Escaping Sydney: Ex Libris @ Next Level Escape

A mysterious library. Portals to literary worlds. A ticking clock. And a mysterious name: Ex Libris.

General Details

“Ex Libris”
Next Level Escape, 37 Bligh Street, Sydney
75 minutes
2-6 players allowed
Difficulty unlisted

How We Played

16 July 2017
3 players
Hints: Many
24 minutes 18 second complete main mission; 53 minutes 12 seconds complete side mission 1; 70 minutes 6 seconds complete side mission 2

The Experience

Ex Libris is evocative because it is so familiar. It draws on well-known works of literature (trust me, you’ll recognize them) to provide one of the most varied escape room themes I have seen. Though the space is small, it is crammed with distinctive areas. Despite the office environment limiting the immersion a tad, Ex Libris manages to draw players into clearly defined and different environments.

Ex Libris’ greatest strength, however, is its use of a narrator to provide hints and guide players. Perhaps you are carefully examining a mysterious discoloration on a desk when you hear, “After careful inspection, Andrew confirmed the stain was, indeed, a stain, and not relevant to the task.”

The narration fits the theme perfectly and has a bit of a Stanley Parable vibe – though we all agreed it wouldn’t have hurt for it to be a bit more sarcastic. It also ensures that when important automated moments occur, players are guided to the appropriate location to see what is happening.

Ex Libris makes good use of the limited space, packing it with surprises. Some are subtle – there are a ton of nonessential easter eggs hidden throughout the room, and little touches like musical stings accompanying certain actions give the experience a cohesive feeling.

Ex Libris’ other innovation is to have a fairly easy main quest, but to support that with a far more difficult series of optional objectives. This is a great idea – I am confident any team could escape easily, but more experienced teams would also get to hear the narrator’s dry wit, as the optional puzzles are considerably harder.

Puzzle Design

The puzzle structure in Ex Libris is subtly complex, with a smart opening that gradually opens multiple puzzle strands. Objectives are always obvious, though the vast array of different props and possible directions can become overwhelming. This makes the early moments of the game more difficult than the sum of its parts.

Ex Libris’ puzzles run the gamut from spatial reasoning, word puzzles, observation, and logic. Even the simple logic puzzles make clever use of props to ensure everything feels tactile and fun.

There is a lot of information hidden throughout Ex Libris. Some of it is not essential to solving the puzzles – we managed to skip a step due to our advanced codebreaking skills in one puzzle. Ordinarily this would be a problem, but the narrator prevents players from becoming caught up in irrelevant information, which allows Ex Libris to pack the space with clues, easter eggs, and red herrings.

The Bottom Line

The fact that Ex Libris succeeds to the extent that it does is almost entirely due to the attentive gamemaster. Without regular feedback from the entertaining narrator, players would likely be left lost and overwhelmed. The use of a narration manages to support Ex Libris’ storytelling, theme, and gameplay.

Though it might be a bit tight physically, Ex Libris contains enough action for a larger team, though the extra time and guidance means that smaller teams will also be able to manage. It is perfect for players who want to be challenged, but won’t get frustrated if they need a hint or two. Teams that don’t need any hints are missing out on Ex Libris’ best and most unique feature!

Other perspectives can be found at Lock Me If You Can, Escape Rooms in Sydney, and Escape Me.

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