Last year was undoubtedly a banner year for our favorite video game genre. The releases of spectacular titles, from AAA blockbusters to indie darlings, was quite the embarrassment of riches. With such a busy year, you could be forgiven for neglecting lower profile titles that either fell off your radar or were simply never on it. Seven: The Days Long Gone (hereafter referred to as “Seven”) certainly falls into the latter category for me. The debut title of developer Fool’s Theory (a studio that includes former Witcher development staff), Seven squeaked in at the end of 2017 with seemingly little fanfare. Boy, did I miss out.
Seven takes place on a post-apocalyptic world where mankind, having reached the pinnacle of technological achievement and been betrayed by it, struggles to put the pieces of civilization back together. The “Ancients,” as these advanced ancestors are known, were undone by a war with one-time allies and mysterious beings known as daemons. Long after humanity’s fall, a great savior known as Drugun appeared and harnessed the power of ancient technological relics to rally mankind under the banner of the Vetrall Empire. The empire enjoys only a tenuous peace, however, and traitorous machinations have been put into action by those seeking the Ancients’ power for themselves.
The game opens in the Vetrall capital of Hallard with the player taking control of the master thief Teriel as he pitches his friend the ultimate heist. The target is a relic known as a Cypher, and this mysterious item is locked away in an impenetrable mansion. That’s no sweat for Teriel, of course, who manages to reach the Cypher but is knocked unconscious after making contact with it. Teriel awakens on a transport ship to Seven’s primary setting, the penal island of Peh. He’s shocked to find that he’s been possessed by a daemon who informs him that he’s been enlisted for a very important mission.
Seven’s narrative is serviceable-to-solid, but the overall story is greatly enriched by the fascinating collection of people and environments sprinkled about the island of Peh. One of its core themes is the populace’s collective effort to unearth and exploit technology left behind by the Ancients, and, as a result, society on Peh is an unorthodox combination of barbarism, religious fanaticism, and hi-tech lethality. This juxtaposition is on full display within the main questline, but exploring the game’s side quests aids in fully appreciating the compelling nature of Peh’s many denizens. There are multiple endings to Seven, some of which are tied to side quest completion, so taking your time to finish them is certainly worth the effort.
The crowning achievement of Seven, however, is its enthralling hybrid of stealth-action-isometric-CRPG gameplay mechanics that are enhanced by what the developers call a “climbing system.” That climbing system is most easily described as parkour-like and is similar to hoping from rooftop to rooftop in a game like Assassin’s Creed. Fool’s Theory takes this a step further, though, and has built the entire game world to accommodate this climbing mechanic. The environments have an incredible amount of vertical depth that I can’t remember experiencing in an isometric game, and the various natural and man-made obstacles you must navigate make exploring the nooks and crannies of Peh an absolute joy. Sure, you’re going to die a lot — save often — but that’s often the result of player recklessness or impatience rather than bad game design. The exceptions to this usually stem from the density of some environments where the isometric viewpoint can wreak havoc on the camera and your ability to navigate areas with many layers.
Peh itself is a living, breathing, open-world sandbox where folks react to essentially everything you do. As a thief, Teriel is obviously prone to perform thief-like acts. In fact, Seven greatly encourages you to take advantage of the stealth system and Teriel’s innate abilities. The battle system is serviceable on its own, but defeating enemies doesn’t provide any rewards beyond what you can loot from their bodies (you can stealth kill human enemies for that). Indeed, you can find yourself quickly overwhelmed by a group of foes that will likely make short work of you if you rush into fights. It’s better to sneak past or find a disguise in most cases, which is made easier by efficient use of the environment. Likewise, money is tight and should be spent on Visas that allow you to access different sectors of Peh without fear of the authorities pouncing on you for trespassing. Gear and supplies should be obtained by looting and stealing, but keep in mind that your actions have consequences…if you get caught.
Seven imposes a system of “illegal actions” that the player must be aware of in order to avoid setting off alarm bells. If you catch the attention of bystanders while being a sneaky weirdo, the people will grow increasingly suspicious of you. If you’re caught doing something blatantly illegal, like trespassing or stealing, folks will alert the authorities. Most of your actions occur in real time, so there’s an excellent chance someone will stumble upon you while you pick a lock or crack a safe. Successfully picking a lock or pickpocketing a guard is quite a satisfying experience in Seven, and that is in no small part due to the overall polish of its stealth mechanics.
As I’m sure you can tell, I had an absolute blast with Seven. That’s obviously not to say that it doesn’t have its flaws, some of which are rather significant. There’s a laundry list of quality of life issues that do drag down the experience a bit. The menu system is fairly clunky, the status/equipment menus do a less-than-stellar job of conveying important information to the player, the loot system borders on out of control, and inventory management can be a nightmare considering weight limits and an initial lack of clarity on item utility. The skill, crafting, and upgrade systems are fairly opaque at first, and it takes a bit of trial and error to figure it all out even with a bare-bones tutorial menu. Additionally, the lack of location names on the map annoyed me to no end, and the camera zoom is almost unbearably slow. The controls are mostly solid, if a bit unwieldy at times, though the left analog stick quite often remained “stuck” after entering or exiting menus.
There are more serious issues that plague the title as well. Most notably, the game completely crashed on me several times. This was mitigated somewhat by a natural tendency to save frequently (because of all the death), but it’s something that still plagues Seven months after its buggy launch and following the release of several post-launch patches. There was also at least one quest that glitched out, preventing me from finishing it. Luckily it was a side quest of seemingly little importance, but this kind of flaw could potentially be game-breaking under the right circumstances.
On a more positive note, the cel-shaded graphical art style looks fantastic for both character models and the various environments on the island prison. Many small details, like Teriel’s character portrait changing depending on what headgear you have equipped, add a nice touch to the experience. The music is solid if unspectacular, with many of the tunes embracing the western/wasteland hybrid atmosphere by mixing guitar twangs with a somewhat industrial sound, and the voice acting is mostly superb throughout.
Seven is the quintessential flawed gem of a game. There’s so much to love about what the game does right, yet so many nagging issues that it’s hard to justify a higher score than I’ve given it. The good news is that some of the issues, particularly the most severe, are ultimately fixable. It’s a little disheartening that some of the worst of the bugs are still present in some fashion so long after release, of course, but Fool’s Theory has displayed a willingness to at least attempt to fix what’s broken. The game is infinitely more stable than it was just a few months ago, and if you can bear with some of the game’s less palatable design quirks, you’re apt to be rewarded with one a heck of a stealth/action/RPG hybrid.