Adventure Game Hotspot


Plot of the Druid hands-on preview – Something good brewing in early access

Plot of the Druid hands-on preview – Something good brewing in early access
Nicholas Fuller avatar image

Druids are popularly thought of as venerable old codgers who gather mistletoe and brew magic potions for indomitable Gauls, or (according to Julius Caesar) burn their victims alive in wicker cages. In Plot of the Druid, the first commercial game by Yakir Israel’s independent development studio, Adventure4Life, however, young Jase, an apprentice druid, simply wants to get rich quick. His schemes to do so, though, land him in water that’s hotter than anything bubbling in a spellcaster’s cauldron.

This fantasy point-and-click adventure is still in development, with just the first two parts (of five) released, and more expected later this year. I played the Steam Early Access version, which the studio advises does not reflect the finished game but manages to impress nevertheless. It’s inspired by the Sierra and LucasArts classics, and it shows: not in dead ends, deaths, or the need to save obsessively, but in its ease of play and excellent construction.

Players can choose from two difficulty levels: Young Apprentice, or Master of Disaster (with more puzzles). I chose the latter, and would suggest you do, too. This is not a particularly challenging game, at least so far, though the level of difficulty is nicely pitched – not so easy that it’s a walkover, not so hard or unfair that it’s frustrating. The mouse interface is traditional: left-click interacts with hotspots; right-click brings up the inventory. It’s not original, but it’s intuitive; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The chapters available at this point take place at the Academy for Young Druids, where Jase is a reluctant student. The designers compare their “dry, sarcastic British wit” to Discworld, Harry Potter and Simon the Sorcerer. There are a few Terry Pratchett references – the orangutan holding your journal (game notes) is clearly the Librarian of Unseen University, for instance – and the magical college does recall Hogwarts, but Plot of the Druid is most like a spiritual successor to the Simon series: an irreverent, slightly laddish take on fantasy.

When I first started the game, however, things got off on the wrong foot. My first action (looking at a globe of the world) got the response: “Dumbshit, everyone knows our planet rides on the back of a massive turtle…” Discworld reference aside, the swearing makes an unfortunate first impression; it’s entirely unnecessary when the rest of the game is much cleverer and more engaging than stooping to gratuitous name-calling.

The Prologue (“Nightwatch”) is set in a single room: On the eve of his exams, Jase breaks into the dean’s study to steal a magic healing potion he needs to pass his graduation test. At first there are only a few objects you can interact with, but each puzzle solved opens more hotspots, and more riddles, like peeling away the layers of an onion: bypassing the magic mirror’s security system, making arcane ink, finding secret messages, dealing with a watchful parrot, and unlocking the dean’s chest. But things go awry for this amateur burglar as Jase is caught red-handed and threatened with expulsion.

Chapter I (“Things Get Brewing”) takes place the next morning. Here Jase must search the campus to gather the ingredients for the very potion his attempted thievery was meant to get him out of making from scratch. There are seven rooms to explore, populated by a colourful array of characters: tentacled administrators, houseproud trolls, megalomaniacal teenagers, and hospitable insects.

Your goals are always clear. To make the magic potion, for instance, you must get into the laboratory (guarded by a carnivorous plant), find the ingredients, outwit another student hogging the cauldron, and brew the potion. While most of the puzzles are inventory-based, in the traditional style, you can also cast two spells: fire sparks (useful for setting things alight) and make plants happy (druids, after all, revere nature).

In each chapter you can also shapeshift into a creature, which gives you certain abilities – but since most animals (marsupials aside) don’t have pockets, you can’t use your inventory. Transforming into a raccoon enhances your powers of smell and sight, and lets you climb to places you couldn’t reach as a human, while turning into a mosquito lets you fly around drinking blood. (Wish fulfilment for someone, no doubt.) In later chapters, based on the trailer you will be able to become a skunk or an eagle. It’s a fun, creative approach to solving problems that’s very much in keeping with this magical fantasy world.

The only puzzle that brought me up short was trying to get sparks from Jace’s wand, as it was not made clear that I had to trace a pattern without crossing any lines twice. The rest of the puzzles are cannily designed; one can solve them with a little thought (or inspiration). It’s very satisfying.

A small group of voice actors bring the denizens of the academy to life. While it’s easy to hear, for instance, that two actors play most of the roles (animal, human, and undead) in the prologue, they do a solid job of differentiating the characters, and much of the dialogue throughout is amusing. The characters’ facial expressions, too, are excellent, from Jase’s endearingly cheeky grin to the cowed dog or the receptionist’s arch menace.

Indeed, this is a delightful game to look at overall. The designers have used high-definition hand-painted artwork to capture the “old-school” feel while still looking modern – and they do so beautifully, from the dean’s moonlit study to the trees and plashing fountains of the college, to the musty cobwebbed laboratory. Background music is appropriate without being intrusive; the score for the prologue, for instance, is a stealthy theme reminiscent of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Plot of the Druid is obviously a passion project, the work of a small but talented team, and even in its unfinished state it deserves to be commended. This is a cheerful, clever game with an impish sense of humor, well-designed puzzles, and some enchantingly original creature features. I look forward to the next three installments to see what other misadventures await.


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