solve said puzzle would be been welcome too.

There are a handful of collectables to find in most of the chapters. These are tied to achievements too, so definitely worth the small deviation. Since your adventure is basically linear, these are essentially just hiding in certain houses or ruins. Demon statues will be sitting in random spots ready to be found and collected, and then there are some gargoyles that stay floating around certain areas, waiting for you to shoot them with your crossbow. That’s about it, and the 1000 Gamerscore is a breeze to get, even without any walkthroughs or guides since they are quite difficult to miss due to the linearity.

The world you explore changes from rocky mountains, gloomy and dark forests, underground mines to gorgeous beachside vistas. Some landscapes are fantastical to take in their scenery while others are completely boring and has nothing of note to look at. What reoccurs though is the werewolves you’ll need to fight along the way that block your path. Certain areas will have the pathway you need to progress blocked with an orange spell barrier, but defeat all the werewolves in the area, usually 3 to 5, and it magically turns green and unlocks, allowing you to pass.

While there is some combat and it’s somewhat frequent, it’s so broken which is why I still categorize Finding the Soul Orb as primarily a walking sim. Stand far enough away and you can pick off the werewolves without them seeing you or reacting. The first half will have single shot werewolves that flail in the air like wrestler overselling a huge bump before keeling over and dying. Better yet, later on there are seemingly some more powerful werewolves that take more than one shot, so you would assume that after hitting them once they would turn to you and start pursuing you right? Nope, they don’t react at all as long as you’re far enough away, so you can simply pick them off one by one without any recourse.

After each shot you have to reload the crossbow, which take a few moments, naturally, though I’m still unsure where you keep the unlimited amount of silver tipped arrows since you can shoot indefinitely. Because there was no risk in combat, it felt completely unneeded, simply slowing you down for a few moments as you miss your first few shots due to the inaccuracy until the shot finally lands and kills your enemy. There seems to be a distance where the arrow won’t hit the enemy, but you can get close enough where they still won’t pursue you on their predetermined walking path. If you do happen to get too close, the music changes and it’s obvious that they are chasing you, but nothing to worry about as they simply come at you in a straight line, slowly, with claws out trying to look intimidating.

Oddly, there’s even an optional crossbow upgrade to find early on, allowing your arrow to shoot through the werewolves and hit any behind, but because you’ll be picking them off one by one from a distance without any issues, this seems completely unneeded as well. Sure, maybe in the last chapter where you fight a few of the ‘harder’ ones simultaneously it’ll help, but don’t stress if you somehow don’t find the upgrade that’s well-hidden ten feet from the main path. Often your character will automatically draw or put away the crossbow, so when nothing is in hand you know you’re simply walking from point A to point B. Once that crossbow comes out, you know you’ll have to deal with some werewolves or puzzles to progress. This kills any tension though, as you basically know what’s going to happen.

Being an indie game, my expectations for its visuals and audio are obviously nowhere near a largely funded game, but I’d still like to be impressed. This is where Finding the Soul Orb is a mixed bag. On one hand, some of the environments are so drab and dull that it’s as if there was little effort made into creating an interesting world to explore. Given that the majority of the experience is on 'rails' and we are forced to see what we were designed to, I was hoping for a bit more.

Then in the later half when you’re exploring outside, it has some of the most beautiful skyboxes I’ve seen, forcing me to take a few moments and a handful of screenshots to capture its beauty. I just wish the whole experience was like this. Stop to smell the roses and you’ll notice how low quality many of the textures and models are, which given how slow you ‘run’, it’s hard not to notice when it stands out poorly. And for whatever reason, it didn’t feel like a smooth experience, so I can only assume it wasn’t anywhere near 60fps, even giving me a weird Xbox menu lag as I was playing as well.

Then there’s the audio, or lack of it. Sure there’s some music that kicks in when combat is about to happen, but a lot of the time there’s some dead silence. The only voiced sections are the ‘dream’ chapters where the Soul Orb is talking to you, but the other story pedestals you find would have benefited from some voicing as well. What’s odd though is that at certain parts of the walking sim sections, some amazing and beautiful orchestral music would kick in, something that made me feel like I was exploring the world of Morrowind or Skyrim.

I don’t enjoy being harsh on small indie games, as I understand how difficult it can be to even create the experiences, but I’m always trying to think of value and longevity, both that seem to be missing. Sure the easy 1000 Gamerscore is nice for two hours of work, but it can be completed in a single sitting and absolutely no reason to ever go back. Even at a low price of $8.99 (CAD), it’s difficult to recommend for such a dull experience since I can't explore at all.

**Finding the Soul Orb was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 4.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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