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Review

Written by Jade Swann | Edited by John Gerritzen

Old Gods Rising is a first-person exploration mystery game developed and published by Bad Blood Studios. You play as Professor Tom Winston, a disgraced history professor who has been asked to consult on a film being made at Ashgate University. Once you arrive, however, things quickly take a turn for the strange and mysterious.

COLLEGE WOES

First and foremost, the design of Old Gods Rising is beautiful. The main setting is Ashgate University and it has been designed incredibly well. It’s big and sprawling and has all of the great details that you would expect from a college campus, such as colorful flyers and ads cluttering every available bulletin board, tips and tricks to get into locked places, and long snaking hallways and passages that are easy to get lost in. The only thing this campus is missing is the people, which is where the mystery begins. 

When you arrive at the college campus, there is no one to be found. The film equipment is all there, but there isn’t a single crewmember. With this eerie ambience building, you begin to search the parking lot and eventually find a radio that connects to the film director. He tells you that he’s stuck off location, but wants you to find and look at some of the school’s historical artifacts without him. 

As you begin looking for and examining the historical artifacts, it soon becomes clear that something is amiss at Ashgate University. There are signs of supernatural elements at play, but also signs of scheming human behavior as well. These two conflicting features do an excellent job at making you question everything around you and leave you analyzing every clipboard you find and every phone conversation you have for clues about what is really going on. Unprompted exploration is often rewarded with finding hidden secrets, and you’ll easily get lost once or twice seeing where the wrong paths lead. That said, these scraps of information are usually just that – scraps. While you can piece parts of them together, I do wish they contributed more information to the story overall. 

THE GENIUS AND THE FOOL

While you will be analyzing every scrap of evidence and wondering what it all means, Professor Winston doesn’t quite reflect these feelings. He is presented as somewhat of a genius, being able to decipher ancient runes from multiple cultures off the top of his head, yet he ignores just about every single glaring red flag thrown at him. While his character is clearly stated to be gullible (as referenced to his disgraced career, which is never fully explained apart from some vague mentions about trusting the wrong sources for his book), this gullibility doesn’t explain how he blatantly ignores some of the information he finds. For instance, he comes across a voice recording in the director’s office that confirms one theory, then calls his partner and tells her that he thinks the opposite theory is what’s going on, without even remarking on the evidence that proves the contrary. 

Tom also, for some reason, didn’t do any research before coming to Ashgate. There’s a throwaway line that he was “hungover” before coming to the university and he is established as gullible, but would a history professor really not be skeptical hearing about historical affects being found at a fellow university from a film director and not, say, his colleagues or the news? He has a specific line where he talks about having done rigorous research for the book that disgraced his career, so I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t do any research beforehand. It almost feels like this was thrown in as a somewhat lazy way to deepen the mystery, as several of the big questions would be answered if he had just done some research.

ENDINGS ARE DIFFICULT

All of your deductions accumulate in an ambiguous ending, leaving it up to you to decide what really happened. Without getting into too many spoilers, both potential endings simply don’t add up. In the mere two and a half hours it takes to reach the ending, there’s not enough motive or explanation to make either one fully believable. The idea that no one at the university ever noticed anything strange is hard to believe, as is the idea that a certain group of people — who are already well-versed in the Old Gods — needed Tom’s help at all. On the contrary, if everything you find really is an elaborate trick, the question is why. Why spend all of that money? Why dupe the main character in particular? And, again, a few of these questions could probably easily be answered if Tom had bothered to do any research.

5

The Verdict: Fair

Old Gods Rising will quickly draw you in with its interesting mysteries, but the payoff likely won’t satisfy you. The university campus is beautifully designed and searching each and every corner for clues is fun, but there is not enough information for the ending to be believable. If you can look past the bugs and lackluster ending, the overall experience is worth checking out if you enjoy mystery and exploration games.

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