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Longtime readers may remember that I was a big fan of the mobile game Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight and its sequel, Tales of Illyria: Beyond The Iron Wall. At long last, I have played the third and most recent title in the series, Tales of Illyria: Destinies. Like its predecessors, it combines a traditional fantasy role-playing game — complete with leveling and skills, equipment, and tactical combat — with the logistics of travel, inspired heavily by The Oregon Trail. As I’ve written before, this combination works way better than I thought it would, and makes for a compelling whole. With Destinies, however, the focus shifts from a story-driven linear adventure to an open world game, where players travel the lengths of Illyria to seek their fortune. Once again, this works surprisingly well.
Before I get into the open world design, however, I should stress just how similar Destinies is to its predecessors. It looks identical, with the same art, the same world map, the same skills and leveling system, the same combat system, and the same interface. That last one is unfortunate, because the interface is bad, failing to show relevant information when it’s needed and taking far too many taps to do anything. I’ve complained about it at length twice already. But I put up with that interface in Fallen Knight and Beyond The Iron Wall because the core design is really good. Investing in provisions, horses, and survival skills for the road is fun and rewarding, and battles offer engaging tactical challenges that can be approached in many different ways (and with different specializations for party members). It’s a solid foundation upon which to build an adventure, but, well… I’ve already written about all that. Twice.
The few changes that Destinies does make seem incredibly simple, but they have a profound effect on how the game plays. Players now create their main character when starting the game, instead of controlling a pre-written protagonist as in the previous games. Players choose which kingdom to start in, each of which has its own introductory quest line, and make several choices about their character’s early life to determine their moral outlook and initial skills. That character is now officially a mercenary, not driven by a personal need for revenge as in the earlier games, but simply by a desire to make their way in the world. The most important changes, however, are in how the game facilitates this: the guilds, which used to simply be resources for training, now offer randomized jobs, each of which is tracked on the world map (a minor but highly appreciated upgrade to the user interface). Where I used to travel Illyria with a big, major goal in mind, now I found I could simply grab a job or two which would send me to nearby towns. After completing a job, I could grab another and keep moving. Illyria was my oyster.
There’s also a reputation system with each kingdom. Do a lot of guild jobs within one kingdom’s borders, and the party’s reputation with that kingdom will increase, until they’re able to seek employment directly from the crown. Each kingdom is at odds with another, and is happy to employ mercenaries to sabotage its enemy. My adventurer was a rogue type from Nycenia, and she did some work for Nycenia, but not any of the other kingdoms. In principle, these jobs should make other kingdoms hostile to the player’s party, but I found it was easy to get back into good graces by doing a few guild jobs within enemy territory. There are even random events, like protecting a village from an undead attack, that earn reputation without players having to go out of their way. I might have gotten into more trouble if I’d tried working for lots of kingdoms at once, but I decided that my character was a Nycenian patriot.
The reputation system does introduce a few odd things, however. The guilds are all international, but will only offer jobs within the current kingdom. Not realizing this at first, my party just hung around Nycenia (a small corner of the full map of Illyria) for a long time. As in the other games, money is tight, so I always wanted to line up a job to do if I was going to travel somewhere, and no jobs ever led me across the border. The starting quest lines (or at least, the one I got for starting in Nycenia) encourage staying local too, driven by semi-random events that popped up on the roads and towns of one’s home nation. I think this is intentional. When I wrote about Beyond The Iron Wall, I described how the first ending I reached was unsatisfactory because I’d just doggedly pursued the main story without ever taking breaks to travel around. Going back and doing a little side traveling revealed a bunch of multi-stage side quests and let me improve my party’s skills to reach a better ending. In Destinies, players are encouraged to hang around and get better trained and equipped at least until they’ve finished their starting quest line. Then, the kingdom quests (or simple wanderlust) will finally send them farther afield.
The earlier games didn’t have paid jobs like this, players had to earn coin from salvaged loot or spoils found on their adventures. Those are still here too, of course, but it was nice to have an extra source of income to help my party get started. Other early assistance comes from the DLC packs available, which, unfortunately, are the most confusing of the three games. There are several packs of items and new quests available, and a serious danger of spoiling the balance of the game by starting with powerful gear. Fortunately, like in Beyond the Iron Wall, there’s an option to have most of these items for sale in the kingdom capital cities instead of in the party’s inventory at the start, which is what I did. They’re the exact same items from that game, in fact. But other DLC packs provide starting items with no way to opt out. I was able to just discard them in-game so I’d have the correct starting experience, which is good because these packs are worth it for the extra quest lines they add, including an entirely new guild to join.
Which brings me to the narrative structure, which is different from the earlier games in the series. The writing for individual scenes in the first two Illyria games is fine, but the larger narratives are really well done. All the characters are personally invested in the events unfolding across the continent, and each of them grow over the course of their long journey. They also leave their mark on Illyria, helping kingdoms rise and fall, ushering in peace or war. In Destinies, however, there are no world-spanning events like this (or if there are, I did not uncover them). Instead, the narrative burden falls to the characters that can be recruited into the party. I met these during my travels, as I did in the earlier games, but soon realized that there are a lot more of them, allowing for different party compositions in place of the fixed parties of the past games. But there’s no choosing backgrounds and appearance here, they’re all set characters and each has their own personal quest line to pursue. These were the closest things I found to a main storyline, but they are (unsurprisingly) less involved than the stories that came before, and none of them mark an end to the adventure.
I thought that the kingdom quests might create (optional) endings, but the ones I tried simply fizzled out without much of a conclusion. It’s possible that they continue later, but honestly by the time I got that far it I felt I was done traveling Illyria’s roads. For now, at least. I’d satisfied each of my party members’ personal quests, completed a few quest lines from DLC packs, and exhausted all the work the Nycenian government was willing to offer me. I’d maxed out my party’s passive survival skills, so I’d always get the best outcomes from any encounter, whether it required stealth, diplomacy or specific knowledge and expertise. Each of my characters had mastered their chosen combat specialties, and were equipped with the best arms and armor, not to mention the fastest horses and most comfortable saddles. I’d even entered the arena and bested all challengers. All this, and I was overflowing with cash now that I had nothing to spend it on. Since Destinies is an open game that let me play as long as I wished, the careful balance of hardships that I so loved in the earlier games was (eventually) broken, and with it the joy of traveling around. I was ignoring everything except the next kingdom quest, because nothing was a challenge anymore.
Getting there took a while though, and until that point I had a great time. All those skills and equipment were hard-earned, as I faced constant tough decisions about how to spend my limited funds. The roads were just as treacherous and surprising as in the earlier games, with an even larger number of random events to find and navigate. There are even ships this time, offering passage to distant ports, and finally letting me explore the island towns that I could never reach before (although there was never any real reason to visit them, sadly). And there’s so much more I haven’t done. I stuck with the first set of party members I met, simply because I’d already invested time and money into training them by the time I met more, even though it meant slowly turning a mage into a front-line fighter to fill a hole in my line. I recruited many more adventurers who I never used, each with their own personal quest lines that I never followed. Then there are the other five kingdoms I could have started in, with each of their starting quest lines (and kingdom quests!) that I never got to see, plus a few other quest lines (including one of the DLCs) that I simply never figured out.
I will, though, with a new character. All of the above just convinces me that I’m meant to play Destinies many times over, trying out different characters and play styles. I tried to make my rogue character morally neutral, but ended up being pretty selfless in the end; I’d love to go back and actually be more ruthless, or even outright evil. I can try a different party, train up in different combat techniques and magic spells, make different choices, work for different kingdoms. And most importantly, start from nothing all over again, so I can revel in the delicious challenges of surviving on the road. I will miss the momentous stories and emotionally satisfying endings of the earlier games, but in their place is a world full of so many possible adventures. It would be churlish to complain about that.
All three Tales of Illyria games are fairly self-contained, although the second game does reference events from the first. Destinies, however, feels the most like its own thing, and as such is a fine place to start for players new to the series. Given how similar all three games are, it would be easy to go back and play the earlier entries after Destinies, although you might miss the few convenience features (like extra map markers) that were added in Destinies. Alternately, playing the games in release order works well too, giving a great background for the world before setting you loose in it to make your own way in Destinies. Wherever you choose to start, make sure you don’t miss these games, they’re rough gems whose brilliant bits far outweigh the clunky interface and simple art. All three games are available for Android via the Google Play Store. The road is calling! Just make sure you stock up on provisions before you go. Anything can happen out there.