The Year of the Turn-Based Strategy Game
Gaming has trends that seem to change each year whether that be the Year of the Bow (well, couple years as some of those games ended up getting pushed) to a year full of rogue-likes or rogue-lites...honestly, who the hell comes up with these terms? These trends come to us from both mainstream big budget releases and small independent studios. Looking at the games that have been announced this year, I noticed a trend of turn-based strategy games that are both high profile and from the relatively unknown. A lot of these titles are available now whether it's early-access or a full release. I've put together this list of the ones that I've had the opportunity to check out.
One of the first releases of the year is a charmingly well done turn-based strategy game called The Banner Saga from Stoic Studio. Despite the fact that it has been marred by some ridiculous controversy beyond its control (you can read about this eye rolling ridiculousness here at Kotaku), The Banner Saga is a game that far exceeds the price of admission. This was a game that, for me, kind of came out of nowhere as I didn't know a whole lot about it prior to release. I was looking at the game's Steam page the day before it launched and was completely drawn in by the art style on display. It didn't hurt that I'm a huge fan of turn-based strategy games. It seemed like a no brainer purchase to me, even though I was skeptical of making a bad purchase. I'm thrilled to say that was not the case and it has easily become my favorite release of the year so far. The Banner Saga features combat that is easy to learn but challenging to master as the game can see a bit of a difficulty spike at times. Not only does the combat satisfy, but it has a full-fledged role playing game behind it that has you make tough choices and changes completely based on the choices you make. That gives this saga a huge replay value and the story will keep you engaged and wanting for more. There can also be more unexpected character deaths than a Joss Whedon show, so you need to make sure to pick those choices wisely or that awesome warrior you've grown attached to may bite the bullet.
Speaking of mixing RPGs in your TBS, the next game that I wanted to talk a bit about is Blackguards. Blackguards is a turn-based role playing game set in the world of The Dark Eye, one of Europe's most popular pen and paper universes. I have a more detailed look at the game in my preview, which you can check out here. In the preview, I said " For those who want a great RPG story, I would wait until the final product comes out and see how the full story turns unfolds before jumping in. For those who are looking for more turn-based strategy, this is a good pick from what I've experienced so far and would be worth the price of admission and could turn into a great pick once we see the final release." With the game launching today you can expect to hear more about it in the next few weeks as I get a chance to play through the whole game in its finished state.
Stealth action isn't usually tied to turn-based strategy as much as the role playing game is, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for it. This rings true with Klei Entertainment's Invisible, Inc. which features stealth, turn based gameplay, randomly generated missions, and Klei's quirkiness all in one awesome package. The game hasn't seen a full release yet, but you can get in on the action early by getting a code straight from Invisible, Inc.'s website. With the game still in Alpha, there is still a lot to be done but it's coming along nicely. It blends the charm of Klei's previous games like Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve with tactical espionage and a conspiracy to boot. I've only gotten the chance to check out a tiny bit of the game so far (about an hour) and I know I'm going to end up sinking hours into it as I learn the game's mechanics. There is a bit of a learning curve with this one as you're not just jumping out there and completing a randomized combat scenario. You need to actually make the effort to not get caught, steal items of importance, hack the planet, and more. Combat is last on the list, and that's what helps make this game stand out from other turn-based experiences. I can't wait to dive into this one some more!
The final game that I'm going to talk about, that you can actually get your hands on now, is Divinity: Original Sin. This is the latest game in the Divinity series and has some very unique features. This game also goes into the realm of RPGs as you're place in an isometric world akin to the likes of Baldur's Gate or Diablo. You would even mistake it for playing like those games whether it be real time combat with pausing or mouse-clicking action but they've actually taken a turn-based approach to the game that I think strategists will enjoy. I've also not had too much time to play around with Divinity yet but I can already see the makings of a worthwhile experience. The combat seems very easy to pick up and play and I can tell it will be more complex and add a lot of strategy as my characters level up along with the progression of the story. Even at the outset, the combat is challenging and you have a sense that you could die in any encounter. There are encounters that can be completely avoided through wits and teamwork, however. This is one of the unique features in the game that makes me want to play it with another. You can see how awesome the dialog system is just by playing the single player campaign but it's really a feature meant to for cooperative play. In Divinity: Original Sin, your two protagonists actually have different dialog conversations and can support or argue with each other when making decisions. This is very awesome to see in the single player campaign, but in co-op each person gets to make those dialog choices. This will not only help to build the relationship between the characters that you're playing as but could also the relationship between you and your co-op companion. This could easily lead to some interesting situations inside and outside the game, and I can't wait to dive more deeply into it. I'm looking forward to seeing how this game progress as it's still a bit rough around the edges (still in alpha, mind you) but has a lot of promise.
The above titles aren't the only turn-based strategy games coming out this year as there are some huge releases ahead. I just wanted to highlight some of the ones that you can get your hands on now if you're so inclined to do so. I plan on showcasing more of these games in the future including big releases such as Double Fine's Massive Chalice and Supergiant's Transistor, which both look pretty amazing. I also plan to cover some of the lesser known titles like Line of Defense Tactics, which is based on the comic book series of the same name. For now, I'm going to go back to playing these games as they continue to improve and you should too.
You can check out more of Trevor's stuff by click his name up at the tippy top of this article or you can see his daily musings on Twitter @TrevorOsz and he frequents many of the podcasts here on the Spiderduck Network. You can also comment down below if you feel as though your voice needs heard, which we would certainly appreciate.