Throw Battle Brothers and Darkest Dungeon into a blender with a few extra ingredients mixed in and you’ll end up with Urtuk: The Desolation.
Genre: Strategy, RPG
Developer: David Kaleta
Publisher: David Kaleta
Release date: 14 Feb, 2020
Urtuk: The Desolation stood out as a promising new rogue-lite tactical RPG, a genre that I’m always chasing the next high in. Its inspirations were top-notch as well as I’ve enjoyed plenty of hours delving into the dangers of Darkest Dungeon, though I’m even more of a fan of Battle Brothers which has secured a seemingly permanent place on my Top Games of All-Time list. These titles are all enjoyable to play and can certainly put you through the wringer if you’re playing them Ironman-style (I’m a glutton for punishment), but whereas I could pick up a brand new campaign of its inspirations at any time, Urtuk seems to lack that same level of replayability.
Is This Fallout, The Hills Have Eyes Or Hell?
The adventure begins as our protagonist, Urtuk, is freed from a particularly harrowing period of captivity. In order to find a cure for the condition that causes him the occasional mutation, he’ll be travelling disturbing lands that reek of post-apocalypse with a pair of allies in tow. This band will continue to grow as you find new allies who will hopefully assist in staving off the many threats that you’ll encounter.
Among these threats are a variety of enemy factions that have a unique feel to each of them. Some of these have classes that are similar to those that you may have in your party while others will require that you think on your feet and mix up your strategy to overcome them. However, for better or worse, the majority of these foes will still have a combination of abilities and traits that mirror those available to you.
The weakest part of Urtuk is the regional map. You move about it in a way that is similar to something like Final Fantasy Tactics using nodes to move from one location to the next. Unfortunately, there’s nothing of much interest in it. Settlements, fortresses, some merchants, and so forth litter it, but they tend to only slightly spice up the otherwise dull experience of travelling around the world. It’s certainly no Battle Brothers in this regard as your journeys between battles are more of a chore than anything resembling an exciting part of the experience.
Overall, this is helped somewhat by the excellent art style that will remind you of Darkest Dungeon. Your foes often look sufficiently creepy and deformed, fitting for the mutated wastes, and although the scenery could use a bit more spice to it, it does what it needs to in getting the theme across. I also found the music to be surprisingly good, it has an intense horror feel to it that weirdly enough reminded me that Tecmo’s Deception was a game that existed in the distant past.
Monsters & Misfits
Party management is satisfying in Urtuk: The Desolation, even if it could use some improvement. There’s an impressive number of classes to play around with and each feels noticeably different from the others. I’ll give bonus points here for being able to determine the classes of your starting party, including Urtuk himself. I had a soft spot for the berserker with his outrageous damage but all of the classes that I messed around with were both fun and useful, from the shield carrying guardian that protects his allies from attacks to the assassin that unleashed all kinds of hell on any poor soul that he managed to flank and backstab. You’re only ever able to bring six members of your party into battle but the combinations and synergy are nearly endless.
As your units gain experience through battles and missions, you’ll be able to manually increase their stats to your liking while supplementing them with equipment that’s looted along the way. Each character also has several mystery traits that can be unlocked by fulfilling their requirements; fortunately, these are revealed after completing the first step. A nice touch is the charging of focus during combat which allows class abilities that have been mastered to be used globally, something that can drastically turn the tide of a battle in your favor. Equippable mutations are also available, offering another avenue to customize your character, though I felt very neutral on these items overall. I think I would have preferred something more along the lines of a skill tree.
Blood & Guts
The vast majority of your time in Urtuk: The Desolation will be spent spilling the blood of your enemies in gruesome and glorious battle. As you progress, the odds will seemingly be stacked increasingly in your opponents’ favor, particularly when it comes to numbers. You may only be able to bring six of your crew into combat but the enemy is likely to more than triple that at times so you’ll need to bring your finest tactics to the table.
Each combat has a map that is generated at its start and sometimes they can give one side or the other a huge advantage. Height plays a significant role, increasing damage done to those who are lower than the attacking character, and vice versa, by a noticeable amount. Barricades and walls are prevalent, the former causing additional damage that ignores armor if a unit is knocked into it while the latter will stun a target which results in a delay of their turn and guaranteed criticals against them (ouch). You’ll also want to take advantage of death pits that will insta-kill anyone that’s knocked into them while keeping your units a safe distance away. Add in random events that can cause things like boiling oil to spill over the battlefield or debilitating poison gas that weakens everyone in the fight, and you’ll quickly learn that a battle can be very different from the one before it.
Urtuk: The Desolation is an enjoyable game that changes up the formula from its predecessors enough that it’s a new experience, but not one that proves itself superior. Combat takes real strategy to overcome crazy odds at times, though all too often I felt that the AI wasn’t all that intelligent and that it would fall for just about any manoeuvre that I threw at it. I still enjoyed it through that as the regional map is still the only part of the title that I can say was dull. I would recommend this title to those who enjoy tactical RPGs with party management and would like something of a fresh experience, though I wouldn’t recommend it over something like Battle Brothers if you’re picking and choosing. Urtuk is a solid game with some interesting ideas but one that may lack the same level of replayability as others in the genre, though I can certainly see myself revisiting it in the future all the same.