Year after year the budgets of AAA games continue to skyrocket, as do the expectations that come with it. Despite this, we’re seeing more and more games shipping as undercooked hot messes that are reliant on constant patching to alleviate the frustration of present bugs and glitches. Most of the time they are manageable, seldom impeding the progression of the player. However, there are times when a game’s ambition far outweighs its resources and sadly this is the case in Troll and I. Despite looking promising on paper, Troll and I has champagne ambitions on a beer budget, and as a result is laden with technical issues and design flaws that prevents it from ever living up to its potential.
We’re going on an adventure!
Troll and I is a third-person adventure game from development team Spiral House and publisher Maximum Games. It tells the story of Otto, a young boy who is on the run after his village is destroyed by hunters who have been sent by an affluent businessman to find a mythical troll thought to inhabit the area. By sheer happenstance, Otto discovers and befriends the titular Troll, who, aside from sporting a similar pair of lush dreadlocks to Otto that would take the cake at any Bob Marley-themed party, looks a like a hairier and roided-up version of E.T. However, the troll hunters aren’t the only threat that Otto and Troll face, with a fracture opening up in the Earth and unleashing a race of orcs into the world. Otto and Troll must find their way back to their families by working together and utilising their unique abilities.
The game is set post-World War II in 1950s open-world Scandinavia. While the visuals are borderline PS3 quality, the forest environments are quite quaint and there’s a serene aura to them as Otto and Troll traverse the topography, with only wildlife sounds to keep them company. Despite this, the world feels relatively humdrum, with very little ‘life’ present here. Aside from the occasional boar you can hunt, the game world is devoid of interactivity; there’s no fauna or even other villages or Scandinavian natives that you come across. Just camps for the troll hunters.
I come in fur and with dreads
The game attempts to create some poignant moments throughout the journey, however these are so poorly executed that you simply just don’t care whether Troll, Otto or any other character survives
Despite being labelled as a narrative-driven game, Troll and I’s tale is a meagre attempt at trying to tell the story of man and beast and the bond that fighting for survival can create. It’s a premise we’ve seen time and time again, and Troll and I does very little to make the player feel invested in the plight of Otto and Troll. The game attempts to create some poignant moments throughout the journey, however these are so poorly executed that you simply just don’t care whether Troll, Otto or any other character survives, plus the ending is extremely ungratifying. It doesn’t help that the voice-acting is dreadful and bereft of any emotion whatsoever. However, I doubt even Nolan North or Troy Baker – who can usually make even the most insipid dialogue engaging – could make anything of the script at hand.
As mentioned previously, Troll and Otto will have to work together in order to progress, meaning you’ll have to constantly switch between the two characters (which thankfully can be done easily), or if you’re feeling nostalgic you can play the entire the game with local split-screen co-op. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test this component out as one of my controllers is faulty, and I wasn’t shelling out the cash for a new controller just to play co-op Troll and I.
Time to kill some orcs
It’s just me and you big boy
Working together means you’ll have to occasionally get Otto to disable traps so that Troll can proceed, or get Troll to find an item such as a plane wing so that Otto can cross areas that are too far for him to jump. You’ll also have to work together in combat, as some enemies are more susceptible to particular attacks. Combat in Troll and I is a threadbare and repetitious affair. Each protagonist has their own style; Otto utilises spears and other items in the world to craft weapons (such as machetes or baseball bats with nails), while Troll just flails his arms around, throws rocks and bellows and stomps on his victims when he can. Controlling the characters is often a chore, especially when using Troll, and it’s not uncommon for your attack to go in the opposite direction you intended it. The AI-controlled character is often useless, several times Troll stood and watched as Otto was swarmed by orcs. The game also features possibly the worst boss fight and final showdown of modern times.
As mentioned above, Otto has the ability to craft various weaponry items, some of which are also used to progress in the game. Otto can collect green, blue and red shards which can be used to craft explosive spears and are required to demolish obstacles blocking your path. Collecting materials is painstakingly tedious, as you’re forced to sit through an animation each time you collect spears or shards, and as you’ll require a lot of these items you’ll quickly come to hate gathering them. There is a skills system here, which requires the collection of idols found within the world. You can increase Otto or Troll’s health, the amount of melee damage dealt by Otto, the speed at which Troll can heal himself and other basic upgrades. I actually didn’t even know this was even in the game until about halfway through, which sums up how good the game is at explaining things.
Just the (metal) tip
The Troll and I experience is also hampered thanks to a lack of rudimentary features you would expect from an open-world game. The biggest omission is the lack of a map, and honestly it’s quite dumfounding that the team at Spiral House considered this a good design choice. It’s not that it’s easy to get lost, because the areas (despite being open world) aren’t overly big. It’s when the game requires you to backtrack on occasions that it’s easy to go around in circles. What further burdens the player is the lack of any objective, even simple ones such as ‘find entrance to cave system’ would greatly assist the player in knowing what to look for and where to go. The auto-save system is also second rate. You can easily wander around trying to figure out where to go for up to an hour without hitting a save point. And if you perish or the game freezes or glitches out (which it is prone to do) you’ll have wasted your time. I am of the belief that open-world games of this nature should have a manual save option like in Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
We’ve talked about the game’s dismal story, the monotonous combat and the design flaws, but let’s get to the crux of Troll and I’s problems: its myriad of technical issues. To be frank, I am not sure I have played a game this generation with the amount of technical issues that are at hand here – they are present in almost every facet of the game. Whether it’s the constant clipping of characters and objects, characters getting stuck or flying in the air, textures popping up as you traverse, the sluggish framerate that feels like it barely gets into double figures or the often unresponsive buttons during combat (such as dodging or blocking an attack), expect to be fighting the game at every turn. Then there are the bugs that force you to restart, such as Troll getting stuck inside environments, Otto falling through the game world upon an area loading, the game simply just not loading or occasionally Otto imitating a Lemming and failing to do a simple task (such as jump) resulting in you plummeting to your death (most infuriating during the game’s terrible boss fight).
Caught between a rock and a hard place
It pains me to say this, but make no mistake about it, Troll and I is a stinker of a game. Its downfall is brought upon by itself; it’s overambitious and tries to do too much on what was likely a shoestring budget with a small development team. The result is a game that is marred by technical issues, design flaws and ubiquitous shortcomings. While this is a problem in itself, this is not necessarily the main problem; the main problem is that it markets itself as a AAA title with a AAA price – neither of which it has any right to do. It’s hard to understand why publishers and developers are content with releasing games in such a state (I’d say the developer is at the mercy of the publisher in most cases) that is sure to tarnish both company’s reputation. At the end of the day Troll and I is a sad and sorry affair with essentially no redeeming features at all, except maybe the game’s soundtrack and box art. I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone, not even as a troll gift.
Reviewed on Xbox One