By: Brian Gunn
Balrum is sort of an odd hybrid brought to players by Balcony Team. It’s going for a sort of cross section of old-school isometric RPGs and modern survival games, but it doesn’t particularly stand out as either.
Balrum is perfectly adequate from a control perspective, as the isometric RPG has had a few decades to be perfected. The usual pointing and clicking to navigate is there along with basic inventory systems, though it’s a little overcomplicated at times — such as when I accidentally clicked my pet and then moved away, which made him stop following me so he couldn’t save me from death by giant spider.
There’s not much visual appeal to Balrum. While it is certainly echoing many older games, it doesn’t have their handcrafted approach, and zooming in looks particularly rough. It does have a handful of customization options like the scaling of the UI, but even when bigger it doesn’t exactly look better. There’s not much personality to the design of the world, operating mostly in a generic fantasy world where nothing really standing out.
Sound is remarkably absent for large chunks of Balrum. There isn’t much music, and there’s no voice acting, either. The sound effects aren’t too shabby, like the lonely howling rain of the starting area, and the reactions of your tools against metal and wood. Additional life could have been brought to the world by having more actions and NPCs emitting sounds, with only the smelting of iron or the occasional ambient farm animal noise breaking through the silence.
Like many RPGs, Balrum begins with a mysterious council sealing away some sort of vague power because they can’t outright destroy it. From there it goes to the vaguely idyllic life in a small village where our hero is living with his grandfather, who is keeping secrets about his parents and origin from him. Could it have something to do with that ancient evil being sealed away? Maybe, but you’ll have to wander through a ton of meandering small scale quests in the meantime.
Balrum is a notably slow-paced game, with the first quests asking you to repair a burnt down house, which requires going out and chopping down a bunch of trees. This will exhaust you, because it’s a survival game, so you’ll soon need rest. There’s also hunger and thirst to manage, though the game mercifully has an option to slow down how fast they creep up.
Now, RPGs have always been a genre with a lot of stuff to loot, but adding in survival mechanics ends up feeling overwhelming because every little thing can be looted, mined, or chopped down, and there’s dozens of things to craft. You’re also given access to your little private area where you can build a homestead and start a farm. This is kind of a novelty, and there’s even skills dedicated to farming, but it all ends up feeling in service to very basic needs.
Ultimately, it all comes across as busywork and slowing down the meat of the game, the grand fantasy quest, which is kind of bog standard. Combat is turn based as well as fairly slow and starts off dull, and magic users in particular take a long time to feel viable. Other throwback titles like the Eschalon series or anything by Spiderweb Software feel a lot more polished and easy to get into.
Unfortunately, Balrum‘s attempt to mix genres doesn’t end up well. There are too many alternative RPGs or survival games that do most everything better that are more worth your time.