Thursday, 01 June 2017 00:00

Mr. Donovan Early Access Review

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To boldly venture...

Mr. Donovan, currently in Early Access, utilizes a 3rd-person action-RPG interface and offers a mix of exploration and survival gameplay centered around Mr. Donovan, an astronaut stranded on a mysterious planet. Mr. Donovan’s crash-landed ship is in dire need of repair, so our protagonist grabs his energy sabre, a hammer, and some kind of portable, homing-missile device, and sets out to explore this strange and colorful world. His overarching agenda? Accumulating the resources needed to get his ship back into the sky [EN: Sounds familiar]. His success is threatened by environmental hazards, alien life forms, and waves of enemies attacking his space ship during the nights.

… where even the names are unknown

Gameplay revolves around discovering, exploring, and exploiting the various hazards and boons of Mr. Donovan’s domicile, meaning you wander around and observe your surroundings for the better part of your first couple of minutes (or hours), until you have some idea what’s what on that planet. The ways of interaction with the world, however, are rather limited. There are no tooltips, no names for creatures or environmental features, and you basically only have three choices when encountering something new: hit it with a hammer, hit it with a weapon, or boldly run into it, hoping for the best. After determining if that “thing” (as mentioned, nothing on this planet has a name) is hostile, mineable, or decorative, Mr. Donovan can collect, kill, or ignore it. Killing can be done by hitting it with the sword or the homing device, by letting the environmental hazards do the job, or by dodging the creature’s attacks, which yields “respect points” while eventually also killing the creature.

It gets better, doesn’t it? Well, yes, at least, a little bit.

So, in a nutshell: set out on an exploration run; find resources, mine resources; find creatures, kill creatures; return to ship; rinse and repeat. A bit thin, isn’t it? Especially considering the limited tools at the player’s disposal. At the start, the most interesting thing you can do is click the left mouse button with the correct timing to create a three-hit combo. No skills, no items, no pets, no nothing at the start. Of course playing as a level 1 anything, in any game, isn’t the most exciting experience known to man, but hey, it gets better, doesn’t it?

Well, yes, at least, a little bit.

Unlike other games centered around a single player character, there isn’t much room for creative character design or customization here (yet). Although the resources found on the planet can be used to craft consumables (e.g., health/energy pots and bombs) and a few upgrades, something like a skill tree is entirely missing. In that respect, dubbing the title as a SOBO (Single-player Online Battle Open-world) doesn’t seem to be fitting, because I would expect at least some kind of build variety there. (No to mention that the justification of the online bit still remains a mystery to me.)

Honorable mention

An honorable mention might be in order for the pets — alien creatures — that can supposedly be befriended by equipping the right items, but, quite frankly, I wasn’t able to stomach the game’s blandness long enough to make that endeavor seem worthwhile — in spite of its colorful appearance. Especially off-putting was the lack of QoL features like key customization and the lack of a pathfinding routine. Movement is done by right-clicking, but because the character will get stuck on even the tiniest pixel of any obstacle, movement is effectively done by HOLDING the right mouse button, making it difficult to execute a dodge maneuver which would require me to hold the right mouse button while at the same time double-clicking it.


The Verdict

On the positive side, some of the ideas of Mr. Donovan are quite unique: pets that serve as towers to defend your ship, or defeating creatures by dodging their attacks, to name a few. But in the end, I’m not sure which kind of audience Mr. Donovan is trying to reach. For the action-RPG gamer, there’s not enough action, not enough loot, and not enough customization. For players who like to explore the secrets of a mysterious world and mine its treasures as they go, there is not enough crafting, not enough variety, not enough survival, and not enough base building there.

I’d recommend to watch a Let’s Play before buying Mr. Donovan. If you like the art style, and if you do appreciate the game’s stretches of innovation and creativity, this might be a game that keeps you entertained for a while. But if you aren’t enthralled by the art style at once, it might be better to skip this one, unless presentation and content experience a dramatic upgrade upon release.

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Volker Morbach / 墨白

Volker has been playing board, card, tabletop, role playing and strategy games since the neolithic age, and is currently emphatically hitting the space bar after coming to a full stop. In games, he is looking for a VR experience without the headset, hopefully propelling his time machine to the next level. When not playing with words, swords, or Drows, he is working as a translator and vagrant wine promoter. Cheers!