Arcana Sands of Destiny

Arcana Sands of Destiny

Arcana Sands of Destiny is an ancient Egypt-themed hidden object game developed and published by Invoke Games – a brand new face on the market of HOG creators. As a first project, I think they did absolutely great, especially considering the fascinating yet ambitious setting chosen. Ancient Egypt themed HOGs aren’t lacking, but it’s not easy to convey a strong feeling of the archaic. In that regard, Arcana Sands of Destiny makes accurate references to Egyptian mythology and culture through its beautifully drawn locations, story elements and an adequate soundtrack.

If this is not your first rodeo with a HOG, then you already know what to expect – a decent story, some puzzles, some minigames, come collectibles. However, what you probably won’t expect from a HOG is a certain grade of challenge that might in some cases even try your patience.

Usually, when playing a HOG you can select a degree of difficulty that you are comfortable with (between casual / normal / expert) but in Arcana Sands of Destiny you have only one option and that is the hard mode. Novice players are not this game’s target audience, and thus it will not hold your hand – on the contrary, it intentionally tries to make it difficult for you and give you some challenge.

Even from the start you’ll be surprised to see that the mouse cursor does not change when hovering an interactable object, you don’t know which of the items can or should be picked up, and you’ll end up clicking everything in a scene, pretty much like in an adventure / point & click game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s clearly not for everyone – I, probably like many of you, got used to having this information spoon-fed and the fact that Arcana Sands of Destiny did it in such a different way was somewhat a shock for me. Initially I thought it’s a bug, but after playing through the game, I realized that this is intentional; not only are the expected mousevers not available (apart from when you can zoom-in a part of a location), but there are other details that support the theory that this was planned as such.

For example, the hidden object scenes aren’t highlighted in any way, apart from the first one. On the other hand, the game is designed so that you don’t need to come back to a previous HO scene and redo it in order to obtain new items – there is no backtracking in that regard. The puzzles are a mixed bag, but in general the selected types of minigames are the more difficult ones from those encountered in other HOGs – lights out (with multiple stages), Hungarian rings variant, mirrors / light rays puzzle etc.

One thing I really liked is the way the collectibles are handled. In other HOGs there’s not much use for collectibles apart from them looking pretty in your bonuses / extras page. If you’re an achievement hunter, then they can prove to be a real torment without a guide because they have the power of inducing fear of missing one last morph object in that damn scene that you cannot go back to ever again. Well, in Arcana Sands of Destiny you can say goodbye to this unnecessary stress. Not only that you are asked to confirm leaving a zone that you cannot come back to later, but there are enough collectibles for everyone to miss at least 25% of them (a pretty generous amount, I’d say) and still get the corresponding achievement; on top of that, they finally have a purpose. You can use the coins that you find in almost every scene to build your palace by buying additional parts of it and upgrading them. The palace screen itself is clearly inspired by the first Civilization game, where every once in a while you can add a visual upgrade of your choice. By upgrading it, you trigger up to 3 quests – some additional missions that you can complete in order to unlock a bonus chapter (two of these are mandatory for game progression, while the third one is missable and not completing it restricts you from playing the bonus chapter).

The hidden object scenes are very nicely designed: they use a consistent color scheme, plus they have varied objects which blend very well with their environment and are thoroughly hidden. They come in two types: shadow objects and list of items to find, with the latter having an indication for cases in which multiple objects have to be combined. However, following the hard-mode rule mentioned above, the objects that are unavailable because you need to zoom into a part of the scene are not indicated in any way; nor does zooming into the scene highlight them. One thing that caught me off-guard several times was the fact that I was able to use inventory items during HOG scenes, for interacting with some of the items I needed to find. I am not really used to doing that in other games, so it felt a bit unusual to me – just keep this in mind in case you find yourself stuck inside a HOG scene with that “I searched everywhere and I couldn’t find it!!!” look on your face. If you’re aiming for 100% completion in one playthrough, don’t be tempted to use the hint button no matter what, and don’t accidentally misclick on it.

Arcana Sands of Destiny has fully voiced dialogues and the voiceovers are nice – not too over the edge, not too dramatic – just the right balance. However, what still needs a bit of polishing is the playback of these lines; inside one dialogue sequence, some are triggered a bit too close to each other, and the voices during the intro and ending scenes are extremely difficult to hear. Because of these issues, I felt the need to have an option to turn on subtitles (or them being turned on by default) during cutscenes.

In terms of story, I’d say that Arcana Sands of Destiny has a decent one and while being somewhat predictable, the identity of the villain remained unsuspected by me until the end. It didn’t leave a strong impact, but it was nice to experience it nevertheless. You take the role of Jenny Hopkins – an archeologist who is summoned to Alexandria by her fiancé’s discovery of an ancient artifact. Upon her arrival, she finds him under a magic spell and the city invaded by… walking mummies! Needless to say, you’ll have to find a cure for William (the fiancé), defeat the mummies and the other demons inhabiting the city and help restore the balance of the world.

There are a lot of locations to visit – probably around twice as much as in your average HOG (that also gives the game a bigger length) and your path will take you through various commoners’ houses, temples, a tomb, and other exotic locations – all of them masterfully hand painted, and for a good portion of the game there is also a map that you can use to fast travel between these. What’s missing from this mix is a trip inside the pyramids or an encounter with the Sphynx.

If we compare Arcana Sands of Destiny with any of the latest releases from the iconic Artifex Mundi, I’d say that it’s in several ways a better buy, despite its flaws. It’s twice as big as your average AM title (5-6h without a guide vs. 3h), yet it costs less; it’s more inflexible in terms of difficulty, yet in some aspects it’s more unique and provides a much better experience for achievement hunters, plus it has some distinctive mechanics; it has fewer minigames (yet more difficult ones) but the hidden object scenes are more abundant in objects. Keep in mind that the game is targeted more at experienced HOG players – it probably shouldn’t be the first HOG you play, unless you’re seeking some extra challenge.

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