The Greek Gods have not been kind to humanity. Often seen as their slaves and puppets, humanity finds their destiny set in stone, literally, as they have been turned to lifeless slabs of rock in Argonus and the Gods of Stone. Zojoi, the developer of this ambitious Greek mythological tale, has taken a great chance that their revision of a Greek tragedy will pay off, and it has, but with a few caveats.
Set in the year 1242 B.C., you play as Argonus, son of Argus the famed shipbuilder. Dazed and confused from a shipwreck that’s left you stranded on an uncharted island, you awaken to find your crew frozen in stone on the shore. With their mouths agape and faces stricken with fear, it’s clear that whatever has occurred caused them great despair. And to show the sheer scale of the apocalyptic events, a massive trojan soldier – sword in hand – dredges through the mighty seas in the background. Seeing these occurrences play out before you gives a sense of depth and profoundness to the story. The gameplay is what’s to be expected from Zojoi. I was expecting a hands-on, in your face, Elder Scrolls type of game, but what I got was something different. Something special. Think, playing an infamous tale from the Odyssey: by Homer. Everything is bathed in the lore of Greek history. Gods are angry and at war, man is but a simple creature, and it is all upon you to create order.
Before I dive into the story and tell you about the beautifully crafted world and a narrative that one would only read about in a Greek mythology fable, I want to touch on some very important aspects of the game. This game’s ambitions are big, and so are its game assets in the world: from massive statues of the gods – living and dead, coliseums, ships, and more, it’s apparent that Zojoi wants the scale of the game to feel larger than life. Its story is intrinsic and pivotal in quests, and it’s important to hang onto every word. Told in a third-person perspective by the goddess Calliope, it’s her guiding voice that explains the unravelling world of gods and men. The level of detail on the poor souls frozen in stone is Triple-A quality. Their fear of what they assumed would be their demise is captured in picture-perfect detail. The erected temples, small acropolis’, and homes help create a sense that you were transported back into a time when giants, hydras, and gods were more of a threat to your livelihood than your neighbor’s ferocious Pitbull.
With its open-world layout, exploration is a necessity to progression in the world, and it’s not an option. The game assumes that you will search every nook and cranny of the world, and it adds a level of complexity to the game. So much so that it straddles the line of frustrating and gratifying. Navigating the island, you’ll find that all its inhabitants, good and evil, have been turned to stone. With everyone frozen and unable to offer words of advice, you interact with the world when the “Examine Icon” appears over an object. Clicking the left mouse button will have Calliope give a brief description of that object and what that frozen in stone lawn gnome was doing before being preserved in place. Unfortunately, this icon also looks the same as the “Take Icon” and the “Interact Icon,” except that the last two have an invisible or colored hand within the icon.
This often makes it difficult to know what you can take or interact with. Also, when needing to interact with something, if you approach that object at the wrong angle or too far away, you may or may not get the icon to interact with it. This was the case when I spent almost an hour trying to find out where to place a charm-necklace I found; which was another problem in and of itself. Locating objects in such a large world and not having the mouse “snap” onto an item of interest when interacting with it caused some issues. During the many updates to alleviate bugs and performance issues, I did notice better and more consistent frame rate when moving in certain areas, but still not as smooth as it needs to be. But the team is still at it, and I believe they will get the game to where it needs to be by release.
As I scavenged the island, I realized that I had no clear objective, and this confused me as playing an open world game with no clear objective sounded preposterous: where was I going, what was I to do, and what was my end goal? It takes some time to come to grips with what the gods are asking of you. After thirty minutes of wandering the island and scavenging pieces of wood, flowers, and random objects that I thought might have some importance but was never given or shown where to take them, I walked down a path where I was confronted by the goddess Athena, who subsequently saved me from a pair of slithering Gorgons. The level of detail in Athena’s face, clothing, and animation were astounding, and this is the type of depth this game’s art style offers. Soon after, I came across a hydra who had one of its many heads cut off in a skirmish but was ultimately turned to stone. Unfortunately, this is where I found myself stuck for about 2 hours.
Finding items in the world is difficult as there’s no indication for where to investigate. When I needed to find a necklace to present to the Poseidon statue, it took me the better part of an hour to find it because it was dangling from a tree limb that was off the beaten path and small enough to never notice. Though after playing the game numerous times because my save file was deleted, I noticed the sound of a chime when approaching the area of the necklace. But I only noticed this because I played through it multiple times. In fact, I found the necklace by accident when Argonus was stuck in a glitch on a tree. And even then I couldn’t obtain it because I needed to find something to reach it with.
After feeling like a lost puppy for hours, I found a spear that was lodged in a tree where the hydra was. But again, there was no indication that it was there. One of the issues that I found in the game is that, because of the sheer size and scale of objects in the world and no way to adjust the field-of view, I could easily pass by something in the world and never notice it: but that’s also the genius of the game. One would think that important objects in the world will be highlighted by some divine light of the gods, a waypoint, or in-game clue, but they aren’t, and this is where frustration sets in.
During my hours of searching the beachfront, I had located a green gem but was never given a clue as to what to do with it. Though you can click on the object in your satchel menu and have Calliope give you a vague idea of what it is, it doesn’t help when exploring a world where you can explore just about everywhere. After roughly 2 hours of searching, I noticed a massive stone head that I had wandered by countless times. It simply looked like a giant stone, especially on the large display that I play on. At that fallen head, I found a pedestal. Again, not knowing what to do, I simply opened my satchel and tried every object by dragging it over the pedestal until it accepted the green gem. The eye of the stone head opened and in I went.
Because this game relies on searching for items in order to progress through the game, it means that its scripted moments must be precise. As I progressed to the second area of the map, I found a hole in the side of a mountain. I continued to search the area for an hour before I located a ladder next to a wind powered grain mill. The problem here was that the ladder looked as if it were simply an inanimate asset in the world, and when I approached it, I was never given the icon to interact with it. Sadly, this happens regularly in this game. You never know what’s interactive or simply used as an asset. And because the icon doesn’t always appear when you walk next to an object, you will find yourself wandering aimlessly for hours. I even found a sheep that I was able to take an item off, but it was stuck in a living quarters due to a glitch in the game.
After retrieving the ladder and using it at the hole in the mountain, I explored a cave that had a few trinkets for the taking. Inside, I found a coin and a sword, and surprisingly, the developers used a lighting trick to show these items in the world. Why aren’t ideas like this used in the rest of the game? This is where the game feels fractured, because at times it feels cohesive and other times it feels rough around the edges. Once I retrieved the sword, I took it and presented it to the statue of Hera. Sharpening my sword and giving me a clue about her garden of golden apples that are guarded by harpies, I took my sword and looked to cut the wings from those blood-thirsty birds of prey.
This was my first interaction with action in the game, and it’s not as I presumed. You simply drag the correct item over what you want to interact with, and if it’s the correct item for that interaction, it plays out as an in-game cinematic. The harpies laughed in my face (not literally) because they didn’t fear one man with one sword. Frustrated again, I spent 3 hours trying to understand what I did wrong. In short, I had to return to the first area where I began, use the sword to extract the teeth from the head of the hydra that was cut off, return to the harpies and throw the teeth of the hydra into a reflecting pond next to them, which spawned skeletons that scared the harpies away. In all, I’ve spent close to 8 hours just getting to the second area of the map and feeling as if I have accomplished nothing. I hate for it to sound as if this game isn’t good, because it is. From my time with the game, its balance of art, story, gameplay and game mechanics aren’t on equal footing.
Along with the game’s mechanics issues, this game suffers from bad technical issues that take away from the enjoyment of the gameplay, and it’s time to address the technical issues. Upon landing on the uncharted isle and taking control of Argonus, it’s apparent that there are some performance issues, and to be fair, there have been updates almost every other day. Some fix stuttering issues but cause other issues. As I began to move about the shores of the desolate island using keyboard and mouse because the controls using a controller feel horrid, I noticed that the frame rate was extremely unstable. When walking around, I could reach 120 FPS and suddenly drop to 50 FPS, and then to 35 FPS, and my PC specs are well above what’s recommended.
With some of the world looking a tad bit worse than a previous generation title, and some being a bit more detailed, I struggled to get a smooth gameplay session. The GPU utilization remains around ninety-seven to ninety-nine, but the CPU usage drops dramatically, almost to the point where the CPU looks to be doing nothing. The most detrimental performance hit is when you look into the sky at massive statues. With the scale of the world being so large, you are often looking up and having the performance tank, and these moments shouldn’t happen. This also affects how you interact with objects in the world. Even with a mouse, I found it difficult to consistently interact with objects because of the inconsistent frame rate and stuttering. Argonus and the Gods of Stone is will be available on October 8th on Steam.
Argonus and the Gods of Stone
Argonus and the Gods of Stone is an ambitious game that recreates a world that is rich with lore and beauty. Playing a game that is narratively driven and offers a different style of gameplay is refreshing and necessary in a world where sequels and copycats are too frequent. The story and musical score are top notch as it helps set the mood for a game that you’re a part of. The performance and the way you interact with objects in the world are the biggest dilemmas to overcome in this title.