No-one said being a thief was easy. Living in the shadows, having more enemies than friends, often doing things that ain’t pretty. Not without pleasure, though. The adrenaline, the rush in your veins as you sneak in and out without anybody noticing, is second to none. Problems? Sure. Sometimes they do happen. But so far you haven’t faced one that couldn’t be solved one way or another. In fact, usually those “problems” are slow, bored, and not really paying attention to what’s going on around them. Which makes handling them so much easier. It only takes patience. Patience allows you to shut them down quietly. But if endurance is not one of your virtues, then… Well, brutal force is an option too. Less sophisticated, but reliable and always available…
Setting the Stage
In Seven, you play as Teriel, a master thief with the unwavering confidence and ethical flexibility that comes with that work and experience. He’s meeting with a contact in the capital city to discuss a risky job: stealing an unidentified artifact from a high security mansion. The heist takes an unexpected turn and Teriel finds himself possessed by a demon named Artanak and on a ship bound for the prison island of Peh.
His new partner informs him that he has been recruited by the Emperor/Prophet Drugun to find and access an ancient ark somewhere on the island. First up is to find Savaash, an agent of the empire who has fallen out of contact, and find out what he knows.
The larger setting for the story is the Vetrall empire, a technology-driven society that rose up from the ashes of an apocalyptic event. Monolithic metal structures intermingle with wooden shacks. Unexplainable magic co-exists with cybernetic implants, force-fields, and holographic scultures. The island of Peh itself is something of an untamed frontier, with a wild west flair.
Two opposing factions vie for power and influence, both ostensibly loyal to the Emperor. First are the Technomancers, an authoritarian, militaristic group that imposes order through their highly advanced technology. Second are the Biomancers, a religious cult based around the teachings of Drugun, and whose ethically questionable biological engineering can be found throughout the island.
A Different Kind of Master Thief
Seven’s gameplay is about as eclectic as its setting. Ostensibly a 3D isometric action RPG, it deviates from expectations in a variety of ways.
Teriel himself controls much like one would expect from a modern third person action game, which adds a significant vertical element one generally wouldn’t associate with the genre and camera angle. This is driven primarily by a simple mantling ability. By jumping or holding shift Teriel will automatically climb nearly any ledge within reach.
For the most part, this works quite well, but as is often the case with vital, context-sensitive mechanics, it’s hard to consistently identify heights and distances where this ability will kick in. Missing a key jump will leave you at the mercy of the game’s unforgiving fall damage, which generally means death.
This is most useful for stealth, allowing you to find alternate paths around, above, and below enemies to reach your objectives. While sneaking around is not explicitly required (I encountered no hard failure states for detection), it is heavily encouraged, particularly at the start of the game. Enemies are tough and your starting tools are poor. Even in the late game, fighting more than a couple of enemies at a time is difficult. This ensures that sneaking almost never feels trivial.
The stealth mechanics themselves are straightforward, consisting of 3 major elements: line-of-sight, simple sound propagation, and disguises. This is not Splinter Cell or Thief 2, so there’s nothing fancy like hiding in shadows, or unique surface properties. If an enemy is facing you on level ground or slightly above or below, they see you. If you move too quickly while near them, they hear you.
The last major element to sneaking is the disguises, which have potential, but are ultimately useless in practice. They only provide concealment from standard enemy types from a distance that is never very clearly communicated. If you get too close, they get suspicious and follow you until they catch up to you, at which point they immediately identify you as an enemy. An added nuisance are officers who skip the suspicion and simply attack you. About the only thing disguises fool effectively are cameras. It seems inspired by Hitman: Absolution, the only game in that series to feature a similar system, which was quickly abandoned for the next entry.
Not a Professional Monster Hunter
Of course, you also have the ability to take the more direct route to problem-solving by simply walking in the front door and killing every, uh, obstacle in your way. This is much more directly limited by your gear but is viable nonetheless.
The combat itself is probably most comparable to that of the Witcher games, The Witcher 3 in particular. You have strong and weak attacks that seek enemy targets from generous angles and distances and a heavy emphasis on dodging and rolling.
Beyond that, most of your equipment and active skills are usable in combat but can be difficult to manage in the middle of a fight. You can unlock a short-range teleport, a sort of black hole, a shield that slows enemies and projectiles, and so on. The various traps, lethal and non-lethal, are best laid in advance and grenades tend to be most effective as an opening move on unsuspecting opponents.
I generally focused on the abilities most useful for sneaking, so I didn’t spend much time using the more aggressive, combat-oriented skills, but there are plenty of them.
One of my favorite mechanical details is the way the game handles menu navigation in real time. Whenever you open a menu (like an inventory or lock-picking screen), the game world pauses, giving you plenty of time to think about your next move. However, as soon as you do something with in-game impact, taking/stealing an item or moving your lock-pick, the game resumes for however long that action takes. It’s a clever compromise to maintain the sense of timing inherent to stealth gameplay without turning the RPG-style menu navigation into a source of frustration.
My Vision is Augmented
While Seven is an RPG, it doesn’t feature a leveling system in the traditional sense. You don’t receive experience points for completing quests or killing monsters. Every single form of character progression is found in the game world, by acquiring new gear, crafting upgrades, finding new skills for your cybernetic implant, and acquiring nectar.
Unlike many action RPGs, you aren’t looting randomly generated variants of weapons and armor with different stats and properties and you hardly get anything worth money from fallen foes. Instead, Seven has a broad selection of generic armor and weapons, including faction uniforms, and a smaller number of unique items with more interesting properties.
Exploration and risk-taking, not time investment, is actively rewarded with character progression. Braving the more dangerous areas on the island will give you access to more powerful skills and blueprints. While following the story gently guides you through the areas in gradually increasing intensity, there’s nothing necessarily stopping you from doing this as soon as you like (aside from the threat of death).
Continuing the trend of nonlinearity, good armor and weaponry can be acquired fairly acquired early on. Improving this gear requires finding blueprints for the upgrades, which are scattered throughout the world, and gathering the resources necessary to craft them. Some of these resources can be difficult to find.
For people who enjoy a loot/level grind, this could be a turn off, but in practice, it gives the player more control over Teriels’s improvement and side steps the narrative problem of resetting a master thief to “level 1.” You still have his skills, but you need to find better gear.
How Does it Look?
Seven is a very visual appealing game, leveraging its isometric view and colorful, cel shaded style to great effect. Photo-realistic it is not, but the vibrant detail crammed into many areas is simply breath-taking. This doesn’t come without problems, however.
First and foremost is performance. Simply put: Seven sees some significant drops in framerate. This most apparent in heavily populated areas, while wilderness locations are much more stable. It doesn’t seem to be impacted much by graphics settings, based on my own comparisons between the highest and lowest presets. Based on the patch history, the developers are aware of this and have been improving it since the game released.
The second issue is a natural result of the traversal system. While this adds a vertical movement fairly unique among isometric games and suitably complex, vertical level designs, it also clashes at times with the isometric camera angle.
The game naturally needs to hide significant portions of the level that would otherwise block the camera’s view of the player character. For a game with a strong focus on situational awareness (as any stealth-focused game is), this can often result in information lost about threats on various different elevations from the player and, in particular, makes it difficult to keep track of enemies on higher floors. Enemies who can nonetheless see Teriel.
This requires getting used to somewhat like the fixed camera angles in the early Metal Gear Solid games. You have to get a sense of what information is denied to you in what contexts; what problems could be imminent but out of sight. It’s simply far more difficult and less intuitive to effectively scan complex 3D environments than it would be in a game with a standard first or third person camera.
Music to My Ears
The audio design in the game goes a long way to making the world feel alive. Population centers teem with activity and the background roar of day to day human activity. The swamps are damp and buzzing with insects. Monsters growl and roar. Technology hums and whirs in the background and in action. Weapons hit their targets with forceful impact. These details really fill in the gaps, adding nuances to the world that you intuitively expect to hear.
The voice acting doesn’t disappoint either, making a very good argument for the merits of hiring experienced professionals for the job. Actors are well-cast, their delivery is natural and appropriate, the recording quality is consistently high. Even the smaller non-player characters are well-done and at no point does anything stick out as conspicuously amateurish.
A particular highlight was the characterization of the demon Artanak, whose wry, condescending tone complemented Teriel’s roguish bravado perfectly.
Finally, there’s the original soundtrack by Marcin Przybyłowicz (The Witcher 2/3, Gwent), Arkadiusz Reikowski (Observer, Layers of Fear), and Jacek Paciorkowski. It is truly as eclectic as the game itself, reveling in western blues, rock, and dark folk with creative sound design and electronic flourishes.
It also features an impressive array of non-standard instruments like a bucket bass and a cardboard cello. This lends it a kind of found sound aesthetic, as if the instruments were improvised from whatever materials could be found on the fictional island of Peh itself.
All of these elements come together to form a cohesive sonic identity that is uniquely suited to the setting and the story.
Overall, Seven: The Days Long Gone is a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. Certain systems and mechanics fall flat, some persistent technical problems hinder the experience. The sneaking is more “RPG Stealth” than the hardcore stealth of a game fully dedicated to that experience. Combat is basic, but offers a fair number of options.
And yet when it works (which for me was the majority of the time), it engrosses you in its world and its story. It’s filled with interesting and occasionally humorous details that are best experienced firsthand. It’s the kind of game that I really wanted to come back to between play sessions and those sessions tended to be long as I lost track of time.
For anyone who enjoys big, ambitious games that are a bit rough around the edges, Seven is well worth the time.