Alaloth: Champions of the Four Kingdoms Preview
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Developed and published by Gamera Interactive, Alaloth: Champions of the Four Kingdoms is an action-RPG that's said to offer fast-paced action in conjunction with a deep narrative, which doesn't happen all that often.
It's also said to be inspired by Baldur's Gate and Pillars of Eternity, and feature some world-building by the one and only Chris Avellone. As such, when the game entered early access, we decided to check it out and see what it had to offer.
First things first. While the game claims to be inspired by Baldur's Gate, it has absolutely nothing in common with the venerable CRPG. Whether you look at the game's narrative, systems, or combat, it's very hard to see any Infinity Engine influences there.
Instead, Alaloth's combat system is pretty much a carbon copy of Dark Souls, only isometric. You have your light and heavy attacks, a stamina bar, blocks, parries and dodges, poise, block-breaking kicks, and even the Bloodborne-style "regain" mechanic. The latter provides you with a grace period after taking damage, during which you can hit your enemies back and restore your missing health.
What sets Alaloth apart is the prevalence of fairly standard action-RPG status effects like stun, bleed and poison, infinite throwing daggers that allow you to snipe distant enemies, and the fact that you regain all your stamina upon breaking an enemy's poise.
To the game's credit, it has the smoothest, most responsive Dark Souls-style combat in an indie game I've seen to date. But due to the isometric perspective, it can be hard to see what's happening and react appropriately, and the tilted camera makes it challenging to properly position yourself.
Then, there are a couple of fundamental issues with the combat system that will hopefully get addressed during early access.
First, there's targeting. If you think Elden Ring was guilty of locking you on to irrelevant things, you'll be pulling your hair out trying to target the correct enemies in Alaloth. On top of it, the game's lock-on keeps turning you around as your enemies move, leaving you open to attacks from all directions. It also has the tendency to ignore certain enemies in a pack, and cycling between targets feels almost random.
Then, we have the issue of enemy attack patterns. You see, in Dark Souls-style games, enemies need to have clear attack patterns with equally clear openings for you to learn and exploit. Alaloth doesn't really have those. Instead, enemies mostly just attack you whenever they feel like it.
You pair that with the game's isometric perspective, and you get a combat system where if you want to win, your best bet is to ignore most of it, forget every move other than the heavy attack, never lock on, and just try to overwhelm your enemies by breaking their poise over and over again. And if they manage to hit you during that, it doesn't really matter since you can regain your lost health if you just keep attacking.
Thankfully, this being an early access release, the developers still have plenty of time to address these issues. The basic fundamentals of a good combat system are there. But it has a long way to go before it can become really fun.
Where's THAC0 When You Need It?
Alaloth's character progression could also use some work. In its current iteration, you can pick between four races - humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs. This is the biggest choice you make, as your race determines your starting kingdom. And that determines the kinds of quests you'll be getting and enemies you'll be fighting in the early game when you are at your weakest.