Developer Zojoi is back with their new exploration- and story-driven legendary 3D-adventure title: Argonus and the Gods of Stone. Zojoi, a company helmed by ICOM Simulations veterans David Marsh and Karl Roelofs, is best known for its 2014 remake of the classic title, Shadowgate. Argonus and the Gods of Stone is a fully-realized evolution of the point-and-click adventure genre framed within the ancient Grecian mythos of Jason and his Argonauts (of Golden Fleece renown). Taking up the titular role of the shipwrecked Argonus–historian, cartographer, and unwitting adventurer–you are beset by a tragedy fitting of any ancient Greek fable. Both the Argo and its complement have been driven to ruin on the rocky shores of a strange land by the Siren’s song. You, wary traveler, must stop the menace that has befallen this land before you can dare hope to return home. The game brings its fair-share to the table for long-time fans of the genre, but likely leaves much to be desired for those accustomed to a more modern type of adventure title. Let’s talk about it.
Argonus and the Gods of Stone
Publisher: Zojoi, LLC
Developer: Zojoi, LLC
Release Date: October 8th, 2019
Argonus and the Gods of Stone acts as a kind of sequel to the original Greek tale. The goal seems to be an ambitious retelling of historical fiction that will likely appeal to mythology and fantasy buffs alike, though is perhaps slightly less appealing to the casual player.
Much of the plot is predicated on the notion that you will find the hero’s quandary intriguing enough to continue to unravel it, inching closer and closer to understanding the will of the gods, and thus, the nature of the Argonauts’ plight.
The story is, at different times, equal parts exciting and mundane, but one could easily say the same of any Grecian fable. It is, however, consistently intriguing, and even its dullest moments are rife with elements worthy of appreciation.
Argonus seemingly tries to elevate the genre, or at least, strives to break the mold without leaving the genre behind completely. To its credit, it often succeeds, though at some cost. The best parts of the game are those that strive to be more than a point-and-click adventure.
Argonus is replete with a rich, thematic cinematic score by composer Rich Douglas (Stranger Things: The Game, Shadowgate) and a fully navigable 3D world uncommon for games in this category. Your time in Argonus is punctuated by dramatic chords befitting a story meant for an ancient amphitheater. The music is subtle at times and bold at others, but so long as it continues to play, the illusion of immersion is never quite broken.
Unfortunately, there are several moments in the game where the audio was a little janky, yanking the player out from under its spell. This is important because in a game based almost entirely around atmosphere and storytelling, anything that breaks the ambience feels like a catastrophic derailment. In actuality, these moments were far and few between enough to be easily forgiven.
Regardless of the few hiccups, the composition alone is palpable enough to reify Argonus‘ setting. Combined with its broad range of atmospheric sound effects, Argonus’ overall sound design teleports the player directly into its mystical lands.
By design, the world of Argonus is a lonely one. You will spend the majority of your journey in relative isolation, save for your trusty steed and the occasional pig, sheep, chicken, or omnipotent Grecian deity. It is this solitude, interrupted occasionally by the stalwart, periodic narration of Betsy Brantley (Deep Impact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Princess Bride), that sets the tone for the game.
Make no mistake: In Argonus, tone matters a lot. You’ll spend a sizable portion of your time in search of key items scattered, seemingly randomly, throughout the map in order to progress the story. It is Betsy’s skillful articulation–from descriptions of the raw horror and bemusement adorning the faces of recently petrified Argonauts, to the mundane matter-of-fact that a chicken holds little interest in a Greek odyssey–that fills the chasm between exploration and monotony.
This is a line the developers tread at their own peril. The voice-acting is superb and accompanies nearly every object of even the faintest interest. It is, however, not quite enough to keep large swaths of the game as interesting and engaging as one would like. Argonus too often falls victim to its own nature.
As you scour the environment with free-move controls, you feel, for all intents and purposes, like a lonesome shipwrecked adventurer. You feel thrill, and some dismay, at discovering the newly fallen blight. It is easy to step into the role of our titular protagonist and just as easy to grasp the controls that power the game.
Circular markers highlight items of interest, and in turn, you investigate each new trinket, artifact, and soggy piece of driftwood (seriously, this thing has been in my inventory since the opening credits) to progress through the story and the map alike.
You are fitted with a satchel which allows you to inventory and examine individual items more closely, as well as use inventoried items on [predetermined] objects in the world. You will W-A-S-D your way from place to place in search of the next item or area of interest. This leads us to the next point.
An absurd amount of your time will be spent searching, rather than exploring. Often times the game leaves the player feeling like a gofer for the old gods rather than a bonafide explorer.
Argonus is a game of retraced steps and backtracks through old areas for missed key items: a tablet in some tall grass, a key item lying inconspicuously next to coastal debris or a rundown shanty, a flower next to a tree in the far corner of the map.
One is to presume this is due, at least in part, to the novelty of a fully-navigable 3D world being introduced into a genre more typically tasked by dissecting dialogue and moving directly on to the next predetermined region of interest.
In its attempt to immerse you in its world, Argonus seemingly forgets that good adventuring is more about semblance than about replication. We want to feel like we’ve explored, but not at the price of tedium and drudgery.
Mind you, the game provides its share of puzzles, focused on either your inventory or the environment, but none of them venture so far as to be overly, or even sufficiently, challenging. Without the challenge, solving them often feels inadequate a reward for the sheer amount of searching that leads up to them.
Your journey through Argonus and the Gods of Stone is elevated by stellar art direction that succeeds in bringing this Greek epic to life. Sadly, the modeling and texturing that realizes the art is less than stellar.
Too often the game’s ambitious vision is weighed down by the occasional low polygon count, repetitive animation, or poor texture rendering. On several occasions, the pontificating of deities–sans audio–looks a lot more like the random wobbling of a bobblehead. This isn’t a criticism so much as a wishlist. Argonus is a game larger than itself, and at times it’s easy to forget this is an indie title with a limited budget.
Within the constraints of reasonable expectations, Argonus and the Gods of Stone delivers an overall satisfying experience. At times it feels as if Zojoi maybe bit off more than they could chew, but one can hardly fault this game’s grand ambitions.
Argonus represents the limits of where you can take one genre without treading suspiciously into the next. It tells a fantastic story, accompanied by equally fantastic sound effects, music, and art.
It often gets lost in its own attempts at grandeur, leaving the player a little helpless against the forces that beset them. Yet, quite rightfully, this mirrors the plight of the protagonist. This is a game worth checking out for anyone that loves the genre or even a good story.
Argonus and the Gods of Stone was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Zojoi. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.