STAFF REVIEW of Operencia: The Stolen Sun (Xbox One)


Sunday, April 28, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Operencia: The Stolen Sun Box art When I think of Zen Studios, I still regard them primarily as a pinball game developer, where they made their mark. But times change and they are branching out, creating new experiences that don’t solely involve flippers and balls. Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a departure from the typical Zen Studios affair, nothing quite what I expected, but I walked away impressed with what they’ve created.

Operenica, a first person dungeon crawler, is like a throwback to a simpler time in gaming. It’s been awhile since I’ve played an entertaining dungeon crawler quite like this, and it instantly made me miss the days when this genre was more common. Set in a fantasy world with some ties to Central European Mythology, the RPG experience within took me by surprise and for an adventure that lasted much longer than I was expecting.

The world of Operenica has been left in darkness after the vanishing of the Sun King, Napkiraly, and it’s your quest to find and restore the light to the world. Fail, and the world will succumb to darkness, so off you set on your journey, meeting a band of characters along the way that will join you. As your quest progresses, you’ll venture though many fearsome forests, castles and dungeons. Each party member you recruit along the way has their own reasons for wanting to join your fellowship, and these relationships can be quite amusing as you explore the very atmospheric world, filled with danger puzzles and loot.


You begin by choosing your character, their look (though only a few presets to choose from) and their class: a Swordsman, Archer or Mage. Each will have their strengths and weaknesses and you can alter a few stats, but that’s about it. Further customization will come from skill unlocks and stat increases as you level up, slowly moulding your character into the type that you want to play. While the beginnings are simplistic, choosing what skills to unlock and when is where some of your strategy will come into play as your adventure becomes more difficult. Take note though, as you’re unable to change your look or class once you begin, so choose wisely.

The beginning dungeon is a tutorial of sorts, slowly feeding you tips of how to traverse, interact with objects and of course, battle and level up. The difficulty curve does ramp up eventually, especially when you challenge your first few bosses, but it’s generally fair once you figure out all of the mechanics and best how to use them to your advantage, like knowing when to rest at a campfire and replenish all your health and mana; strategically of course.

The first mechanic that you’re going to notice, and struggle with, is your traversal. While Operenica is played in first person, the layout of levels are done in a tile based system, like a top-down D&D map. You’re able to freely look and rotate your camera, but you can only move in the four main directions if an open tile is free beside you. This takes quite a bit of getting used to, as I kept finding myself unable to move as I was trying to cut corners, since you don’t see tile lines of the ground, just on the map. Though once I trained myself to move along the grid, it become less of an issue as hours went on. It’s an odd combination of movement and design, but you simply become accustomed to it.

You’re able to also choose your difficulty for specific features, such as limiting saves, a permadeath option and more, rather than your traditional and simplistic Easy, Medium and Hard. This allows you to craft an experience for exactly how you want to play. As you progress, you’ll be quite surprised with how much length there is to Operenica. I’m not sure why I expect a short affair, but it was anything but with over a dozen massive levels, filled with plenty of monsters to battle and even more puzzles to solve.


While some of the puzzles are your typical finding a key for a specific door, they become much more intricate in the later levels, some of which had me stumped for quite some time before having to consult online for a hint of what to do or where to go. There are even a handful of secrets in each level, giving completionists even more value if that’s your thing.

You’ll battle dozens of different types of enemies, also something that surprised me, as each area had their own varieties of monsters to slay. Once engaged in combat by running into the enemy while traversing, you’re taken to a turn based battle where range plays a big part of your strategy. There are three lanes: close, medium and far, and different types of attacks are strong against certain ranges. Melee for example will do the most damage if the enemy is in those closest of the three lanes, whereas archers excel when they are further away. Mages are powerful in any lane, but this is where spell types and resistances come into play.

Each character will have their own types of abilities and traits that play a large part of battle strategy. Each attack has its own strengths and requires a mana-like resource to use. Every enemy will be strong or weak against certain abilities, so if you try and use a poison based skill on a poison resistant, or immune, enemy, you’re wasting valuable attack turns. It’s all about finding weaknesses and exploiting them to your advantage, but learning to do so will take a handful of hours. It wasn’t until my third dungeon when I had a really good grasp on specific strategies that allowed me to taunt, block damage, heal and emerge victorious without breaking a sweat.

As you kill enemies you’ll earn XP, loot and gold. Earn enough XP and you’ll level up, allowing you to choose new skills, perks and increasing your stats however you wish. There’s a decent amount of depth to the skill tree lines, each with their own focus and purpose, though make sure to diversify, because if you specialize in fire only skills and run into a dungeon with many fire enemies, you’re going to be in trouble without other skills to rely on. Loot is also plentiful as well, not only from enemies, but chests and solving puzzles. While you won’t feel massively powerful with each new upgrade, it does add up, boosting your stats to make you more powerful as your adventure progresses.


You’re going to amass a bunch of loot in the first few levels, but as you gain new party members, you’ll be able to outfit them however you wish. While you’re only able to take four into battle with you at any given point, luckily the unused party members will continue to level up as you do. Each character has a distinct personality and when you make it to certain cutscenes, or rest at a campfire, you’ll hear some banter between members that brings a bit of humor to the experience.

Speaking of campfires, these become very important later on. Not only is this where you save your game, but if you use a piece of wood that you’ve collected during your travels, you’re able to start a fire with it and completely replenish everyone’s health and mana. While you shouldn’t ever become terribly low on wood, as you can find them randomly, loot from battles and by smashing barrels, it’s imperative to know when the best time to use them is. Eventually you’ll also unlock a crafting component, allowing you to create new items and potions that will be a massive help, especially against numerous enemies and bosses.

Graphically speaking, the world is quite dark, purposely, as you’re exploring dungeons and forest, and you know, the whole missing Sun thing, but it works. While nothing terribly impressive, regardless of which level you’re in, the world feels alive, or barren, sucking you into the experience, as if you we replaying Dungeons and Dragons in first person. Cutscenes are beautifully done with 2D cutouts and portraits for characters. As for the audio, the background soundtrack is very fitting for whatever mood and setting you’re in, though some of the voice acting is very hit or miss, depending on the character.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun took me by surprise and I’m going to have to start thinking of Zen Studios as more than just a great Pinball developer. It packs a decent story, memorable characters, robust combat strategy and challenge, a huge world and plenty of playtime. Currently in Xbox Game Pass, you’re able to try it out right now if you’re a subscriber, but even if not, I wouldn’t feel any guilt recommending Operencia even at its full $38.99 CAD price tag if any of the above sounded appealing to you. While it won’t be for everyone and has its quirks, it’s a specific game meant for old school dungeon dwelling fans like myself that miss the genre.




Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10

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