There is a little subgenre in gaming that can be one of the most addictive if the game is written properly. This genre doesn’t take you on any wild quests or have you solving advanced puzzles, instead, it has you making money. This is, of course, the crafting genre, or to be more precise, the shop keeping genre. Let’s not get confused with Minecraft and its cousins; that’s an entirely different animal. Sadly, this is also a genre that’s perfect for mobile because it suits the addition of energy bars, time limits, and all the other pay-to-win nonsense that’s designed to turn something fairly innocent into a giant money sink. By taking all of this tom-foolery out of the equation and just letting us have fun making items and money devs can drag their game out of the mobile gutter and actually give us something to truly enjoy. The PC game I’ve been playing about with is Potion Craft and while unfinished, isn’t a pay-to-win mess either so well worth a bit of an explore.
In Potion Craft you move into a wizard’s house and set up shop as an alchemist. The place has a pretty awesome garden so there’s lots of space for you to grow and find the plants you’re going to need in your concoctions. All you need after that is a bit of skill and some customers ready and willing to flash their gold. Simplicity at its best, right? Well, not exactly or it wouldn’t be any fun now, would it?
Getting about the game is simple and your interface is broken into five key areas. You have your bedroom where you … well it’s a bedroom, with a bed in it … work it out. You have your garden which is where you’ll pluck your inventory of ingredients from each day. Then there’s the basement which in the game’s current iteration doesn’t do a great deal but is full of cool-looking machinery, (that’s also smashed to give you something else to do,) that will no doubt be critically important at some later point. Second, to last is the front of the shop where you meet your customers, and finally, your lab. Your lab is where you’ll spend the vast majority of the game as this is where you’ll be brewing the potions that are going to be making you that all-important gold.
So, Potion Craft is kind of a hybrid shop-keeping/puzzle adventure. In your lab, you have a great big map. This is also kind of a maze. You have potion bottles outlined that you have to reach to successfully brew your concoctions. Different bottles obviously have different effects and it’s these specifics that your customers are looking for. You also have areas of skulls and bones. You don’t want to be entering these as your brew will fail if you do. Then all you need to do is use your ingredients to get around the map.
Your reagents each plot a different course and therefore guide your work in progress in a different direction on the map. You’ll need to use these to navigate the dangerous areas and get your potion to where it needs to be. You can then complete and, of course, sell it. The closer you get to the target for that potion the stronger it will be. As an example, you might be creating a healing draught. As I’ve mentioned, the targets for each end result appear as a beaker on the map. If your concoction is just about touching the beaker you’ll end up with Healing I. For Healing II you’ll need to be pretty much dead on target. This means that some reagents will help your accuracy more than others and, therefore, be better for that recipe. In addition to this the better the path you take the fewer ingredients you’re going to use, meaning you aren’t buying excess and therefore making more money.
Potion Craft is still very much a work in progress and not all menus in the game are accessible as of yet. This is an aside, they still have a lot of work to do before the game is a finished article so we’ll not criticize what isn’t there. There are a few things though that are making the experience a little frustrating and that with a bit of luck will be ironed out. The first is your recipe book. You are initially given about five pages in which to save your recipes. The book is really useful because if you have the necessary ingredients you can just recreate a potion without the need to brew it. You can also see the recipe you used last time for refinement purposes. Put simply, you need more space to start with.
The map doesn’t tell you which direction a potion a customer is asking for is plotted in, so you’re likely to brew something that isn’t immediately needed. You’ll want to save everything and you can’t. I get that giving you a full book of blank pages is making the title too easy but a few more pages, to begin with, would be handy. You can buy more pages from merchants but they’re expensive and initially, at least, you’ll be wanting as many ingredients as you can because everything is so trial and error.
On the subject of merchants, you’ll only likely get one per in-game day. Different shopkeepers sell different things and it’s important to see their wares. The problem is that if they are the first customer on the list for that day and you don’t have the money you can’t go back to them. This means that if they have some of the ingredients you need to keep the following customers happy and you can’t afford them you won’t be able to complete the required potions, which not only loses you money but also reputation. This is actually a more general problem.
You don’t know what you’re going to be asked for in advance which makes it very difficult to plan ahead. It would be nice to have the customers for a given day as a pool that could be switched meaning that if you don’t have inventory space or can’t fulfill an order immediately you can go back when you’ve made room. In this game, if you can’t fulfill a customer order straight away you lose that customer. Again, I get there needs to be a challenge but I think some balancing is necessary.
I think the thing I like the least about Potion Craft is the haggling process. Being good at haggling makes the ingredients you buy from merchants ingredients cheaper and will, of course, aid in your ability to sell your potions at a higher price. This comes as a mini-game where you have to hit targets on a sliding bar. These targets more and get smaller as you hit them successfully. The more targets you hit the better you do. If you miss targets the price goes up, the same applies to you waiting too long in between clicks.
While this mini-game isn’t overly difficult it isn’t very satisfying either. You don’t seem to see enough of an increase sometimes in your price to warrant you being really good at it and if I’m being honest it just isn’t a lot of fun. I get where the devs are going here and this is purely a personal choice thing but I’d like to see a slightly different take on this process. A lot of the time I skipped haggling with my customers altogether because it felt like lost time for the sake of a gold coin or two more in my pocket. The end just didn’t quite justify the means.
In its current state Potion Craft is an odd little animal. This is a title that feels like it could be a lot of fun but one that just needs that little bit more time to brew. I genuinely like the gameplay for the most part and it’s nice not to be confronted with another epic quest for a change. This is a game that will be a perfect pick-up and play entity when it’s finished. Usually, you can see the direction things are going in and get a pretty clear idea of what the final result is going to be. At the moment Potion Craft is good but not great. With a bit more care and attention, I can see this title being something worth a look for fans of the shop keeping genre.
This preview is based on an early access copy of the game provided by the publisher.