Iron Tides is 80% turn-based combat involving cartoon vikings and pirates, and 20% navigating your ship around hidden mazes in search of battles and the ultimate objective of each quest.
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy, Rogue-Lite
Developer: Crash Wave Games Inc.
Publisher: Crash Wave Games Inc.
Release date: 24 July, 2017
Gameplay – Skirmishes
There are seven battle scenes you can play, featuring the various enemy factions and your own set of predetermined fighters. In stark contrast to Campaign mode, I’ve been able to easily beat every one of them on the first attempt. It took me about 20 minutes. Having done this once, the Skirmish mode is now completely redundant since these skirmishes are identical every time you play them – same enemies, same fighters in your crew, same starting positions.
[ Note from publisher: Skirmishes will change as the game progresses since they’ll actually be player submitted maps (there’s a map editor in Iron Tides’ early access version that will continue to develop and become more robust before final release) made from their map editor. The ones in there now are just ones that the team has generally been using for testing for the last bit! ]
Gameplay – Campaign
The object of the game as a whole is to complete a series of quests on the main map. You have the main quests which follow a meandering dotted line, and optional side quests which can be used to collect extra loot and cash to strengthen your crew in preparation for the main quests. The quest icons each have a popup dialog to advise you of the suggested number/levels of crew you will need to have a decent chance of victory eg. 3 x level 1, 4 x level 2 etc.
You select a quest and set off from Norhaven, your home village. You then see your ship on a grid map of the sea and you have to move, square by square, towards battles, ports (where you can pick up a choice of plunder without any battle) and ultimately your quest objective. Each time you move a square your stamina level at the top of the screen decreases – the more crew you have on board, the quicker it depletes. You have a limited area around your ship that’s visible, the rest is not yet revealed, and there are rocks everywhere forming a kind of maze for you to navigate. Getting caught in a dead end and having to back out of it eats up your stamina, and you never know when this is going to happen because you can’t see it until you get there.
After winning a battle you’re rewarded with loot and, most importantly, sometimes food which you can use to top up your stamina to allow you to sail further. Running out of stamina is devastating because then each of your warriors lose HALF of their health one by one on each move of the ship, so by the time you get to a battle you are so weak that the outcome is inevitable defeat.
So when your ship comes upon a battle the scene changes to a battle grid on a ship deck, stone arena or whatever. You start with a set number of green squares to initially position your crew (you can’t always use your entire crew) then click ‘Ready’ and make your first move. Each of your fighters has three ‘Fury Points’ and you can spend each of these on an action, whether it’s one strike against an enemy, one position move (some characters can move more squares than others on an action) or using a special power. Most of my moves involve one to approach an enemy close enough to hit him (if he hasn’t already approached me first), and the rest to hopefully pummel him to death. Sending two of my fighters to finish one of theirs off is commonplace. The important thing is to try not to leave him alive with a tiny bit of health remaining, giving him a chance to hit back.
Your enemy AI are more numerous and, with the exception of the occasional hefty boss Knight, most of them have lower health and fewer Fury Points. Tactics will be very familiar if you’ve played this type of game before. Try to flank your enemies for better chance of hits, and try not to get flanked. Send your melee fighters up close and keep your ranged at a distance. Attacks have a random chance of missing or being blocked. Use each character’s special abilities when necessary. Standard stuff.
If you win the battle you continue with your ship on to the next, hopefully picking up enough food on the way until you reach your objective, then it’s back to Norhaven where you can maybe purchase extra crew (if there are any available and if you have enough gold) or powerup items from the market (using ‘Hacksilver’ gained from looted items from battles) of which I’ve found that barrels (+30 stamina) and food (+10 stamina) are the most important. You can use the XP you’ve gained to assign special powers to your fighters, although I haven’t had much chance to do this, what with all the defeats… There’s also the Docks, but it’s locked until I can manage to complete the 3rd quest (read on) so I don’t know what’s in it. Then on to the next quest.
That’s the theory anyway…
Unbalanced Gameplay, Or My Incompetence?
An important point to make about Campaign mode is that if you lose one single crew member it is DEVASTATING! On my first play session I breezed through the first quest (somehow), got all my crew to level 2 and was doing well after a few battles of the second quest. Then I lost my Valkyrie. Never mind, I thought, it’s just one member, she’ll respawn or something… NOPE! This single, seemingly minor event put a permanent stop to my progress in the game. I was quickly defeated in the next battle with 33% of my army gone, losing the rest of it in the process. So it was back to Norhaven to recruit new fighters using the gold I’d collected. I had to go back to the first quest of course, since my fresh level 1 army wasn’t strong enough to continue where I’d left off.
… Except I’ve never again been able to get past Quest One (or the side-quest) despite numerous attempts. QUEST ONE! I’ve spent all my gold on new crews and now I have to accept charity from the guy in the Great Hall giving me free crew. I spent all my Hacksilver on items once I discovered the market, including barrels so at least my crew didn’t starve to death on the next quest, just died in battle. So then I started Quest One again for the umpteenth time only to discover that the shedload of barrels and food I’d spent all my Hacksilver on the last time had DISAPPEARED! That would be the Hacksilver I’d gradually built up over many (failed) previous quests. If I’d known that I’d lose everything then I wouldn’t have spent my entire bankroll in one shot, but no clue was given.
I’m not a complete idiot, I have played turn-based strategy before – XCOM/XCOM2, Pit People, Antihero, Loot Rascals to name a few – but never before have I had this much trouble so early in a game. A new player is supposed be ushered in gently to gain some confidence and experience a decent amount of content before it starts getting challenging. Despite the limited number of options you have in a battle here, the AI is overpowered and brutal. The game has no difficulty settings at all, so if you just want a casual experience to follow the storyline you’re out of luck. There isn’t much in the way of storyline here from what I’ve seen, but then again I wouldn’t know, would I?
It may well be the case that Quest One is in fact easy if you use the correct tactics. However, if so then I would mention the lack of guidance provided to reach that level of competence. Whichever way you look at it, there’s a bottleneck at the start of the game.
[ Response from publisher: “The team at Iron Tides is trying to find a mid ground between casual gamers and hardcore—they know it won’t be an easy process. They’ll definitely consider a rebalance based/pending on the feedback from their community during its early access period! For the time being, the changes will mostly come in tweaks, so your feedback is definitely valuable. They’ve frequently taken their community’s suggestions and voice into their dev process prior and after their Kickstarter, and their time in early access won’t be any different.
“As a rogue-like game, Iron Tides does hope to put up a challenge for players who get rewarded for tough gameplay. They are looking to update the current tutorial so that players can hopefully reach a higher skill level earlier in the process, but underlying that, the game is a complex one despite what its appearance may first suggest.” ]
I’ve come across two so far. If you click to go back to Norhaven (from the sea) and then change your mind and click No, the game freezes and you have to kill it and start your quest again. One time I was in a battle and one of my crew suddenly jumped away several squares for no apparent reason, then the enemies killed him via the empty square he’d left behind. I was on the verge of defeat anyway, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s not an extremely complex game so I would have thought they’d have this sort of thing ironed out so close to EA release.
Sound & Vision
The cartoon graphics and animations are pleasant enough, nothing to write home about really. Background music consists of vikingy tunes featuring drumbeat, manly humming and plucking of strings. Not memorable but, more importantly, not annoying.
There are six video quality settings but I can’t tell the difference. The lowest looks identical to the highest as far as I can tell. It does display up to 1920×1200 though, which is nice.
I always include this section in my reviews but as I’ve already said, Skirmish mode is too easy (I would expect some easy ones but not all of them) and Campaign is ridiculously difficult for new players despite the apparently straightforward mechanics. It’s something that really needs to be sorted out. The lack of difficulty settings is also a concern, this is normally a standard feature of any game.
I don’t know how many quests there are so I can’t comment on the amount of content included but as far as variety and unique features goes, I haven’t seen much. It’s all very vanilla flavour, following the basic turn-based combat formula. It’s in EA so they can iron out the bugs, do something about the difficulty progression and maybe even add more types of fighters, special powers and battle layouts, but when all is said and done I don’t think the underlying game is worth full price. I might be tempted by a 50-75% discount for a few hours of entertainment, but it wouldn’t hold my interest for long.
I usually like to get at least halfway through a game before I review it, but I’m incapable of completing more than two quests so what can I do? From what I’ve seen it’s a solid, competent turn-based strategy game although its scope is rather limited – it’s in EA but I can’t think of anything they could do to it that would make any major difference. It feels like any other generic game in this genre without any unique features to make it stand out from the rest. If you like this type of game in general then it will satisfy your expectations I’m sure, but for me it’s a bit repetitive and I don’t think I would play it long-term, even if my skills allowed me to progress further.