From AAA to Indie: A Developer’s Preview of Legends of Ethernal

I got the chance to sit (virtually) with developers to watch a demo of Legends of Ethernal this morning, traveling to the world of Arkanys and getting a look at protagonist Wilfred as he fights his way through the Old Watchtower on his journey to find his parents. 

Legends of Ethernal is a 2D action-adventure game being developed by a three-person team at Lucid Dreams Studio

Co-founders Maxime Grégoire and Francis Lapierre met and became friends in college before starting careers in the video game industry.

“We’ve been mainly doing triple A [game development] before going indie, but like we said it was a dream that we had,” Grégoire said. “This was how we met, … it was about how we loved games and how we wanted to do our own stuff.”

Grégoire worked on Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider, Thief, Lara Croft & the Temple of Osiris, Life is Strange, Just Cause 3 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Lapierre’s credits include Spore Hero, Age of Empires Online, Far Cry 4, and Far Cry 5.

“I think one of the big advantage[s] to working for a long time before creating your own studio is you have a really good idea about the challenges you will face when you do a project,” Lapierre said. ” … Everyone can come up with a good idea, but when you try to realize this idea sometimes it gets really really difficult so you have to be really careful about the choice you make: Will you [add] multiplayer? Will you have a branching story line? All of those questions have a big impact on the production workflow, on the tools you need to develop, the size of the team you need to produce the game.

Since we wanted our first game to be produced by a small team, because me and Max basically financed everything, we had to be really careful about what we did. Legends of Ethereal is a really clever game, it’s really fun and you have tons of content to see but everything is built for a reason, so there are no monsters there to just be there, everything has a reason and everything is really thought out.”

Developers have been releasing information about the world of Arkanys, an ecologically diverse stretch of land, renowned both for its beauty and wealth of natural resources, divided into six major regions: Capital city Ashantra, Otlesko, Ambess, Urphé, Yatipha and the coasts of Enrich Malar Tock.

“It all started with a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign where we created multiple creatures and people,” Maxime Gregoire said, noting that the original campaign is over 20 years old. “For me and Francis, when we were looking to create our first game …[we decided]  it would be a good idea to just go ahead and create the game in that [universe].” 

The world of Arkanys built by the team at Lucid Dreams is enchanting and the art style truly feels like something out of a fairy tale, reminiscent of the beautiful art of Child of Light that left a lasting impression on me following its 2014 release.

“On this title we had one artist on lead that did all of the art, Véronique Bellavance.” Grégoire said. “She went with the paper-cut that looks like an illustration book, it even has that sort of old European folklore look. It’s like a fairy tale, we wanted it to have strong colors … but we didn’t want dark tones in the art because we wanted to make a game for everybody. This past year there were quite a lot of action adventure games that featured pixel art but we didn’t want that, we wanted high resolution graphics so this is why we went with that art style.”

Bellavance was inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm, who collected and published folklore tales during the early 20th century. 

The soundtrack to the game is composed by musician William Gough.

“As fans of role-playing games for a long time, when we were looking for the soundtrack of the game we didn’t want a soundtrack that is more ambient,” Grégoire said. “We really wanted something more symphonic like an older RPG game.”

The gameplay is a fantastic blend of puzzles, platforming and combat where your success depends on the dynamic crafting system in the game utilizing Ether, earned from winning fights and exploration. Developers said that even the bosses themselves are unique puzzles to solve.

“Everytime you want to use an item, whether it is a healing potion, grenade or something like that you basically consume ether,” Lepierre said. “Ether are those colored spheres that you collect when you fight enemies, for example you need 10 red to create a healing potion, five yellow to throw a stun grenade and so forth and so on, so its really an economy of the items using those spheres.”

In the demo I had the opportunity to preview, Wilfred is working his way through the fourth dungeon in the game: the Old Watchtower. He needs to find keys to open various doors throughout the dungeon to progress towards the final fight against a spectral being. The encounter required an adeptness with wall climbing and platforming before being able to deal damage to the boss utilizing all of the weapons and items available to you.

The story in Legends of Ethernal progresses in a linear fashion and game play is upgraded as you clear dungeons on your travels as you search for your parents. As the son of a fisherman, Wilfred begins the game with only his fishing rod as a weapon and later acquires tools that can be used in a multitude of ways in addition to their mere combat improvements.

“It’s a really curated experience where the story unfolds itself as you progress through the game,” Lapierre said. “You do have some hub where you have some exploration and lots of puzzles and hidden elements to find but it is an action-adventure game, not a Metroidvania.”

The game will feature five game difficulties ranging from hardcore down to relaxed, where platforming elements are lessened and puzzle elements in boss battles are taken away. Some achievements can only be earned playing the higher difficulty modes, but there are no gameplay differences otherwise, developers said.

I enjoyed the sneak peek I got of the game and am looking forward to learning more about the world of Arkanys and helping Wilfred find his sweet parents when Legends of Ethernal launches mid-October on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.