I have the absolute strangest feelings about this game. It's really hard to word them, but I'm going to try...
On one hand, I desperately want to love this game. I haven't actually bought it yet (I'm on a very limited budget, so I've been highly selective about my gaming purchases lately), but I have played several hours of the demo. Several hours. That's got to say something. It captures a certain imagination, a certain willingness to be weird that I haven't seen in ages... it tastes vaguely of EYE: Divine Cybermancy just for the pure weirdness and the feeling that this is truly something that could only be done by an indie studio on the PC, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's just so refreshing to see true creativity still exists and people are still willing to try new things.
I also adore the concept. I'm a huge Metroid fan (and a substantial Castlevania fan as well, for good measure), so the idea of a free-roam, procedurally generated Metroidvania is just about this best thing I've ever heard. I also love the concept of an open world so large that players actually have to be selective about their exploration. It's sort of a sense of "why hasn't anyone done this before?" Because, you know, that's how an open world ought to work... it feels natural and realistic. And on that note, I really like the sort of sense of discovery the game gives... not so much in finding new areas (because they're very generic, a point I'll get to later) but in terms of discovering new mechanics and the like. The game is a bit opaque, and it could use a much better tutorial, but at the same time, it's been a while since I've seen a game with the stones to just set players loose. Again, I'm sort of reminded of EYE. (I had a similar love/hate relationship with that game, too.)
But on the other side of all these positives are the multitude problems I have with the game. Firstly, it's ugly. I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't be so superficial, but it's just universally off-putting to look at. The pre-rendered look, combined with complete and total lack of attention to color balance just make it give me serious headaches to look at for too long... after every play session it really feels like my head is imploding. Plus, I've seen this reaction basically everywhere I go. There are a select few who insist that it's reasonable, but I beg you not to listen to closely to the kind of universal, indiscriminate praise those select few give. Most of us think it's bad, and it's bad enough that fixing it ought to be higher on your priority list than you guys keep saying it is.
My other problems are much more abstract... first, I don't like the grinding-ness of the game. Other people have said this, but I'll say it again. A lot of the game revolves around farming resources to upgrade settlements, spells, etc. Thankfully, the in-game reference always gives a good idea of exactly where to find stuff, so it's never a matter of "where do I find this," but rather "when do I want to find this?" Unfortunately, this eternal collect-a-thon basically comprises the entire game. Other games, like Dark Souls or Monster Hunter, also revolve largely around farming and hoarding resources. These games get away with it, however, because they have a strong hook (combat) to provide a reason to farm. Which brings me to my next point...
Combat feels... superfluous. Which is bad in a game with a lot of it. As others have pointed out, there's never any reason to fight, and players are actively punished for fighting with new, tougher monsters showing up. Plus, combat is dead simple. Basically you just equip a direct- fire spell, hit tab or aim manually, and hammer away until whatever you're shooting at is several shades of dead. There's no variation. All elements feel the same, and all enemies feel the same to fight. There are fire espers and water espers and lightning espers, but all they do is shoot little, glowing projectiles at you. I guess there's some land-based enemies too, but the only tactic these guys seem to have is running at you until they run you to death.
So the game is based around collecting, combat, and exploration, the first two of which I've already said are weak. Exploration doesn't fare too much better. As I mentioned earlier, I love the huge, sprawling world, but none of it is interesting. There's a few types of forests, a desert, lava areas, ice areas, etc. Standard fare, which is bad enough in its own right. It's made worse in this game, however, because all the areas feel so dreadfully similar. Aside from the garish backgrounds and some minor structural changes in the overworld (but not in caverns or most interiors), nothing separates all these areas. Hell, the same enemies populate most of them, too. There's very little joy to exploring several generic, same-y areas with no memorable terrain or defining features.
So if the three main tenets of the game are weak, what does that mean? Well, it means the game feels... pointless, and distant. If that makes any sense. I get the overall goal of trying to kill the ultimate Overlord, but there's very little to no correlation between my farming resources and shooting orbs at floating, differently-colored orbs to that end goal. It feels like I'm wasting my time with no direction. There's no drive, no sense of progression to what I'm doing. It feels, well, half-baked. The heart and passion is there, but the implementation is vacant.
Finally, there are little niggles I have with the game... some missions (especially Asteroid Defense missions) just feel terribly designed. Plus, there's little annoyances like the inability to equip a light and a chest enchant at the same time... would it really hurt to just let players use both? That's really just nitpicking, though.
So, ultimately? I just don't know what to think of this game. I love the concept and I love that, well, I can tell love went into making this game. It feels like a celebration of gaming, a celebration of the creativity that game design allows. It feels genuine and personal, which is not something I can say about most any other recent game. And yet... the execution is so off. It feels fundamentally flawed in so many ways that I just can't claim to love it wholly.
As for the purpose of this incredibly lengthy rant, take it as you will. I obviously don't expect Arcen to start from scratch and rework all the core game mechanics; that would be absurd. I just felt like sharing my thoughts on the game. I honestly might end up buying it anyways simply because I haven't felt this strongly about a game in ages.
Oh yeah, and one last thing: the music kicks ass. Whoever composed for this is awesome.