PREVIEW: Tainted Grail

Jul
07

PREVIEW: Tainted Grail

Kamelot’s seen better times as the Wyrd continues to spread and corrupt the lands formerly protected by King Arthur and his court. It’s now up to you to battle against the odds in this deck-building RPG.

Released: Steam Early Access
Type: Single-player
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Developer: Awaken Realms Digital
Publisher: Awaken Realms Digital
Release date: 18 June, 2020

Overview

Of the many legends and myths that I’ve come across, none can top those of the Arthurian variety for me. Whether it’s Lancelot, Mordred, or Excalibur itself, even the most minor of details are fully fleshed out and beyond interesting to experience no matter which form of media you’re diving into them with. Admittedly, this has been accomplished through the labors of hundreds, if not thousands of creatives who often agree only on the most prominent of details, though this tends to keep each retelling fresh even if the overall quality of each varies greatly.

I’m an unabashed Arthur addict and this obsession often carries me into new territory in the realm of gaming. I’ve put countless hours into the Total War-like King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame (I really need to buckle down and play its sequel), enjoyed my less intense though still thoroughly enjoyable experience with Sword Legacy: Omen, and even played through the classic hack ‘n slasher Knights of the Round, just to name a few of my more recent forays into Arthurian legend. Tainted Grail is the most recent of these and I was hopeful that would be an experience worthy of its inspiration. In its current Early Access state, it’s not bad though it is unimpressive. However, the pieces are in place for it to be a promising enough title in the future if its stay in Early Access is taken full advantage of.

Wyrd Happenings

Tainted Grail takes place in a land overcome by the Wyrd, an ancient and supernatural force that corrupts everything that it touches. The good news is that there are menhirs scattered across the realm that suppress it and keep it at bay. The bad news is that they’re dying and your people have killed off the vast majority of the druids that knew how to maintain them. The odds are stacked against you from the beginning and it’s not looking good.

The map is eerie and you never know what’s around the next corner.

The game is divided into two modes: campaign and conquest. Campaign has a larger focus on the setting and tells the tale of your quest to save the land. You’ll select a pre-generated character to play in this mode who has a playstyle that is unique to them, or at least that’s what we’re told as both play the same way at the current level of development. Alternatively, Conquest is a freeform survive and explore experience where you attempt to stay alive as long as possible while recruiting those suffering from the Wyrd to move into your village. I had fun with both of these modes, though it’s quite clear that they are still lacking much of what is intended.

Summoners never go anywhere without their friends.

Last of the Heroes

Tainted Grail is first and foremost a deckbuilding card game with combat closely resembling others in the genre. You begin with a modest deck of weak and generic cards, though you’ll be able to start adding superior ones as you defeat enemies and gain levels. Upgrades also come along with these levels and allow you to customize your character with passive abilities that can give you a serious advantage over your foes. While the campaign mode determines which abilities are available to you based on the character that you have selected, the conquest mode gives you a few options to design a custom character’s appearance and choose a class. Currently, there are few visual options to change on your model and only four classes: brawler, guardian, berserker, and summoner. Brawlers specialize in single-target damage, guardians focus on sequential combos, berserker become stronger the more they suffer harm, and summoners, unsurprisingly, summon magical allies to fight their battles for them. Although classes within the same archetype start with the same decks and seem to have the same options for expanding them, my experience with the summoner suggested to me that archetypes will play very differently from one another which is a big plus.

There are minimal options for designing your character’s appearance currently.

Outside of combat, you’ll be interacting with the locals, spotting enemies that will carry you off into the card-based combat, and exploring locations of interest in the region. You’ll also be collecting equipment and consumables that will offer you improvements to your capabilities. Equipment tends to boost stats allowing you to be more durable and your cards to deal more damage, while consumables can be used for anything from healing wounds that you’ve suffered to temporarily staving off the Wyrd, represented by a fog that makes everything you do more dangerous.

Skills offer powerful passive bonuses that supplement your deck’s capabilities.

Corruption Consumes You

The overall atmosphere of Tainted Grail is a mixed bag. The visuals are exciting enough with many enemies catching your eye with their designs, though the general feel of the art style feels classically indie with the assets often feeling like you’ve seen them before in one low-budget project or another. I couldn’t help but feel that something was lost with them and that the title would be noticeably improved by replacing it with some more unique.

On the other hand, the music was enjoyable, not just for fitting thematically, but for being exciting in its own right. Whereas the visuals often felt detrimental, the music made up for them and kept me immersed in the setting.

A wide variety of characters exist in these twisted lands, both friends and foes.

Verdict

Tainted Grail is deep in Early Access. It’s still anyone’s guess what the future may hold for it, though I’m feeling optimistic after dabbling with what’s already in place. The greater offender for me was the art style which carried with it something of a generic indie feel, though the gameplay already feels like it’s found a solid foundation to build off of, even if it needs a significant amount of additional content by release. I’d recommend keeping an eye on this one if you’re interested in the dark Arthurian theme and are a fan of deck-builders, but I can’t recommend it at its current price unless you are so enthralled by what exists in the early stages that you want to support Awaken Realms Digital in its development. A promising title, but one that I won’t get too excited over just yet.

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