If you have spent any time on Twitter lately there’s a good chance you’ve come across satisfying gifs of intricate, whirring machines moving glass orbs to and fro, locking them into place before handing them over to rotating grippers, shifting color and transmogrifying them into new elements. It is intoxicating to look at, and, as it turns out to play as well! The name of the game is Opus Magnum, the newest project by Zachtronics, and it’s pretty damn great.
This ingenious puzzle game has an actual story to back it up. You set out as Anataeus Vaya, an alchemical prodigy who lands the job of head alchemist at one of the prestigious houses of the game’s steampunk inspired world. As the head alchemist, you are tasked with creating a variety of compounds, from fuel for the airships to a ‘stamina potion’ so the house’s prince can produce an heir. And later, as the story progresses, explosive phials and rocket propellant.
You create these items through your trusty alchemical transmutation engine, represented as a hexagon-shaped grid on which you place alchemical reagents, various mechanisms and glyphs with which you create fantastical machines. You can drag ‘instructions’ to each mechanisms timeline, making it grab or release a compound, rotating it left or having it ride along a rail until you form the compounds and lock it in place to win the puzzle. Easier said than done as mechanisms and reagents may not touch each other.
Then again, finishing the puzzle is actually not that difficult. It gets interesting when you get to see the metrics afterward. You are shown a graph on which you can see the number of people that finished the puzzle in the scores of cost, cycles, and area. These metrics take no precedence over each other and you can choose whether you want to create an efficient machine with a low amount of cycles, a cheap machine that only uses two grippers or a really small one with a low area cost. Seeing that large spike at 60 cycles while you finished the puzzle in 50 gives a real sense of accomplishment, and if you didn’t do so well you’ll be driven to optimise more or find satisfaction in a different metric. You’ll be refining each puzzle for months to come!
By not having a singular score metric the game allows you to set your own goals. It creates dynamic difficulty and rewards creativity. There are so many ways to solve each puzzle and not being locked in a ‘right way’ to go about it allows for a lot of freedom. Many puzzle games have a set solution, and while it gives off a sense of accomplishment no feeling is better than doing something in a way that is unique to you as a person. Every solution you tinker with creates an on-screen splendor for you to share with friends. These elements are well thought out with players being able to create a gif of their work at the click of a button, multiple save slots per puzzle solution, and the implementation of steam leaderboards.
The story is by and large presented through short conversations between classical looking portraits of the main characters before each puzzle. These exchanges are brief enough to not disrupt the pace of the game, but in-depth enough to provide a good understanding of what’s going on in the story, and cleverly written to boot. The story takes a backseat to the gameplay but still serves as an interesting backdrop to the true star of the game: the brilliant puzzles. It took me about ten hours to get through the five-act campaign. I could have done it a lot faster but I didn’t want to. I could see myself replaying these puzzles endlessly before wanting to move on to the next one.
Zachtronics is well known in the industry for creating logic-based puzzle games such as Infinifactory, SHENZHEN I/O and TIS-100. All of these games revolve around automating various processes and are known for having a high level of complexity, but Opus Magnum manages to be Zachtronic’s most accessible game yet with a surprising amount of depth and flexibility. Highly recommended!