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GDC 2019: We Go Dungeon Crawling with Operencia: The Stolen Sun

After playing through many excellent open world fantasy adventures, I found it refreshing to be kept to a grid while exploring the dungeons of Operencia: The Stolen Sun. Earlier this week at GDC 2019, I finally got my first hands-on time with this dungeon-crawling Xbox One exclusive and it was great to see that it’s shaping up nicely to carry that mantle of classic dungeon crawlers with its hybrid of new and old-school RPG ideas, coming together in a refreshed adventure that I can’t wait to play more of when it drops on Xbox One and with Xbox Game Pass on March 29.

Having such fond memories of playing classics like Eye of the Beholder and the more recent Legend of Grimrock on PC, the console has yet to have a high quality, grid-based dungeon crawler. Enter Zen Studios, who are largely known for their excellent Pinball FX series, tackling what is largely a passion project for the studio, looking to not only fill this genre void on console but also try to reignite it for those who may have never experienced it.

If you’ve never played an “old school” dungeon crawler, it plays out a little like this: It’s all from a first-person perspective and you manage your group of adventures through catacombs, crumbling castles, or dense forests. You navigate along a grid – where in some cases it helps to have a pencil and grid paper nearby as you plot your journey, making note of dead ends or items that may come in handy later. But crawling through dungeons, solving puzzles, and avoiding traps is just part of the fun. Encounters with all sorts of dastardly creatures is the chewy goodness that makes this a challenging and captivating experience.

These encounters can be a mix of turned-based or real-time strategy; Operencia leans into the more turn-based approach, giving you time to plan your moves and anticipate attacks. You manage your hero abilities along the right side of the screen while seeing the order of attack along the left side. In front of you will be your enemies, each at one of three range distances – you can cycle through each range to determine which enemy you’d like to strike first. Whittle down the weaker enemies and save the stronger ones for later, or focus your attacks on the heavy hitter? From my brief hands-on time, it appears you will have a lot of freedom in how you want to plan and then execute your attacks.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun

Each of your heroes that join you on this adventure – in addition to the custom character you create at the start of the game – will each have their own unique talents and attacks, and you’ll come to rely on each of them as the difficulty of these encounters grows further into the adventure. In classic RPG party-based fashion, you may have to mix and match against certain enemy types to find that perfect attack blend to exploit an enemy’s weakness.

And then there’s the story and lore that has all the right hooks in place to bring you along on this journey. Inspired by Central European mythology, Operencia’s story involves the Sun King Napkiraly being abducted, leaving the land of Operencia in a state of perpetual darkness. Sounds ominous (I love it) and it’s up to our heroes to save the day. Each of the characters you meet along this journey will each offer unique perspectives. Sometimes these interactions will play off one another depending on who your activity party members are, throughout the game helping you relate to your adventurer’s goals and desires.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun

There’s still so much to dive into and explore here, but I’ve loved everything I’ve played so far. From the battle system, to solving a few head scratching puzzles, to the well-detailed environments and character banter, has confirmed everything I had been hoping to see and play: Operencia: The Stolen Sun is shaping up to be a gem of a title that satisfies both the classic and modern RPG adventurers out there. Look for it next week when it comes to Xbox One and with Xbox Game Pass on Friday, March 29.