Testament: The Order of High Human Review

At a wedding I recently attended, I saw a scene likely familiar to many: a questionable guest drunkenly rose to give an ill-advised speech they hadn’t put any thought into, stringing together barely related anecdotes with no purpose besides fulfilling a perceived obligation. Testament: The Order of High Human reminds me a lot of that speech. This bizarre fantasy adventure is filled with bad ideas that are so poorly executed that the entire thing feels like what might happen if you explained Skyrim to someone who’d never played a video game and asked them to make one of their own from memory. The story is a convoluted, cliche bore, the combat is infuriating and repetitive, and there are so many bugs I struggled to continue on multiple occasions. That’s all bad enough after a handful of hours, but in a campaign that took me 40 hours to complete, that catastrophic dosage was downright agonizing.

The first missed opportunity for Testament to distinguish itself is its setting: it takes place in an all-too-familiar fantasy land called Tessara, complete with halflings, dragons, and people who can shoot fire out of their hands. You play as an utterly lifeless immortal god-king called Aran who’s been usurped by your brother, a greasy creep who has that surprisingly common bad guy affliction where he’s visibly being torn apart by purple energy and very clearly evil, but seems totally oblivious to the whole thing.

Hilariously, the story starts off with your character already dethroned and betrayed, and there’s barely any attempt at catching you up on any of that. This immediately removes any stakes that could have existed with the aid of some kind of preface or introductory cutscene (such as in something like Dishonored), and is also…just plain weird. Predictably, what follows is a by-the-numbers revenge quest in which you have to restore your strength and take down those who crossed you. I kept hoping that maybe I wasn’t being shown the beginning of the tale because there was some interesting twist that would be revealed later, but, spoiler alert: there isn’t. It was seemingly just decided that we didn’t need any background before diving into killing monsters. (And, to be fair, that might’ve been correct if these monsters were the kind that are fun to kill.)

As you explore Tessara you’ll hear a whole lot of dialogue filled with cliches about Light, Darkness, Truth, and other mind-numbingly played-out platitudes that practically beg to be skipped… but of course you aren’t allowed to. The story checks a lot of boxes: there’s a metric ton of characters, history, and lore firehosed at you throughout the lengthy campaign, but it’s little more than a disappointing collection of cliches without an ounce of substance to be found. You’re constantly being told about some gobbledygook high-fantasy concept that has no bearing on anything happening on-screen, usually followed up by long, repetitive monologues that go nowhere.

Aran sounds suspiciously similar to The Room’s Tommy Wiseau.

Part of the problem is that the protagonist is a literal god who knows absolutely everything about the world of Tessara, while you, the person playing as him, know nothing. To close that gap, your character talks to himself constantly about whatever comes to mind, referencing ancient events he took part in that were all probably more interesting than our current quest for vengeance. It’s perhaps the worst case of “telling not showing” that I’ve ever encountered. I can’t tell you (or show you) how many times a random backstory for some off-screen character or long-lost civilization would come out of Aran’s mouth as I made my way to the next identical fight. Worse yet, alarmingly few of those long-winded info dumps ever became remotely relevant to my quest.

It doesn’t help that every character lacks an ounce of charisma or gravitas in any form. Aran sounds suspiciously similar to The Room’s Tommy Wiseau, regularly landing on deliveries that are either completely devoid of emotion or so bizarre in their tone that it makes you wonder if it’s parody, but no deadpan joke can be delivered this many times and work. Every so often the bad guy walks out of a portal to mock you with a cringe-inducing monologue (before inexplicably walking away instead of just killing you then and there), inspiring zero fear or loathing in the act.

But where the story is an unimpressive annoyance you’ll have to bear along the way, Testament’s combat is the extremely painful headliner. Using a sword, bow, and magic, you’ll fight waves of enemies every couple of minutes in some of the most frustratingly designed encounters in recent memory. With the exception of a couple of variables that only make them worse, nearly every battle is effectively identical to the last: a handful of enemy types emerge from the corners of a boxed-in arena, and target you all at once as you dash around picking off as many as you can in the brief pockets of time where you aren’t being bombarded with deadly projectiles and chased by shivving aficionados. The chaotic mess occasionally poses a challenge, but mostly just tests your patience, since you’ll usually find yourself dodging out of the way a whole lot more than you’re pressing the offensive.

There’s no blocking, parrying, counter attacks, or timing to work on – you just turn your brain off and spam.

In melee, you’ll repeat the same attack combo over and over, stopping every other second to dodge out of the way of an incoming attack. Later on you unlock some abilities, like a move where you can shove enemies away or finish your combo with a lightning or fire element applied to your blade (if you manage to make it to the end of the combo without being interrupted), but it’s extremely limited stuff. There’s no blocking, parrying, counter attacks, or timing to work on – you just turn your brain off and spam the same button with almost no strategy beyond hitting the enemy more than they hit you. That feels awful the second your journey begins and never gets any better.

You also have a bow, which becomes increasingly important later on when enemies start flying overhead and hanging out on ledges you can’t reach. There’s nothing original or exciting about Testament’s archery, but you do eventually unlock some semi-appealing stuff like explosive tips and others that bounce off of surfaces or even pass through the environment. Unfortunately, most of the time you’ll be forced into a small arena with a very limited number of arrows and too many enemies coming at you to take steady aim. It’s especially frustrating that getting hit interrupts you mid-shot, meaning more often than not you’ll have to go back to turning your brain off and swinging your sword.

Finally, you’ve got some spells, which again have no real surprises – it’s just stuff like shooting fireballs, healing yourself, and stunning all enemies in a small area with electricity. The more powerful spells you can get later on often come with extended casting times that aren’t at all worth it, especially since (like the bow) you’ll often find yourself interrupted by near-constant attacks.

But what starts out as merely disappointing and slow combat gradually evolves into an absolute nightmare of annoyance as you progress through Testament’s levels. One of the biggest terrible ideas are shielded enemies, who are completely invulnerable thanks to the protection of an disembodied eyeball floating somewhere over their head that’s invisible to the naked eye. In order to deal with these irritations, you first need to enter a detective vision-style insight mode, targeting the eye long enough to permanently reveal it, then switch back to regular vision and use your bow and shoot it. But since all of this is happening while you’re likely surrounded by a dozen or more other enemies, many of which may also have shields and invisible eyeball guardians of their own, this takes the awful pacing and terrible chaos of combat from bad to enraging.

This takes the awful pacing and terrible chaos of combat from bad to enraging. 

But if you thought eyeball shields were bad, the “darkness zones” take it to an entirely new level of pain. In these extremely frequent encounters, the sky darkens, an even bigger floating eyeball appears somewhere overhead, and you immediately and constantly start taking damage and losing your mana over time – all while you’re still being attacked by the usual hordes of enemies, obviously. The only way to stop the bleeding is to run around in investigation mode looking for three smaller eyeballs to reveal and then shoot. Once they’re taken care of, then you can turn your attention to the giant eyeball and shoot that to remove the draining effect of the darkness zone. Of course, then you’ll probably still have to keep dancing around to deal with the shield-granting eyeballs hovering over the heads of individual enemies.

I cannot tell you how absolutely draining this process is when done just a few times, but when you have to repeat it every few minutes for 40 whole hours, it borders on traumatizing. Testament is at least five times longer than it should be, and an absurd amount of that time is solely focused on combat that can’t possibly sustain it. And to be clear, this is not an open-world adventure, either. With a few optional side quests being the exception, you’re guided towards a linear set of combat encounters one after another with very little say in how things go. Every time I completed a combat section, I sighed in exhaustion, knowing that more of my time would be wasted mere seconds later.

You’ll also face boss battles, and hopefully you like the handful of beefy opponents more than I did because you’ll be facing the same ones a whole lot. There are headless knights who come in a whole host of colors, stone golems who behave exactly like you’re imagining they behave, and a witch boss who basically just summons waves of enemies instead of fighting. Aside from two standout boss fights where enemies behave significantly different from the others, you’ll be fighting the same cast of characters many, many times. In fact, you’re forced to fight the witch and her numerous waves of minions no fewer than three times within an hour or so, as if to drive home just how starved for ideas and yet absurdly padded out Testament is.

I forced myself to experience every inch of Testament in search of something good.

If you’re like me, you might think (naively) that the real interesting boss fights (or perhaps other interesting stuff) are hidden behind optional encounters, like the handful of bouts that you’ll have to tackle to unlock the most powerful spells, and you’d be extremely wrong in thinking that. Instead, the optional bosses are identical enemies with a different color applied to them and movesets that mimic one another almost to a tee. The side quests are little more than searching for scraps of rubbish without the aid of a map to earn paltry rewards. I went out of my way to do a completionist run in a few areas just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on any cool secret encounters tucked away somewhere; I forced myself to experience every inch of Testament in search of something good. Instead, as a reward I was made to replay the same boss fight four additional times to earn spells I’d never have time to cast amid the impossibly chaotic combat encounters.

Thankfully there are a couple breaks from combat in the form of extended platforming and puzzle sections that account for some of Testament’s best moments. Jumping around massive temples and swinging from ropes to figure out simple switch and maze puzzles isn’t terribly exciting stuff and none of it requires much thought at all, but after so many atrocious combat encounters I was beyond grateful for them. There’s also some small light-reflecting puzzles you’ll need to tackle to open certain doors and chests, and while these once again don’t do anything we haven’t seen in 100 games before, many are cleverly designed and made for a welcome change of pace. A bright spot, if you will.

As if the general game design and storytelling weren’t bad enough, I also encountered a veritable greatest hits album of bugs and performance issues, from the tried-and-true framerate inconsistencies and crashes to stuff like developer objects I definitely wasn’t supposed to see becoming visible, getting stuck on the environment, and even getting locked out of quests until I had my character killed or loaded up a previous checkpoint. In fact, as if to put a cap on all the awful stuff I encountered, I experienced five crashes in a row during the final boss fight, and when I finally was able to finish it I was rewarded with an ending cutscene that played at a beautiful 10 frames per second on my RTX 4090. It’s a pretty bad sign when crashes become a welcome reprieve from actually playing a game.

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