The venerable Disciples series returns with a new look and feel. Can it compete with its own lineage?
Type: Singleplayer, Online PvP
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Developer: Frima Studio
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release date: 21 October, 2021
The classics seem to be in a wild state of rebirth and transformation lately. The popular strategy series of the past are bouncing between subgenres at a bizarre pace and those of us who are veterans of the genre are having our nostalgia poked in increasingly confusing ways. King’s Bounty II was released just recently and it feels far more like an RPG than the franchise that it was built from. Even more odd is the transition of 4X strategy from the earlier iterations of Disciples to the newly released Disciples: Liberation which now feels far more like a classic King’s Bounty, Heroes of Might & Magic style battles included, than old school Disciples. These are odd times indeed for those who have played through these transitions and may not be particularly happy about the path their favorite franchises are taking.
The Chosen and Her Quest
Disciples: Liberation hands you the reins to guide the choices and actions of Avyanna of Yllian, a mercenary heroine who has an erratic gift that has randomly shown up in the past. This gift quickly shows itself in the prologue where our chosen one and her roguish bestie find themselves in over their heads. While duking it out with a particularly questionable priest, a portal opens at the last second and whisks our heroes away to a dimension that they quickly claim as their own. This is your base of operations to do with as you please. Although it promises some excitement in its progression, it ends up falling short of the mark fans of Disciples may be hoping for.
The story itself is a wild ride, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. It tends to adapt a lot of the lore that Disciples veterans will recognize but turns some of it on its head in a way that might displease purists. That said, the main story kept me engaged even if there are far more thrilling tales out there and the dialogue was acceptable enough. There are plenty of choices to be made in the dialogue, though impactful choices seem to be few and further between than you might expect. I attempted to go a certain direction with the internal faction wars that were happening and often found myself being required to more-or-less side with those who I was actively trying to face off against.
You’re immediately given the choice of which regions you want to travel to and the enemies there will shift their level to stay relatively competitive. Each of these regions has an indicator suggesting its difficulty, though if you’re an experienced strategist it’s unlikely that you’ll be pushed to your limits. I found my experience with the title to be one that was easy almost to the point of being boring as long as you chose which battles to engage in and which to hold off on for a level or two.
A Motley Crew of Demons and Paladins
Disciples: Liberation departs even further from its source material by not just simply having you take the role of a singular army traveling the lands, but also in its complete change in how factions work. No longer will you choose which of the factions you wish to play in, you’ll be building your reputation with them instead. You can pack your army full of whichever units you want to take advantage of their unique skills without any real penalties unless you’ve specifically chosen to specialize in one of them. My adventure began with me taking the only available unit of each faction and creating a ragtag lineup that took advantage of each of their strengths. I can appreciate the versatility, but I miss the unique feel each faction had where you worked with their strengths and weaknesses and rode the theme hard.
Speaking of factions and their units, I especially miss the classic progression on the unit tree. I can’t speak for the most recent Disciples releases as I haven’t had the chance to play them yet, but in Ye Olden Days units would gain experience and then you would choose which type to evolve them into. This would continue multiple times making it so that a squire, for example, would be promoted step by step until they became something outrageous like an angel that was exponentially stronger than they once were. Why this system was cut for one that results in the player just replacing obsolete units instead of upgrading them is lost on me, but at least they level up and every unit has a unique selection of skills. That said, bringing a backline of reserve units that don’t fight but that rain their unique abilities down on friends and allies during the course of a fight is a nice touch.
Swords & Shards
Hero characters join your roster and perform as unique units with impressive talents. You can only bring two of them in with you though they don’t require leadership points to be active in your party like generic units. That said, there isn’t much more to them other than that they can equip a weapon whereas standard units can only equip shards for passive bonuses. On the other hand, Avyanna is capable of equipping weapons, several pieces of armor, and shards, which seriously boosts her capabilities. She’s also able to cast spells that you’ve learned along the way.
Avy’s spells tend to be fun to use, but the equipment system was on the dull side. I often found myself attempting to make sure that my entire party was decked out with the best gear that I’d acquired at the time, though it was never that much fun. Sure, there were some unique items that got a nod from me when I gained them, but I can’t say that the system overall truly improved the gameplay experience overall. I’m going to be an old man screaming from my porch again and say that I would have simply loved a setup where I was upgrading my units down class paths for perks as opposed to temporarily equipping them with bits and pieces of things I’d dug up on my adventures through Nevendaar.
Disciples: Liberation was an entertaining experience even if it wasn’t the one that I was hoping for. My nostalgia was brushed against by the setting of the world but I found myself wanting to go back and play the classic Disciples games more than I wanted to keep pushing through on Liberation. It’s not a bad game by any means, and I had a good time playing it, though it felt far more like a mid-tier King’s Bounty game than anything Disciples. I recommend it to strategy and RPG fans, though only once it’s hit its first good sale. Most of all though, go into it expecting something new, not a revival of a beloved classic.