Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2019-05-15
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Introduction

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest is a tactical turn-based RPG where you control a team of heroes tasked with protecting an ancient forest from unnatural corruption. The game was developed by the folks over at Ctrl Alt Ninja, and while the studio itself may be new, its key members are anything but novices, having previously created the Legend of Grimrock games under the banner of Almost Human Games.

An isometric tactical RPG is quite a departure from a real-time first-person dungeon crawler, and having completed Druidstone, I'm afraid it can be considered a shining example of the old, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” saying. Still, even though Druidstone is not in the same vein as their exemplary first efforts and ultimately not as good as I hoped it would be, it certainly has its merits. So let's see what works and what doesn't, shall we?

Gameplay

The game starts with your party fighting a bunch of angry slugs over some mushrooms. Initially, this party includes a confused warrior who doesn't know much about anything, an archer connected to the local druids which gives her access to an assortment of support spells, and a mischievous accolyte who specializes in offensive spells and battlefield manipulation. Later on, they'll be joined by a ninja spirit who speaks Japanese.

Prior to fighting the slugs, your heroes exchange a few words and after the fight is over and the slugs are defeated, they chat again before moving on to the level select screen. This is Druidstone's basic mission structure. Get some dialogue, fight some monsters, get some more dialogue. Repeat 35 times.

Granted, some of these 35 missions break this mold by offering you a puzzle of the block-moving, plate-pressing variety instead of a battle, but those don't happen all that often.

The main meat of Druidstone are its turn-based battles. And credit where credit is due, these battles are fairly competent and challenging. During your turns, your characters can move and attack by using an assortment of fairly unique skills. Initially, things seem a bit too simplistic as you don't have that many tactical options. But as you go through the game and unlock new skills, find better gear, and get access to some summoning spells, your turns can become quite complex.

On top of the primary mission objectives that will have you defeating certain enemies, reaching particular points on the map, or surviving for a set number of turns, each mission will give you some optional tasks. Open all the chests to get some bonus gold, discover a crate with some stuff you can buy after the mission is over, that sort of thing.

The game is not particularly easy, either. If you know your way around a tactical game, the normal difficulty may pose a bit of a challenge early on if you aim to complete every objective on each level. Later, when you know what you're doing and have access to more options, normal becomes quite easy, but you can always change the game's difficulty in the settings menu and crank it up to hard.

And while I definitely had some fun playing Druidstone, the one thing you should keep in mind is that it was originally conceptualized as this procedurally generated roguelite experience, but halfway through the game's development cycle, that idea was abandoned in favor of a more hand-crafted deterministic approach.

What this means is, the enemies you fight on each mission are predetermined, the damage you inflict and take does not have a roll associated with it, there is generally no chance to miss, and given the exact same actions on your part, the missions will unfold in exactly the same way. This also means that whenever a mission starts, every single enemy is immediately aware of your presence, which limits your strategic options to all-out assaults and beelining to the mission objective while ignoring everything else.

The game's clean and well-made UI insures that you always know what will happen at any point. And if you make a mistake, you can undo your turn and try again, which is a really convenient feature to have.

However, going back to the game's procedurally generated origins, some specters of that past have managed to make their way into the final version. For example, when dying, enemies have a chance to drop nothing, some gold, a health point, or an action point. The latter in particular can drastically alter your actions, but you never know which one you'll get and if you reload, you get a different outcome. Same goes for the crates scattered throughout levels. A couple of abilities can also inflict the dazed status effect, which makes it so every attack has a 50% chance to miss. Things like these feel extremely out of place in a game where everything else is set in stone.