It’s easy to instantly compare any sandbox-type game with crafting, combat and building elements to Minecraft; many games have tried – to varying degrees of success – to re-create what Mojang’s mammoth franchise has done so well over the last few years. Luckily, though, whilst Portal Knights does have a number of features that will instantly remind you of the Minecraft universe, it actually takes things in a slightly different direction.

The world within Portal Knights has been fractured; instead of building and roaming around one giant expanse of land, you are tasked with finding and building portals that will grant you access to new levels. Each level, or world, is already full and alive when you arrive with other humans, shops, farms, mines and enemies making each world seem like a real, new place to visit. Despite this, you can build – or completely rip apart – any of these worlds as you see fit, adding your own blocky skyscrapers or digging down to the eerie void below whenever you like.

The emphasis of Portal Knights isn’t placed upon building, though; it is instead focused on exploration, crafting materials, and working your way through the game’s story. The game is ‘built’ around RPG-like elements; your character can be one of three classes (Warrior, Ranger, or Mage) and you gain experience points by exploring mines or defeating monsters. These experience points can be used to upgrade certain skills which will improve your combat and exploration, and you’ll also level up throughout, providing you with extra class-specific skills to help with your chosen play-style.

It is a strange blend in a way, as spending lots of your time and energy building can feel a little pointless – you’ll soon be moving on to a new world and leaving your current one behind. If you look at it as a nice additional feature, though, it makes a little more sense. The crafting of items to use on your adventure, the harvesting of the materials to do so, and the combat itself all work really nicely, and you’ll likely have a great time exploring the worlds that already exist before you, rather than trying to build features of your own.

As well as each world containing various monsters for you to either defeat or run away from, you are occasionally thrown in front of giant bosses with a successful battle being required to progress. Enemies in the game get tougher and tougher as time goes on and, in some cases, they can feel pretty overwhelming. Dying from these fights doesn’t cause any issues or loss of progress, but it can feel a little frustrating if you are underpowered. To combat this, you’ll likely find yourself doing quite a bit of grinding to gain experience, or searching across the worlds you’ve unlocked for specific materials that can bring you some higher quality armour and weapons, especially if you are playing alone.

You see, Portal Knights can either be played completely by yourself, with one other person in local split-screen co-op, or with up to three other players online, and players can drop in and out as they please. The tasks you’ll be completing are the same in every case, but taking on tricky enemies altogether from various angles feels a lot less daunting than going it alone.

It isn’t just battles that are shared, though. Every aspect becomes a joint adventure if you team up, meaning that your tasks, rewards and – essentially – the availability of crafting items and supplies from the world you are exploring must be shared between the group. In some ways, playing alone is a much tougher experience as you’ll have to figure everything out yourself and spend an awful lot of time working towards the harder fights. On the flipside to this, though, playing alone means that you have full control over each world and the materials within, therefore allowing you to create the strongest character possible to suit your needs.

A combination of the pleasing art-style and incredibly extensive menus and crafting options (which do take some getting used to) give Portal Knights that addictive quality that can result in long hours disappearing without you even realising. We’ve spent many hours simply exploring each new world as we arrive, discovering new materials and mining deep underground to discover exciting, secret treasures. If you have the time to lose yourself in exploration, and especially if you have a friend (or three) that is just as enthusiastic about the game as you, there is every possibility that you’ll find yourself craving more time with the game each time you turn it off.

The Switch version of the game offers touchscreen controls should you wish to play the game in Handheld mode (which plays just as well as on the TV), but this is strangely slightly limited; you can use it to cycle through menus and even use your weapons and tools, but you’ll still have to make use of the control stick to aim where your tool will interact with the world, rather than just tapping the block you wish to break open. That, and some pretty lengthy load times when you are travelling between worlds, are the only real faults we found in terms of the game’s execution, though. For the most part (when you have familiarised yourself with the slightly crazy menus), everything runs very smoothly indeed.

Conclusion

Portal Knights has been designed in such a way that encourages co-operative play; sharing the fun of exploring the worlds and discovering new things together is undoubtedly one of the game’s largest selling points. If you would rather play the game alone, though, there is nothing stopping you from doing so and you’ll still find that there is an enjoyable adventure to be had (albeit with a slightly different focus on how to go about completing tasks).

Sitting somewhere between the Minecraft-type gameplay of building and exploring, and the RPG-like features of crafting, battling, and upgrading your character’s skills and abilities, Portal Knights feels like it would most suit families, friends or even distant friends online, who wish to explore either of these genres of gaming together in a sometimes challenging - but usually charming - package.