When it comes to games you’ve probably never heard about, Exanima has to be one of the absolute best and least known. Serious, it’s a hidden gem that hardly has any recognition whatsoever.
It started years ago as a proof of concept for a new style of RPG – a completely physics based RPG. I mean completely 100% physics based. You can trip yourself up on debris and end up stumbling around like your character is drunk. Or, you can push enemies into that same debris to trip them and get some cheeky shots in.
Or, you could put buckets on your head, because why not? You can even put them on enemy AI to effectively blind them (it actually works).
Basically, this physics-based system makes up the entire foundation of Exanima. It’s used for everything, from opening doors to swinging your weapon. If you’ve played either Chivalry or Mordhau, you’ll feel at home with Exanima’s style of combat. It lends itself well to dragging attacks and knowing how to do that will make your playthrough much easier (and more fun).
Currently, there are 2 modes to try in Exanima. The RPG story mode that’s currently being developed and fleshed out, and the arena mode where you’re basically a gladiator/building a team of gladiators.
The RPG mode is essentially a dark and dangerous dungeon crawler. You’ll interact with NPCs that may or may not be hostile and/or aggressive – they might not even care that you’re looking around unless you step on their toes or push them over. This isn’t a bad AI system, but a very in-depth interaction system that’s based on what you’ve already done. If you start killing lots of NPCs, more and more might become hostile. There’s also a backstory to uncover through various pieces of lore hidden throughout the world – but it’s not done yet.
The arena mode is really where you should start your Exanima experience. It’ll give you a good chance to learn the various combat and movement mechanics without as much of a risk of losing hours of progress. You start with your main character at the lowest rank possible – fighting in cloth using “improvised weapons” like lead pipes and hammers. Eventually, you’ll earn enough currency to recruit other fighters that you can either control or let the AI take over. A few hours later, you’ll be fighting in full plate using a huge poleaxe and laughing as swords ricochet off your near-impenetrable armor.
Oh, it also has permadeath as I alluded to in the last paragraph. So, if you spend 5 hours trying to make it to one of the bosses in the RPG mode and die as soon as you get there, that’s that. Similarly, in the arena mode, if your main character dies your career ends – luckily, you can recruit, train, and use other characters to ensure your main doesn’t die.
Skills, combat, and gear
As I mentioned, it’s a proper RPG. With that in mind, it has RPG-like skill levels. Similar to a game like Skyrim, using weapons and armor will directly increase your skill levels. Obviously, higher skills mean more abilities and more damage.
In Exanima, everything revolves around its 100% physics-based movement, combat, and environment systems. You can use chairs, sticks, and barrels to block doors, or you can create obstacle courses for enemy AI to trip over for easier kills. Learning how to properly use the combat mechanics can be extremely fulfilling as you go from not being able to land a single strike to being able to string together 5-hit combos while taking out entire groups of enemies.
Combat isn’t just a matter of swinging your weapon either. You have to take into account your distance, the enemies movements, your character’s balance/footing, and the type of weapon you’re using. Your weapon’s momentum, which part of it you’re striking with, and your character’s balance, will all dictate how much damage you’re able to do. So, trying to stab someone with a spear when they’re standing 1ft away from you won’t do as much damage as it would if you were able to fully extend the stab. Similarly, if you’re using a long bladed weapon and you try to slash an enemy who’s too close, you might end up bashing them with your arms or the guard instead of the blade itself.
If you’ve ever played Ultima Online, you’re going to recognize Exanima’s inventory and gear systems – they’re almost identical. Meaning, you can equip multiple layers of gear. As an example, you could put on some chainmail and then equip plate armor over top of it.
One thing that Exanima isn’t, is easy. It’s undeniably one of the hardest games I’ve jumped into.
It took me almost 10-hours of gameplay to start getting good with the combat system. There’s just so much you can do that it takes a lot of experimentation to learn.
I died in the arena over and over and over again. I died in the story mode over and over and over again. But, eventually, I was able to not only walk through most opponents in the arena, but I was also able to make it to the end what’s been developed on the story side.
That’s what Exanima is all about. Dying over and over again until you’re good enough not to die. It sounds basic, but it’s so much more than that. It’s really one of those games that you have to experience for yourself.