It isn’t often we see games set in a Middle Ages, Middle Eastern fantasy world and it really is a shame. The lore and legends of mystical creatures with immense and bizarre powers from that time seem perfect for video games. Qasir al-Wasat aims to capture that mysticism as an action adventure stealth game about a deadly summoned creature that must carry out its summoner’s bidding in order to return to its world. The game takes place in a palace filled with secrets and mysteries of its own as well as hundreds of guards ready to keep you from your mission.
The core mechanic of Qasir al-Wasat is stealth. You as the creature are mostly invisible but not completely silent; if you run up in front of a guard, they will be alerted and attack. You essentially only have two movement speeds to choose from when planning your routes around guards- stalk and sprint- so be sure to plan accordingly. If you do happen to get spotted and a guard does attack, one hit to your frail body and it’s back to the spirit realm with you, or at least the last checkpoint. Likewise, guards are just as fragile when you use your razor sharp claws to eviscerate them. At least, I assume that’s what is going on because you end up covered in blood and thus begins one the interesting little twists in the cat and mouse game. The blood lingers on your body, revealing you position to vigilant guards. The more guards you take down, the easier it becomes to spot you. Fortunately, there are reflecting pools and shallow water scattered around the palace so you can wash off, but until you find one you feel completely vulnerable and the stealth part of the game feels tense. You will also come across some traps that exploit this vulnerability of an invisible yet corporeal creature, traps that would normally poison humans but act as a dye to you.
“The stealth mechanic is well fleshed out, but can be overshadowed by the jarring combat issues.”
It’s when you are fully immersed in the stealth gameplay that you begin to realize how well the sound is integrated into the game. Every footstep by you is the melody of some bigger concert while the guards and citizens of the palace pace around playing the harmony. This wonderful play on sound mixed with the Middle Eastern aesthetic makes for an enthralling experience while snooping around. I’m not entirely certain of this, but it seemed that shadows provided reduced visibility by the guards, offering a nice union of art style and gameplay.
This all might sound like high praise, but I simply wanted to remark on the positive aspects of the game before I highlight the glaring issues I encountered. While I do give props to the developer for trying a unique game idea, the core of the gameplay is being able to knock out guards in an effective manner. In order to do so, you need to time your strikes perfectly so as to avoid potential death. I found this incredibly tedious to do sometimes due to hitboxes of the creature and guard models to be incredibly unclear. Several times I thought I had lined up the perfect ambush spot when suddenly I wiff an attack end up pulling agro on every guard in the room. Needless to say, this was not ideal.
Something I found interesting, that isn’t addressed too well, is your creature’s ability to do a poison attack. The benefit of this is not needing to eviscerate guards thereby preventing blood from covering your body after an attack. This seems a bit overpowered, but it is severely limited. You start with a single charge of this ability and only recover it by finding certain food. The problem I have with this is the food is so scarce. I understand the need to limit the availability of such an attack, but having more charges early on or more refresh points would allow for different kinds of strategy in each area.
Despite these issues, I still enjoyed Qasir al-Wasat. The story is engaging enough and some of the dialogue between guards and citizens is filled with story tidbits and humour. The stealth mechanic is well fleshed out, but can be overshadowed by the jarring combat issues. I would still call Qasir al-Wasat a welcome addition to the games involving Middle Eastern lore and recommend it for anyone wanting a challenging stealth game experience.
*** PC code provided by the publisher ***
- Sound design integrated well into the game play
- Checkpoints are abundant
- Interesting mix of sight/sound mechanics for stealth gameplay
- Hitboxes and melee ranges are a little dodgy
- Poison attack is so limited for the amount of refreshes you find
- Dialogue can be cumbersome at times