Omensight - saving the world in one day. Almost.
Omensight was released in 2018, two years after the first game of Spearhead Games - Stories: The Path of Destinies. Both games employ the same concepts when it comes to gameplay and storytelling, so I will be referring to "Stories" a lot when talking about Omensight. I think it's only logical and fair: both games share the same universe. I played "Stories" back when it was released and had a great time: surely, it had its flaws and the repetition became somewhat tiresome towards the end but the main idea was minty fresh, albeit slightly underdeveloped. When I heard about Omensight, I got mighty curious: did the creators take into account some of the critisism they received for Stories? How far did they go to polish the concept they built their first game upon? Did they improve their cyclical narrative? Oh boy, they did. They did.
In "Stories" you assumed the role of Reybardo - a fox-pirate who accidentally came to possess a magic book that would let him relive one last day before the Apocalypse. Armed with the miracle tome, you battle the evil Emperor, going back multiple times and trying to prevent him from summoning the Old Gods that would destroy the world. Each route took 20-30 minutes to complete; as a result you would learn new information, meet a new character or investigate the Emperor. This knowledge will later help you to uncover the chain of events where the world doesn't perish and you can save everyone.
In Omensight you play as Harbinger - a silent supernatural creature that appears in the mortal world when it's standing on the verge of death. You have the power to relive the day of the Apocalypse numerous times with one of four main characters who must help you investigate the murder of Godless Priestess that triggered the end of time. Omensight is a much more engaging and exciting detective story than Reynardo's adventures in "Stories", and I do love a good murder mystery.
Of course, the main drawback of a Groudhog Day concept in a videogame can be spotted right away. If one day repeats itself over and over again, wouldn't the player tire quickly of doing roughly the same things with a minimal variation? How can you make a game exciting if it consists of the same events happening in the same way over and over again?
"Stories" succeeded only partially in answering these questions: there were still too many routes that roughly duplicated one another. The game lacked diversity when it came to locations, types of enemies and Reynardo's skills: there just weren't enough things to entertain you for all the hours the game would last. But Omensight is on a whole another level entirely.
Omensight, like its predecessor, is an action game. The combat stayed Batman: Arkham Asylum-like as it was in "Stories": slowmotion, quick gliding from one enemy to the next, timed dodges, combos and all of that. Upon levelling up you will be given an additional ability that you can show off the next run. You can also purchase upgrades: crank up attack power and health, crank down cooldown time and other things, rather standard for an action game. However, the neccessity of using your arsenal to its full potential is a big fat plus: you'll have to learn how to use everything, you just can't always be pushing one button and expect to win.
In Omensight you'll have to choose two difficulties; I've never seen a game that would have you do that. The first difficulty you choose is a standard "Pick your desired pain level" stuff - easy, normal and hard. The second difficulty impacts the investigation: if you choose the easy level, in the hub location you will get access to a special crystal ball thing that will summarise all leads you have per NPC character and show you hints as to where you can dig deeper to obtain more information. It's basically your personal red string wall. If you select "true detective", the ball will be inaccessible, and you'll have to use your head and your memory alone. And you detective hunch!
It sounds pretty dramatic but in fact it isn't. I played on hard/true detective and discovered that Omensight has the same difficulty scaling issues that "Stories" had. Even if you choose the hardest difficulty, you will hardly have any issues traversing the game because you are THE HARBINGER, and all the other guys are just plebs poking you with a stick. As far as I understood, the level of difficulty only impacts how much damage you receive when you are hit. The enemies do not gain new abilities, nor do they they start doing combos with one another. There is a couple of tight spots where I struggled because of the sheer number of enemies that swarmed me but that was it. For those occasions - and I am not ashamed to admit it - I would just lower the difficulty from the menu and then bring it back up once I'm past that especially troublesome room.
"True Detective" investigation difficulty impacts only whether or not you'll get a standard ending before you get the true one. If you missed something (happens to all true detectives), you'll get the standard ending, but you can still collect what you've missed afterwards. I don't regret anything by the way, the first ending was... impressive.
Level design was hugely impacted by the fact that you will be running through 5 locations with different companions multiple times. If you have been to a room with one companion - do not despare, you will most likely be taken elsewhere, via a path you haven't even seen or considered before. It shows how much Spearhead Games worked on level architecture in this game after "Stories": there are not only more locations but they are reused in a very clever fashion so their freshness does not wear out after a couple of visits.
All levels are separated into smaller sections, usually by a door or a high point where you should be helped up by your companion. It is a smart way not to get the player separated from the companion and vice versa: at any moment you party setup is perfect. All locations have plenty of secrets: treasure chests or very important collectibles, and it's honestly a challenge to find everything. But you will want to.
NPCs that actually fight!
How often have you seen an NPC companion who is actually any good in a fight? I'm not talking about the supports like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite, they have their own role, but rather about your fighting pals that games often shove into your party "for help". I'm always annoyed when I'm forced to take an NPC who would either hinder me or just keep jumping into fire and dying.
Companions in Omensight beat your enemies into a pulp just as skillfully as you do, if not better. Three of them have ultimates that you can upgrade and command them to execute; those abilities can turn the tide of battle. You can also synergize your own abilities with their ults and have interesting results. However, it's not only about their super abilities, they just beat enemies up with their weapons and without your help, it's amazing. I'd reckon you can just occasionally give them a fight and go sit in a corner, they will destroy everyone. It's so cool to see that your NPC companions are not cardboard cutouts for your enemies' target practice but fearsome warriors that can stand on their own and save your ass if need be. I was disappointed that Emperor Indrik doesn't have an ult you could use: I bet it would annihilate everyone! However when I pressed the button, he told me that I would not boss him around, he is the Emperor after all. Oh well.
Locations - and most often battlefields - have destructable objects: breakable walls and columns that you can blow up by throwing a gunpowder barrel. This adds a nice variety to the gameplay and forces you to think harder about your positioning: it's cool when you throw an explosive barrel and a column comes crashing on the heads of your adversaries, and it's increasingly not_cool when the exact same happens to you. A sweet detail about the contents of standard barrels - they will always have health-replenihhing apples if your HP isn't full and the currency if it is full. Consequently, you'll want to break the barrels not before the battle but during, to occasionally heal on apples. The devs care about us heartsign
I can't say that the gameplay is a weaker side of the game - on the contrary, Omensight plays awesome - but it the story that really makes it shine. The premise is somewhat trivial: two kingdoms are at war. There is Pygaria ruled by Emperor Indrik, and Rodentia lead by Ratika who is actually a bard. Godless Priestess Vera, a representative of a neutral side, respected in all the lands, worked tirelessly trying to ensure peace between two kingdoms but she was murdered. Her death triggered a chain of events that liberated an ancient serpent Voden from his prison. You have only one day: every morning you begin, you know that in the evening it all will end with Voden destroying the world.
I've cracked the case!
In the very first cinematic the game tells you about the kingdoms, the Priestess, who fights who, and it all becomes clear as day. Emperor Indrik - bad, he is a tyrant and an oppressor. Rodentia mice - good, they are martyrs and freedom-fighters. Thus, Indrik killed the Priestess to establish his regime in Rodentia. As for the secondary characters, it's also pretty obvious: Draga, a cat-general of the Emperor, is a cold-blooded soldier carrying out her master's will. Bear Ludomir - noble, slightly drunk because of the terrors of the war fighter. Godless Priestess - a sacrificial lamb, murdered by the Emperor. Case solved, bring me another!
However, when you start playing, you start suspecting everyone. The more time you spend with a character, the more you hear their monologues, the more memories of theirs you find, the harder it is to shake off the feeling that every single one of them is guilty in some way. You start catching their every word, and the jigsaw puzzle you assembled as early as during the first cinematic, becomes all white. Who killed the Priestess and why? Was it Indrik, as everybody believes? Maybe, Ratika? Ludomir seems to have a fiery temper, and Draga is too reserved, she must be hiding something...
The most valuable collectibles you can find in the game are memories, about 5 per character. I'd say it's the most incredible part of the narrative that works wonders with the murder mystery you're trying to solve in present time. It's not just "character X remembers how they murdered the Priestess, case solved" but instead very personal stories, mostly from childhood. Short texts - splendidly written - allow you to look at characters from another angle and understand what drives them. Did Ratika want to lead the rebellion? Why did she become a bard? Did Draga want to be a general? What are Indrik's most painful memories? What happened in the past explains what is happening now. Memories uncover events that led the characters to where they are now. It's not just a group of default characters presented in a standard setting "bad empire VS good freedom-fighters". I was thoroughly impressed. Despite the fact that Omensight's characters are cute animals, it's an adult story. Here you'll find love, treachery, sacrifice, family values, and a burning desire to protect you people from the external threat. There is a lot of drama in this story, but it's a well-written drama, which is a rare gem to come by.
When the game begins, you can choose to relive the last day with one of two characters before you find the other two and establish connections with them. As you progress, the information you uncover might lead you to a breakthrough in your investigation and you will see the the-thing-that-really-happened. This turning event is called "Omensight" - as soon as you get it, you will be able to relive the day with your 4 buddies yet again but in a different way now. As soon as you show them your Omensight, they will get different ideas and lead you different paths. Until you find a new Omensight and share it with the protagonists that will push them to take another course of action. It's a great way to diversify a game where you traverse the same locations with the same companions many times over. It's an indescribable thrill when a character leads you somewhere you've been three times already but not with them...
Attention to detail
Spearhead Games obviously spent a lot of time on character development: they all speak in different ways and behave differently even in fairly mundane animations like opening doors. Draga helps you open the door, Ludomir does too, however, Emperor Indrik drops a condescending "Must I do everything myself?.." and casts a fireball that slams the door open - it's hot, and you cover your face. Ratika is too small and weak to push heavy doors with you like Ludomir or Draga and she has zero fireballs. What she does have is her magical balalaika that she plays to empower you, so you can open those doors with one finger. I am in love with these details, they help the immersion and create a lot of character.
All characters are splendidly voiced and have good dialogue. You probably know how particular I am about texts and how rarely games please me when it comes to words, but Omensight is well written.
The secret ending is not hard to get: you just need to collect all pieces of evidence and connect all the dots. If you are playing on the easy difficulty and have you hint map available, it's not a big deal. If not, you will still prevail but the final cinematic might not... satisfy you. Just load your save file again, and a character in your hub location will guide you to the true ending, it shouldn't take long.
Is it worth it?
It's always great when developers do not abandon an interesting concept even if their first game did not turn out perfect. Of course, I am not saying that "Stories" is a bad game and you shouldn't play it - on the contrary, even with its flaws it's still a good game, it's fresh and charming in many ways. Omensight is just a huge step-up. Everything got better: more diverse and dynamic combat, more types of enemies and abilities, and most importantly, the Groundhog Day concept and cyclical narrative got heaps and heaps better. It's not tedious to travel the same locations multiple times, and every new piece of dialogue feels like a gift. The game pulls you in instantly: you want to know more about the world, about the characters, about the mysterious murder. And special thanks for the cool creeping feeling of the inevitable end: whatever you do, in the evening everybody will die, and the world will end. It scares you and motivates you to dig deeper and faster for the truth.
I recommend it. Omensight is a great game, it's an astonishing level up when compared to the first game of Spearhead Games. You just see how hard they tried to bring the concepts they used with "Stories" on another level. Of course, it has its flaws too: surprisingly long loading time, just like in "Stories", and odd difficulty scaling. Perhaps, Omensight is not a genre revolution when it comes to action games but honestly, I play games mostly for stories, and Omensight has a great story and an awesome way of delivering it.
Playtime - 10 hrs