Save the space Rhinos!
Genre: Strategy, RPG
Developer: Heart Shaped Games LLC
Publisher: Heart Shaped Games LLC
Release date: 22 April, 2021
There are not many games about wildlife conservation and even fewer games about it that are actually worthwhile games in their own right. We Are The Caretakers seeks to change this. In We Are The Caretakers you’re playing as a group of people trying to save the endangered Raun, and maybe the planet itself.
Before we start with the preview properly it’s worth mentioning that this is written based on a preview build of the game, one from before the game has even entered Early Access on steam. As such expect things here to not quite look like they will do at launch, although most of the mechanics should be more or less the same. The preview build, being an alpha, is also of course both buggy and not feature complete, and due to the aforementioned bugs the graphics settings had to be lowered. All the screenshots are with medium settings. Don’t treat this preview as a review.
Story & Style
The Raun are threatened. Poachers have been seem killing these endangered animals and it’s up to you and your band of protectors to stop them. But not everyone are necessarily on your side. The locals might not necessarily want to see the Raun go extinct, but nor do they want them near their crops, and there are people within your organization who might not have entirely altruistic motives. But then an outside threat arrives, something far beyond what you had originally anticipated, and they seem to be going after the wildlife. Nobody quite know why or where they came from, but now you need to protect the noble Raun from an extraterrestrial threat as well as a domestic one.
We Are The Caretakers are set on a fictional planet inspired by central-African culture and art. The setting is distinctly afropunk/afrofuturistic in its look and feel. This influence is most noticeable when looking at the character designs. Most of the characters in the game are wearing masks that look like they might be inspired by ceremonial masks from the Congo-area, though with more exaggerated traits and for the most part a lack of facial features. This look and feel also extends to the rest of the setting which, while somewhat alien (the game is not set on Earth after all) still manages to look a lot like the African savanna woodlands. This is not a AAA game though, and so in terms of raw graphical power it can’t really compare to those. But it makes up for that with its unique and consistent art style.
it’s hard to sum up the gameplay of We Are The Caretakers in a neat and concise way, because there’s simply too many different parts to it. But basically you’re playing as a group of wildlife protectors who are trying to prevent the death of the Raun that roam the world, and to deal with poachers and work on your relationship with the locals.
The meat of the game are the missions, here you’ll be moving around several bands of protectors on a map. How many will depend on how many you have available and you think you need, as calling in more will cost some resources. Here the game is in real time and you control the groups similarly to how you control units in an RTS, that is you select them and send them to different locations. They’ll explore the map, pick up resources, talk to the locals in cities and villages scattered around the map as well as fight poachers. Most things that they do will take a bit of time, represented by a timer that shows up when they interact with objects, though with some exceptions these timers tend to be pretty short.
If you run into enemies combat will start. Combat works similarly to most traditional JRPGs, that is characters on both sides take turn to attack each other. Every character has access to their own skills that they can use and the goal is to beat down the enemy before they can beat down you. Each side will have between 1 and 6 characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. What sets combat in We Are The Caretakers apart from most JRPGs is that the goal is not really to kill the enemy, just to get rid of them. Once an enemy reaches 0 HP your characters can try to get rid of them with different characters having access to different options for how to do so. These range from capturing them, to try and recruit them to stealing their stuff and letting them go. Also unlike most JRPGs every unit has two independent HP pool, representing their stamina and their will, and you just need to get one of these down to 0 in order to get rid of them, and different attacks will work against different HP pools.
Between missions you’ll need to care for your team, decide what to do with any captured enemies, research new technology as well as do simple chose your own adventures-style mini-missions. Managing teams is done with a simple drag & drop interface, and you can freely move people between different teams, as well as recruit new members. Making good teams is part of the trick to be successful in We Are The Caretakers, as you want to have characters who can work well together. That said, at the moment, in its early state there’s not a massive amount of depth here, but that should hopefully improve over time. Your existing characters also level up with use and grow stronger over time.
The short choose your own adventure style scenes are straight forward but add more to the story and worldbuilding. Here you’ll be presented with a series of choices and you’ll have to decide what you think is best. Sometimes you’ll get resources and sometimes you’ll get other bits of text. It’s straight forward but a nice change of pace.
Research is another important thing to consider. As you play you’ll get research points and these can be spent in three different tech trees. Research gives passive bonuses like more health, faster exploration as well as the ability to have more active teams. The bonuses are not hugely noticeable, but as always with these kinds of things they really do add up over time.
The developers have listed three very different games as their inspiration: Darkest Dungeon, Ogre Battle, and XCOM, and as weird as the mix might sound, they have succeeded in combining elements from all three into a coherent whole. You’ve got the time and risk management of Darkest Dungeon, the deliberate strategic movement of small armies on a map of Ogre Battle and the team management and research of XCOM. Out of the three it’s probably most similar to Ogre Battle in its current form.
We Are The Caretakers is a game worth keeping an eye on. Its unique setting, theme and gameplay all add up to something special. I for one am looking forward to seeing future development and I really hope the developers will be able to make a game that lives up to their ambitious design. Right now it might be a bit rough around the edges, but under the rough exterior seems to be a real gem of a game.