The last time I played a pure puzzler was Tetris for the original Game Boy. But Opus Magnum screenshots kept catching my eye. Everything looked so clean and precise. So during a particularly long pause in my Martial Arts Brutality matches I impulse bought it, intending only to take a quick look. Eight hours later my opponents are probably wondering where I went to.
Should you buy it?
If you like puzzlers definitely. I don’t like most, but I do like making logistic systems a la Factorio or Big Pharma. This gives the same pleasure if you enjoy striving for efficiency. And assuming you do like it there is a ton of content (with much more on the way).
You’re a young alchemist, recently graduated and joined to a Noble House. Things go to hell and you use your alchemist skills to fight off a rival household. It’s a simple, linear story that gives some flavor and context to the actual game; creating ever more complex alchemical machines to transform regents and molecule chains into other materials and shapes.
Each level consists of an input and a desired output. At your disposal are alchemical widgets that grab, push, spin, turn elements into salt and many other little feats of mechanical magic. You control them with sequential commands that you program along a timeline. It’s very elegant and simple, building complexity very smoothly during its 6 chapters (with many missions in each).
Completing the product ends the level comparing your performance to other players across 3 metrics: cost (determined by how many tools you used), cycles (how many individual moves it took to complete the level) and area (how much space your machine needs to operate).
This is a focused game so gameplay wise nothing is missing. It’s a lovely, pure puzzler. I do wish they included some reason to make your machine cheap, fast or compact. There’s no fail-state or scoring beyond comparing you to everyone else.
I naturally built extremely cheap machines, and it was satisfying to see most rank at the very best percentile in cost (and usually the worst in speed). But once the machines worked, there was no reason to refine. I just moved on to the next mission.
I was tempted to move through the game quicker by building big sloppy contraptions during some of the more intricate levels.
Polish & Infinite Solutions
It was the game’s beauty and polish that kept me playing “honestly”. It’s satisfying to build a properly tight machine, not spending a single gold piece more than is necessary and doing it compactly. It would have bothered me to accomplish the task with some unwieldy jalopy even if the game couldn’t care less.
My machines were all round spinny things, like the inner workings of a clock. It’s what made intuitive sense to me. It was fascinating to see assembly line minded brains at work when I compared my solutions to those online.
Maybe that’s why I do enjoy this flavor of puzzler. It’s the opposite of an actual puzzle – there are a near infinite number of solutions.
The music is also excellent, somehow remaining unintrusive but evocative.
The Score – 80
It’s a nearly perfect execution of what it is. I could think of variations but not improvements to the game itself. It would score higher if it gave me a reason to refine my machines or go out of my comfort zone and build with a different metric as a priority.
I get tired of even very good puzzlers but if you derive enjoyment from endless variety this does have a level builder and workshop integration. When fully released it will add some of the best user-made levels and I’m guessing there will quickly be more content than any human could play.
There’s a pleasant little mahjong-like game included. I enjoyed beating it the one time I was forced to to advance the story but like the puzzles wish I had reason to play again. Without motivation I might as well play mahjong and I’m not 70.
The game is currently in early access but the developer considers it largely feature complete and I felt comfortable reviewing it in its current state. Below are the developer’s early access notes:
How is the full version planned to differ from the Early Access version?
“The “full version” of the game will contain usability and balance improvements based on feedback collected from players. We also plan to curate a large set of player-created puzzles in the Journal of Alchemical Engineering, an in-game “magazine” similar to SpaceChem’s Journal of Reaction Engineering.”
What is the current state of the Early Access version?
“I was actually tempted to skip Early Access for Opus Magnum, as this is by far the most polished game we’ve ever released as an Early Access title. The game features a fully realized story-driven campaign, and includes a puzzle editor, Steam Workshop integration, and localization into six languages from day one of Early Access.”