It's no surprise that a global phenomenon like Minecraft has inspired countless other games in a similar style. Portal Knights is another title that borrows Minecraft's blocky art style and crafting system, but it manages to put a fresh spin on many things and in some ways outdoes those that have come before it.
The most obvious way it differentiates itself from Minecraft is the increased focus on combat and completing quests. You'll be travelling to different floating islands via portals, and in each new location you'll run across various characters who need your help. These quests will vary from needing to defeat a certain type of monster a number of times, to bringing them armour or crafting a weapon so they can defend themselves. The quests are mostly straightforward, but they're great at acting as a catalyst for you to investigate the islands and look for resources.
Exploration is the greatest aspect here, as there are loads of islands in the game and each one has a number of hidden areas for you to find. Coming across a cleverly disguised cave system that leads you to a treasure trove of loot is one of the greatest joys you'll experience in Portal Knights. Locations are kept pretty fresh too, as you'll encounter islands that are blanketed in snow, barren deserts, or lush jungles; no two islands ever feel the same.
Because there is such a focus on always exploring and moving to new locations, much of the crafting falls by the wayside. There are loads of recipes for purely cosmetic things, but unlike Minecraft, there's no real reason to set about building a house as you'll be moving on from each location so quickly. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but those expecting this aspect to have been replicated from Minecraft may be disappointed.
Combat plays a significant role here, as you will constantly be encountering enemies and defeating them is often a very efficient way to gather up resources. It's clear from the start that you're encouraged to constantly engage in combat, as unlike many games in this style you do not drop all of your loot when you're defeated. Defeating the various creatures in the game will also provide you with experience, allowing you to level up your character and increase a number of different stats. Levelling up gives you skill points which can be invested into stats like strength, agility, or intelligence, and you can feel your character growing in power as you start progressing. Similarly, every five levels you can choose a special ability to give your character, but for the most part, these are quite underwhelming additions.
In fact, the game's statistical aspect is pretty underwhelming throughout. While there are quite a few stats available to level up, thanks to the class system most of these are useless. Before starting the game you choose to be a warrior, ranger, or mage and this choice decides what you'll be specialising in. However, because the game makes you focus on one class and many of the stats you can level up are only for a specific class most of the options here are useless. Playing as a ranger we found that only the stats to increase health and the damage our bow and arrow dealt was worth it, with almost all other stats being a waste of time. Because there was no reason to level up anything else we quickly became overpowered.
Your overall goal in Portal Knights relies heavily upon your combat skills. As you advance from island to island you will eventually run into boss fights with massive creatures you need to take down. These bosses dwarf even the toughest creatures you'll encounter on regular islands and will require you to stock up on items and be properly prepared before you dare to take them on. Only three of these bosses exist in the game, which is disappointing as discovering each weakness and finally taking down these monoliths is so rewarding.
Another fun aspect of the game is the pretty extensive character customisation. You get the basics like choosing to be male or female, but you also get to customise all the various aesthetic features of your character. This is a great addition, particularly for when you set your game to be online as you can have friends join in on your quest, so allowing each player to have a distinctly unique character is welcome and makes for some hilarious results.
As you could gather from the game's title, portals play a heavy part in the gameplay. When you defeat monsters they will more often than not drop different coloured shards, which can be crafted into a portal block. On most islands, you'll find one or more stone structures, which allows you to place six blocks and create a functioning portal to another world. Knowing where these portals lead to can be quite tricky, but thankfully you have a handy map in your inventory, which lays out exactly where you are and allows you to fast travel to any island you have ever stepped foot on.
Portal Knights main concept is not without its flaws, however. While crafting portals is an integral part of the game, it's also the most frustrating. Early on in the game when there are only a couple of different shard colours that enemies can drop; things are relatively straight forward and you'll have no issue in crafting the required blocks. When more colours get introduced, that's when things become annoying. Having to rely on random drops for portal shards means there will be times where you simply can't progress unless an enemy decides to drop exactly what you need. We had a particular moment that stood out where we needed green shards so we could travel to face a boss, but no matter what enemy we faced they refused to drop more. Hours and hours were spent trying to get the few shards we needed to finally progress onto something fresh. Moments like these are far too common and they halt all momentum, ultimately making the game drag on.
Portal Knights brings some interesting new wrinkles to the crafting genre that has become so popular recently. The increased focus on combat works well, particularly with the boss battles and having a clearly defined end goal is a great way of keeping you invested. Unfortunately, some of the other additions like the poorly thought out stats system and the reliance on random drops for creating crucial portals keeps the game from ever fully achieving knighthood.