URUZ “Return of The Er Kishi” Review

I was immediately hooked when I first saw the pixel graphics of Uruz. The game looked fantastic from the screenshots and trailer, and to incorporate the mythology and culture of Central Asian Turks into an action adventure game? I was sold. So, when I played the game, it was to my disappointment that although Uruz faithfully delivered on its promised art quality, it was simply not a good game by design. And it’s a shame, given there are so few games out there that at least reference Central Asian culture. But, I think that the goal of the developer was not exactly to make an amazing game but to garner interest in Turkish mythology through a video game, and I’d say in terms of that goal, it was successful, at least for me. Still, it is a video game, and I must judge it as so.

The hero of the Oghuz

Our hero is Uruz, the son of Kazan Beg. After disregarding his father’s words in a raid that goes awry, he is forced to regain the privilege of wielding a bow and sword once again. But on the same day, the forces of a dark evil spring forth from the earth’s depth, devastating Uruz’s village. He thus must travel far, seeking the aid of the shamans of the land to become the mythical Er Kishi and prevent the darkness’ spread.

The first thing you’ll be introduced to before you begin playing is an exceptionally long cutscene that details Uruz’s birth and what preludes the story. Fortunately, no other cutscene will last so long, but there are ones that drag on longer than they need to. Once you’re able to control your character, you can get acquainted with the controls. It’s all fairly standard with the notable exception of your inventory. For some reason, you cannot actually click on items in your inventory or hotbar; you have to use a combination of your shift key and numbers key to use your items. It’s especially noticeable when you’re looting a chest or cabinet, where you cannot click or drag any items and must once again use your keyboard. I’m unsure why this is so, because you are able to use your mouse to click on menu options and are also able to use both your sword and bow with it.

Past that, you’re introduced to the weapons you’ll be using for combat. The bow and sword are your tools of war and can be utilized without swapping between the two as your right click (for a KBM player) will activate archery mode. They’re both simple to use, the bow able to be strung back for further ranges and the sword able to knockback foes upon swing. The interesting mechanics to look at are your bitig and your spirit powers. The bitig works as skills, earned via bitig points, and can range of basic enhancements like a boost to your health or an increase to your inventory slots to interesting changes like a healing effect upon hitting an enemy with a sword or shooting three arrows at once. As for spirit powers, they work like a special ability, granting a bonus of your choosing: more damage, boosted healing, or increased armor.

With all of this in mind, your goal is to visit five shamans and aid them in defeating a monster in their region, retrieving a piece of the legendary Er Kishi armor along the way. The regions you travel to are essentially giant platforming levels, where you have to climb across objects in the environment like giant rocks and trees while avoiding traps like mossy spikes and acid pools, all while fighting the monsters and demons of the underworld. Each region begins with meeting its shaman, traversing to the boss room, and making the journey back. Along the way, you’re able to pray at ovoos (shrines) to save, restore health at fountains, and buy new weapons at a blacksmith or new items from shops, both often near the start of the region.

Uruz as a game

I think it’s best to get into what I felt was wrong about Uruz as a game. First, there’s the localization issues with English. Originally translated from Turkish, it’s a passable translation, but there’s iffiness here and there with the phrasing that you can find. When I first booted up the game, I saw there was a main menu option for Recorded Games, and I thought, “Huh, I didn’t know you could record your gameplay.” Well, it’s actually just your save and load game file option. The game isn’t dialogue-heavy, but because it’s main focus is the story, it’s a rather conspicuous issue to have the English be riddled with quirks.

In terms of the actual story? It’s basically an adaptation of one of the stories in the Book of Dede Korkut. It’s reminiscent of a tale of a tribal hero performing trials to save the land from supernatural forces. It’s not a bad plot, especially if you consider it’s a short adaptation of a few chapters of an epic, but the issue is that due to the length of the game, it feels like you’re being rushed from place to place without breaks in-between. The cutscenes themselves felt there was a lot of effort put into it, but the story presented in the gameplay itself feels as if it’s just there to take you to the next level.

The level design further emphasizes the issue of the short game length for kind of project this is (about four hours of playtime). Now, I’m not talking about the visuals and aesthetics here, because those are completely on point; I’m talking about the actual levels themselves. Despite the environments looking pretty, the layout is akin to a platformer you’d find on a flash game site. The level is designed to be an obstacle from the start to the end where the boss room lies with no points of interest in between.

It doesn’t feel like there’s much meaning to the layout because it’s just a bunch of trees or rocks or any other impediments forcing you to jump around like a typical platformer, except all the platforming elements look as if they were clobbered together to form a semi-coherent playing field with enemies sprinkled in here and there. Even the boss rooms tend to literally just be a rectangular pit you jump into where a ladder will serve as an exit once you beat the boss, not to mention the fact that cupboards serve as chests in the middle of forests and that some of the actual chests will require a key. Instead of finding this key in the level, you’d have to run all the way back to the shop at the start of the region to purchase a key, and it’s not a good idea to buy one beforehand because not only do you have a limited inventory space that doesn’t stack items, but there exists red, green, blue, and gold keys. You’ll have no idea which one you’ll be needing.

The combat also feels bare bones, and, as with the level design, is like it came out of a flash game. Yes, you have a bow and sword, and you can buy new weapons that have a different visual effect when attacking. But despite having an entire mechanic for skill trees, the combat will always be the same: hit the enemy with your melee weapon and pray the knockback effect is strong enough to prevent them from poking your hitbox and damaging you. There’s no dodge or combos or special attacks; you just spam your attack button until you’ve defeated everyone. You got a bow which you will need to use at times, but it’s too weak to use compared to the DPS of your melee. In fact, I beat the game using only the starting sword by just investing into the combat tree, especially with the skill that heals you for every melee attack. It’s disappointing that despite the existence of a spirit power mechanic, they only serve to provide straight buffs, and despite the skills you can get, nothing changes the core combat loop of melee, melee, melee.

The merit of Uruz

Uruz unfortunately does not stand well as a game. But I think the best way to look at it is mode of storytelling, rather something that entertains us through the usage of good mechanics. There is no other game out there I can think of that features Turkish mythology as its focal point, and Uruz serves as a sampler of the mytho’s syncretism between Tengrism and Shamanism, touching upon deities like Umay and legendary creatures like the cyclops-esque Tepegoz. Though the narrative is straightforward, the forces that drives it are mystical and supernatural, sparking interest for people to learn more about the Book of Dede Korkut.

Aiding in the portrayal of Uruz’s cultural influences is the amazing graphics design done by Berzah Games. Every pixel is handcrafted, and that’s no exaggeration. A great deal of effort was spent researching the Tengri/Shaman practices and traditions in order to properly depict them in-game, from the colorful ovoos to the fantastically decorated interiors of the yurts to the traditional clothing of the shamans. Much of the work for the game was spent pixelating the culture into a work of art, and it really shows with the graphics.

Ultimately, I regrettably would not recommend Uruz from a pure gameplay sense (especially as the game is currently 25 dollars on Steam), but the cultural importance of the game should not be diminished because of it. Years of work by a single developer (plus others who were involved in making the game) went into bringing Central Asia to life, and indeed, many of the concepts shown would never have been introduced to a western audience had this game never existed. And it’s not as if the developer doesn’t care about the game’s functionality, either; as of the time of writing, new patches are being released to help alleviate fix bugs and remedy flaws. I sincerely hope that, whatever Berzah Game’s next project will be, it will be as good as Uruz in terms of presentation, and be much better in the gameplay department as there is much that can be learned from the making of this game.

URUZ “Return of The Er Kishi” can be purchased on Steam.

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