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Game Info:

Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
Developed By: Overflow
Published By: Phoenix Online Publishing
Released: April 26, 2016
Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thanks to Phoenix Online Publishing for the review key!

When the subject of Vikings comes up, certain things spring to mind: longships, axes, ale, looting and pillaging might be among the first thoughts. Not all Vikings are created equal, however; some prefer to stay on solid ground, taking less to aggression and more to craftsmanship. As Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim illustrates, the only real difference between a warrior and a homebody Viking is the time it takes for them to set out to beat you up.

Cornerstone puts you in the shoes of Tyrim, a young Viking boy who prefers to skip out on combat and sailing to stay home and build things. When the men of his village, including his father, leave and don’t return for a week, the nagging worry and diminishing supplies finally prompts him to action. With a proficiency for crafting and a decent sword arm, Tyrim sets out onto the high seas for the first time to find the missing men.

Since you play as a young boy setting out from a brightly-colored island for the first time in a 3D action adventure with puzzle elements, the obvious comparison is to the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Indeed, Cornerstone does take a step in that direction, though it’s noticeably rougher around the edges. You maneuver Tyrim around his environment, building weapons, armor, and other helpful tools as needed to solve mainly physics-based puzzles and fend off fiends in your way. The adventure takes place on eight different islands separated by a vast sea – though Cornerstone’s ocean has very little of interest compared to Wind Waker’s. There are some nice touches – Ships and ship debris will appear, whales will come up for air and birds will dive down for fish – but there’s no reason to stop and get out anywhere but the main islands.

Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
Highlights:

Strong Points: Consistently competent gameplay; good music and atmosphere
Weak Points: Long loading screens; somewhat buggy and unstable
Moral Warnings: Violence and magic use; undead enemies; alcohol use; mild language (d*mn, God’s name in vain)

What sets Cornerstone apart, however, are its crafting feature and its physics engine. Tyrim carries with him wood, stone, wool, and fuel, and uses them to create anything from boxes to swords to mines to jet boots. Everything he creates has a varying amount of durability, tying your adventuring ability to your resources and vice-versa. You’ll find treasure chests with bigger material bags and better crafts as you explore. The physics engine is well-programmed and consistent, and the world is designed to let you use and abuse it to creatively complete or simply bypass puzzles with little ill effects other than potentially skipping huge swaths of the plot.

The combat isn’t anything to write home about: you swing your weapon, you block attacks with your shield, and you can throw things at your enemies to damage them. The last option is usually the best, since throwable objects are often in large supply, have no chance of breaking, and don’t use Tyrim’s stamina bar – this drains quickly upon attacking or blocking but refills just as fast, and doesn’t add much to the game other than making sure you can’t stunlock your enemies. Some more powerful foes have secondary attacks that can circumvent your shield, such as bombs or magic, which helps keep you on your toes somewhat; these attacks can also knock Tyrim down, forcing him to drop his gear and potentially leave you defenseless. There’s also a rudimentary stealth aspect to the game, mostly limited to crouch-walking around enemies who will either fail to see you when you’re right in front of them or spot you across the map; it can be useful in some situations, but can also be freely ignored. For the record, there is a familiar-looking jump attack Tyrim can perform, but it doesn’t appear to do double damage.

The real draw of Cornerstone, then, is in the exploration. The islands are varied and vast, with crafting resources and treasures tucked away all over. The dungeons and their equivalents are suitably mazelike and danger-filled, and while not every puzzle is a winner, there are some gems among them and most all of them are enjoyable to complete. The decent world-building helps out here as well, with each island having its own backstory and tribulations. While the dialogue is hit-or-miss, with its comedic tone usually falling flat and too reliant on breaking the fourth wall, the characters are varied and vaguely memorable, and the interesting settings will likely see you take interest on how the problems are resolved.

Cornerstone’s presentation adds greatly to the game’s exploration focus. The graphics don’t make a great first impression: the title screen consists of plain black font on white squares attached to a brown signboard set among some less-than-impressive scenery. The character models aren’t anything fantastic either, though certainly not offensive. What rescues the graphical missteps, however, is the art style. Each island holds its own theme – desert, mine, library, etc. – and the lighting and texturing more than enough to make up for the lack of polygons. The atmosphere on each island fits its setting perfectly, from Tyrim’s cheery home to the stormy cliffs to the dystopian China analogue. The music greatly helps in this endeavor as well: not only does it enhance the intended mood of each location, it’s surprisingly good in its own right. The sound effects are less impressive, but they convey what they need to clearly and accurately, so there are few complaints to be had there.

Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 84%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The game’s main failing is in its stability. It takes a fair bit of time to move from the title screen to the main menu, and loading the actual game from there can take nearly twenty seconds. Once it loads, however, you’re in the clear outside of a few inter-island transitions that are usually much snappier. Sailing from one island to another will result in the game freezing for five to ten seconds as it loads up the new setting, including rather suddenly despawning anything on the screen that isn’t Tyrim, his boat, and the water. There were also severe and long-lasting framerate drops on occasion, but it only happened two or three times. Finally and most egregiously, the game hard-locked upon finishing the China-themed island, forcing the use of the task manager to manually close the process. For what it’s worth, however, the game and its physics engine run quite well most of the time, with only a few instances of an object phasing through the floor or the wall – even if one of those objects was Tyrim at one point.

Cornerstone is a bit of a mixed bag, morally speaking. Violence is a given, and enemy bodies stick around after death but don’t bleed in any way. Skeletons are your most common enemy, with ghosts appearing later on as well. Tyrim can’t use any magic, but a group of earth magic-wielding cultists are among the main antagonists. Blue crystals that seem to absorb and extend life are a main part of the story, though even with the cult’s involvement it’s painted as more scientific than occult. As with any Viking society worth its salt, alcohol is prevalent, though Tyrim and the other minors never use it themselves. Lastly, some mild language is present, including one or two instances of using God’s name in vain – despite Tyrim mentioning “the gods” at one point. The overall cartoony veneer helps to temper the moral issues, but they remain nonetheless.

It might be accurate to call Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim a budget Zelda game, but to do so would do it a disservice. While somewhat repetitive and unpolished, the serviceable gameplay and excellent atmosphere warrants attention. The $19.99 price tag could be a tad steep to some, but it’s certainly worth a look come sale time.

-Cadogan

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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