Ex Anima is an isometric low-fantasy rpg based entirely on physics simulation. And I like it. This is gonna be pretty subjective, so bear that in mind.
First off, It's a very different experience and if you're used to regular isometric RPGs, you'll be in for a surprise. It is not a diablo-clone, nor does it try to be like that. While Diablo is mostly about collecting ever new and better equipment while slashing a multitude of enemies. This is not what Ex Anima is about. Sure, some of that is in there too, but there's much more emphasis on using and mastering the combat system than collecting new and better equipment, even though that's certainly a part of it.
I'm not telling you how to play the game here, you can goof around with the physics forever and build a fucking tower out of plates you find in an abandoned kitchen. But take all of this with a grain of salt;
At the time of writing, this game is in early access on Steam - actually it is also supposed to be more of a tech demo for another Game, (Sui Generis) so don't expect to get to explore a huge open world.
There is a rather expansive dungeon to explore though - if you don't die in the process. The game focuses mainly on the combat aspect and general game mechanics, so the devs can collect feedback on it. You can find it here on Steam.
So why is it so unique?
Pretty much everything in this game is based on an accurate physics simulation, from the regular objects lying around, to the characters themselves. And with that I am not only referring to ragdoll effects after a creature took her last virtual breath, but virtually every move and attack is defined by physics.
The physics affect your character's (and enemies') balance, damage and general movement. Take a step forward while swinging at your enemy and you'll hit harder, maybe throwing him off balance - but miss and he's got a chance to counter. You get the point.
The combat itself is complicated. As are the controls, which are rather hard to get used to, but seem to have had some thought put into them. It is primarily designed for use with keyboard and mouse, with which it works rather well, but my first time playing was with a steam controller, and believe me if I tell you that using a mouse makes a ton of difference.
If you want to get anywhere in this game, be prepared to put some time into practice - the game's got a practice mode where you can get used to getting your ass kicked for the first few hours. But you will get better rather quickly, since the game is skill-based and treats you like the warrior you're trying to be. No hand holding, not even a very extensive tutorial.
Though, if you want to get help, there's many community-made tutorial videos out there to help you get started - such as this one by youtube user Pitstop Head:
I did not think such fluid animation was possible while still maintaining the physics-simulation part on the characters - but there it is, and it works perfectly fine. Even if you're going to find yourself stumbling through the world a lot, maybe tripping over broken chairs lying on the floor (which for me is a plus), you'll notice yourself getting better at controlling the seemingly drunk fighter which your character depicts. Attacks have a very satisfying heft to them, and you'll almost feel it yourself if your character gets hit. Let me tell you:
it is immensely satisfying to dance around your opponent, trying to get around his defense and finally getting a clean hit in, hearing the somewhat gruelling slashing sound effect play, as your sword slices into his side, leaving red stains on your blade and his clothes. All of this, while he gives off a short grunt, whilst trying to keep his balance and getting his guard back up.
It is probably this attention to detail which surprised me the most - seeing as it is 'only' an early access game.
The Visuals are absolutely stunning.
Even more surprising is the fact that the engine this game runs on is built from the ground up by the developers themselves, instead of using a pre-made solution. While this usually leads to more bugs along the way, I cannot claim that I encountered any graphical or physics-related glitches througout my playtime - it did crash on me once or twice though. Then again I'm not sure if the game is to blame for that, might have just been windows screwing up the memory management or something.
There's been a lot of thought put into many aspects of the game where you wouldn't usually expect it.
One of your first impressions in the Game is the character creation, which is refreshingly simple: you can set your body-shape and height via a 2-dimensional coordinate system, which means no hundreds of sliders to get your character done.
you don't get to create a unique face though, the face itself only differs by the amount of fat and muscle and the age of the character. As far as I could notice, only height actually seems to affect your efficiency in battle - there does not seem to be any difference in gameplay between gender or fat/muscle ratio. Except that your opponent may get offended at your exposed nipples.
Maybe Throw some hair in and on that face, and get on to selecting the starting gear of your character. In most game modes, except for practice mode there is not much to choose from, apart from light clothing and the usual crappy starting weapons. At least in arena mode - the story mode starts you off with nothing but some clothing and a torch lying next to you, although you'll be finding more or less useful weapons in the starting area.
Actually entering the story mode, you'll find yourself waking up in what appears to be a storage room, with a cryptic letter in your inventory which doesn't really help you much at the moment.
Without spoiling too much:
The story mode is frankly brutal if you're just starting off, and even after a few hours it's far from easy. With the amazing use of light in this game and real dangers lurking behind every corner, it's a very tense, almost horror-like experience, but with enemies being able to permanently decrease your health, and only very few means of restoring that health, prepare to have a hard time. I almost forgot to mention it, but it's quite important, maybe even a no-go for some players.
Once your lethal damage (red part of the health bar) is full, you're done for. You can lose your consciousness (if the yellow part is empty), and wake up again, but if you're unlucky, you'll just get beaten down, and possibly killed before you can even stand up again. Some mobs lose interest in you once you stop moving, so it's possible to get away with a blue eye, but severely diminished chances of survival, since lethal damage does not heal over time.