Telekinesis can lift you up, but it can also let you down.
Given the choice, I will always play as a mage, a wizard, or some kind of magical being. I love superpowers of all sorts well over physical prowess or agility. The first game by stillalive studios, Son of Nor, on its surface, seems designed to appeal to me with its set of magical abilities. However, some outdated and messy elements coupled with a lackluster story mar the experience entirely.
Despite the title, players can choose between male or female avatars whose appearances are customizable to a degree. Humans are the titular sons of Nor, the goddess of the night in this mythology. Their mortal enemy, the Sarahul, bi-pedal lizard people, are sons of Lur, goddess of the sun. In the past, the Sarahul nearly wiped all humans out, but some escaped to a secret enclave, The Edge, where peace reigned until they were found. So begins a rather convoluted yet mildly mundane story.
The characters you meet over eight or so hours are fairly bland and very poorly explained. Given that your character has the same starting set of abilities as other sons or Nor, it’s never entirely clear why he or she ventures out alone to stop the impending attack on The Edge. Much like various odd moments in the game, such as being sent to a fire temple by an aloof and slightly sadistic bird or encountering a mystic outside of time, things just happen and you deal with them. It never feels like a cohesive series of events so much as stuff thrown at the wall to see what sticks.
But you probably came for the magical powers, and in many ways, you will not be disserviced there. You begin the game with telekinetic and terraforming abilities. The former lets you levitate and throw objects around, and the latter lets you raise and lower sand across this desert land. On the surface, these may sound uninteresting, but as you progress, that changes.
Levitation allows you to set objects as platforms, and thus far I have not found the limit to how many objects you can use to create a bridge. Thus, platforming becomes more engaging as you try to figure out ways over physical barriers. Furthermore, there’s a button to dislodge and raise nearby objects for extremely simple bombardment of enemies. I will gladly go on record saying that this is one of the coolest magical abilities I’ve encountered in games so far, and there’s no cooldown or mana bar attached to it—as long as there as objects nearby, you can act like a cannon.
The terraforming abilities are simpler, allowing you to get below obstacles or raise yourself up to higher platforms. Although it can be a bit wonky, you’ll be surprised at how far you can raise the sand and yourself, adding to your arsenal of platforming capabilities. However, these powers can also be used in battle to trip up your opponents or even bury them alive. Later in the game, you’ll discover that the sand can be used to shield yourself from projectiles, bringing you that much closer to earth-bending like in Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Of course, your magic doesn’t stop there. Your journey will take you to temples that’ll grant you wind, fire, and spirit abilities. All of these can be used to enhance your telekinetic powers (terraforming remains unaffected), and curious players can find upgrades for each element to enhance combat. Unlike your starting set, these elements are limited to three uses per element absorbed, but there are often sources all around you even if they don’t always make narrative sense. Lastly, by casting two or more elemental abilities in a row, you can unlock interesting and sometimes devastating powers.
Clearly, Son of Nor builds you up to be a tool of destruction, but there are numerous moments when combat just gets awkward. Sarahul enemies tend to just rush you rather like the first Mass Effect, leaving little time to grab objects in many cases, especially after you’ve thrown away your supply. Your stock elemental abilities don’t cause significant damage alone, so tackling a group often means finding an object to enhance and chuck. Finding new abilities is definitely helpful, but you can’t switch between them on the fly, only the elements. Instead, you must open the in-game tome, which doesn’t pause the game, leaving you vulnerable.
What makes combat more peculiar an experience is the unrefined presentation. Rather than attacking sentient beings, it often feels like you’re shooting objects and elements at large blocks. Anything that sends enemies in the air freezes them awkwardly like cats being held by their scruffs. Moving beyond them, character faces don’t animate while talking, and their expression is generally reduced to simplistic gesturing. Overall design and texture work is very flat and blocky, and though some of it is occasionally appreciable, I was rarely impressed.
Coupled with glitches, the execution gets even messier. There were times I died without defeating enemies, and the game just randomly advanced me to the next cut-scene. In a section that takes place in a large cylindrical tower, when I ascended halfway, the lower half disappeared immediately into blackness. An NPC died in a battle I involved him in, but then his voice appeared in the next scene despite his body being absent. Even in the final scenes, my character glitched beneath the floor, forcing other characters to talk at nothing.
All these complaints added up to an experience I was rooting for but was ultimately let down by. I think stillalive studios had some excellent ideas with the powers, but much of the execution of the game as a whole, including the peculiar narrative and plot, leaves much to be desired. It certainly was a lofty task to undertake, but as a saleable product, I feel like players can find other experiences that feel more complete.
Despite my complaints, I hope the developer gets some fans, revenue, and perspective to make something better next time around. I could not even test the added PVP multiplayer mode due to complete lack of other players a week after launch. I can sense the heart in the project, but heart alone doesn’t make a great game unfortunately.