The strategy–roleplaying game genre pairing is one that sees a few notable entries on occasion. Earlier this year we were graced with the revamped Shadowrun Returns. With the resurgence of the old-style isometric strategy RPG, genre enthusiasts are set up to be swept off their feet.
French developer Cyanide Studio is aiming to channel a bit of that excitement to its newest game. How does a tactical roleplaying game based on a tabletop miniatures game hold up, though? Should Aarklash: Legacy be written out of the history books or have a tome in the annals? Let’s find out.
Aarklash is a land full of chaos where battles continually rage. The war between the Barons of Alahan and the Dark Lords of Acheron must be fought, but the Barons have had to go deeply into debt with the Goldmongers guild to fund the war. When a Quorr of four Wheel Swords are sent to collect the Goldmongers’ due from a baron who had fallen behind on payments, they’re ambushed by the baron and his soldiers. The Quorr quickly learns that much more is going on than they could have imagined. They’ll have to fight for their lives to unravel the mysterious plot set out before them.
In Aarklash: Legacy, you’ll take control of the standard Quorr of four Wheel Swords – Goldmonger mercenaries. Each Wheel Sword is greatly varied, with their own unique contributions to the Quorr, but for that, the Quorr itself is a stronger, more cohesive fighting unit.
Without a doubt, the strongest draw to fans of the strategy RPG genre mashup will be the combat. Unlike Shadowrun and its turn-based brethren, Aarklash‘s combat takes place completely in real-time. Aarklash: Legacy‘s unique feature is what they’re calling the “active pause” mechanic.
Because of the real-time nature of the game, you could probably try to play it like you would Diablo III or any other isometric RPG. You would also likely get completely destroyed very quickly. By utilizing the “active pause” mechanic, you can literally suspend combat at any point with the space bar. While the game is paused, you can issue commands to each of your Wheel Swords. You can also stack actions, giving you a deeper level of control over your forces. This grants an intricate level of control and command that you’ll quickly find to be necessary to conquer your foes. It also generates some unique situations, since many of the skills often require a countdown that occurs in real-time as well.
Combat encounters feel incredibly well designed in Aarklash. Every engagement feels like its very own puzzle to be solved. Failing to properly solve the puzzle can lead to a difficult encounter or, more often than not, swift defeat. This can result in some swift, embarrassing thrashings, but it also has the ability to deliver some fantastic fist-pumping moments when you land the crushing blow. Despite its ability to quickly humble you, it’s engaging and exhilarating.
Your Quorr is given four active slots: one “Tank”, two “Fighters”, and a “Support” role. Characters can be moved around wherever you choose, but for the most part, you’ll be able to tell what role a character fills. Though you can only have four active Wheel Swords , there are eight you can eventually recruit to choose from. Each has their own particular set of skills and personality. Quorr leader Nella is a strong-willed mage, thief Denzil has a quick wit and sharp blade, wolfen healer Wendaroo is as ferocious as she is vengeful, and Knokka, the group’s tank, is a free-willed golem with a fascination of the world. The other four characters you pick up each have their own particular perks and personalities as well. It creates wonderful diversity, giving you plenty of options to mix and match for your favorite combinations.
As you work your way through each battle, your Wheel Swords will gain experience. Each level gained will also eventually grant you an extra point to spend in the skill tree. Each character has four core skills they can invest in, and each skill branches at some point, offering various effects and benefits. On top of that, you can choose to clear your skill tree and respec your build at nearly any point, allowing for incredible depth of customization for each character. You’ll genuinely feel like the Quorr is your own.
Beyond the skill progression, the game offers items to equip. While you can’t change out weapons or armor, you can find earrings, relics, necklaces, and rings that offer various stat boosts. These can drop off certain enemies or from various chests you find in the world. Most of the chests usually come with a rare monster or group of enemies guarding it that grant an added bit of satisfaction to acquiring them. It almost always makes venturing off the beaten path a quick jaunt worth your time.
Aarklash: Legacy is a great looking game with smart UI design to boot. The environments are fantastical and colorful, conveying everything from a nice autumn day in the woods to desolate, otherworldly wastelands, and more. The spells, skills, and other particle effects all look wonderful, both in motion and when the world is paused at a standstill. On top of that, menus are easy to navigate and all of the information you need is easily placed at your fingertips. A minimap would have been a nice addition, but that’s a minor complaint and you’re given access to a map via the menus.
The sound design in Aarklash is fair. The soundtrack is both fun and evocative, kicking up during combat for a pulse of adrenaline. Sound effects are spot on, pulling you right down into the battle with your Quorr.
The one hitch is somewhat shaky voice acting. For the most part, lines are delivered well, but occasionally the rhythm of the story feels like it stutters when the voice acting fails to be as smooth as the rest of the finely polished game.
Aarklash: Legacy is a top tier strategy RPG, hands down. The game looks fantastic and sounds great, even with occasionally shaky voice acting. The tightest draw to the game, however, is impeccable strategy gameplay that will pull you in and keep you on your toes. I dare say Aarklash: Legacy is one of my favorite gameplay experiences of the year. For the price Cyanide Studio is asking, you’d be missing out on quite a game to pass this by.
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