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Alder’s Blood Review – X-COM Meets Dark Dungeon

Alder’s Blood, is a successful Kickstarter developed by Shockwork Games, it’s a highly tactical and highly stealth oriented turn-based strategy game set in a dark Lovecraftian and wild-west inspired world.

An obvious love-letter to games like Darkest Dungeon, X-COM, and Banner Saga with some minor RPG elements, a generational progression system and quite a few variations to the strategy formula, will Alder’s Blood be granted a spot among the incredible games it tries to emulate? Or will it be forgotten amidst the oversaturated turn-based strategy genre?

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STORY

Alder’s Blood’s story starts off with a short cutscene where a nameless horseman is speaking to an unknown entity. (perhaps even himself, it’s pretty vague at this point) He is explaining that his journey has almost finally reached its conclusion. His quest has led him to a sacred place beyond “The Exiled Wastelands” called “The Crown”, where he hopes to find the actual, corporeal body of God who has been murdered by humanity and left to rot.

You soon learn that the horseman’s name is Duke and he has been charged with the harrowing task of finding this rotting corpse, which will supposedly end the spread of dark corruption that has blanketed the world in perpetual twilight. It’s because of this rot that this once “peaceful and loving” continent called “The Cradle” has been overrun by all manner of “beastly abominations”. Taking control of Duke for the last couple of steps of his journey a short tutorial plays out, where we are taught the basics of combat, but unfortunately, this is the last time we are able to play as Duke. After reaching the summit of “The Crown,” (The place where God’s body is thought to be) another small cutscene plays, and the story shifts from 3 rd person to 1st person where you take on the role of “Chief”, the aptly named chief of the “Exiled Hunters” this is the character that you will be playing as for the duration of the game.

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Much like in Darkest Dungeon none of the hunters you’re initially given control of will live very long due to the “generational progression mechanics.” So insteadyou essentially play as the commander of all the hunters that find their way in your party. By way of journal entry, the player learns that, Duke has been missing for about three months and has finally been tracked through the wastelands to where he may or may not have met an untimely demise.

Traveling to “The Crown” and accompanied by 4 loyal hunters Chief finds, Duke broken and blinded, bloodied rags covering his eyes and he seems to have gone mad. Duke tells you that he didn’t find God’s rotting carcass but something else entirely, something that showed him visions of ghastly monstrosities and an even bigger threat coming to rain it’s wrath upon humanity. Duke tells you that, before he left a friend of his named Morton Wright told him that while researching the cause of the blight he found long forgotten, sacred texts that prophesized that The Exiled Hunters (the group that you are a member of) are destined to cure the sickness of the world and return it to its former glory. Exiled Hunters are considered outcasts of society and are shunned by the rest of humanity because of their ability to harness the corruption that plagues the world, which in turn grants them supernatural abilities.

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Now, going into this I didn’t expect much as far as a story was concerned and what I got was completely opposite. Most of the story is delivered by interacting with NPCs, and through journal entries that the player character recites, in partially written, partially voice acted dialogue. I was met with a surprisingly rewarding narrative, with quite a few unique ideas that kept me intrigued and invested for much of my playthrough.

There were a few twists and turns (which is to be expected in many games like this), some political intrigue, and quite a few NPCs that I genuinely enjoyed interacting with. Although the premise was nothing exceptionally new, (The world is corrupted and it’s up to you to restore it to its original state because a prophecy says so), I genuinely enjoyed my time in this surprisingly rich world with its surprisingly deep lore.

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GAMEPLAY

alder's blood

Gameplay is where Alder’s Blood really shines. I’m sure most people are familiar with tactical turn-based combat by now, most of us have played Darkest Dungeon, Fire Emblem 3 houses, Wargroove, Banner Saga and the like. Alder’s Blood has a few unique variations to the formula which I found engaging and refreshing. After a the tutorial you’re given control of 4 different and unique hunters, these hunters are not randomized, they’re the same each time you start or restart the game (which unfortunately will happen often) luckily the tutorial can be skipped after the initial time you play it, which helps you get back into the action quicker should all of your hunters be killed during battle.

There are two distinct and separate parts to the gameplay of Alder’s Blood. The first is the called the “Regional view” for some reason, but for the sake of this review I will call it the “Camping Menu” because this is where you “camp” although there are many more things to do than just camping. For example: this is where you can manage your hunters and their equipment, recruit new hunters, and initiate travel. This is also where you talk to NPCs, trade with vendors, initiate quests as well as where you’re able to perform all of the “camping tasks” that are necessary for survival in this desolate and harsh environment.

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Theses tasks include resting after combat to restore any lost hit points, guarding your party from ambushes by roving bands of monsters, this is where you scavenge for food and resources, and craft weapons and consumables. Vendors provide additional means to obtain food which is necessary to keep your hunters alive, as well as sell weapons, different types of abilities, traps, blueprints for crafting, charms which buff character stats, and healing items that can unfortunately only be used during quests. Subsequently resources and blueprints can also be obtained by successfully completing certain quests and side quests. The “Camping Menu” is where you will be spending a good portion of your play through, and I found it easy enough to navigate, the only issue I had was with crafting.

Although this action is explained well, I found it to be quite a convoluted process. First you have to set a hunter to “crafting,” in the “task menu” then you have to back out of the “task” menu and open the crafting menu, which is an entirely separate screen, after selecting the item you want to be crafted, you place the item into a crafting queue, by pressing Y, back out of that screen and then select the “wait a day” option in order to initiate the action. I feel like this could’ve been simplified in some way; however, I could be wrong seeing as I don’t really know all of the ins and outs of game development and programing.

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There are a surprisingly decent amount of quests and side quests in Alder’s Blood which you can partake in. I like that, I didn’t have to follow the main storyline but rather I was able to explore the entirety of the map right after the tutorial. This comes with its own set of perils however, while traveling on the overworld map, my party was often ambushed by groups of roving monsters. Which immediately initiated a combat scenario. This didn’t occur so much at the beginning of the game but grew more and more frequent the longer I played.

Like most strategy games you’re given a maximum range of movement that can be made by any given character represented by a white outline. Each hunter also starts with a stamina bar containing 40 points of stamina which can be raised as you progress either by obtaining certain charms or through leveling up. If the player moves within the maximum space you’re allotted, no stamina will be drained from your stamina bar. You do however have the option to move beyond your allotment, but this will cost you a bit of stamina, depending how far you move outside of your range decides how much stamina it will cost.

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After selecting a hunter (you can change your selection by pressing R1) Player movement is made by hovering the cursor over an unoccupied node with the left stick and then pressing the “a” button to initiate the action. There are countless monster types, and I was always being introduced to some new type of eldritch baddie. These ranged from standard werewolves, to squawking birdlike creatures that would alert anyone within earshot to your presence, to invincible floating wraiths, and so many more.

I was very impressed with the enemy variety. There are also countless types of abilities you can equip, melee weapons, to acquire like axes, swords, knives, and machetes, as well as ranged weapons like rifles, pistols, shotguns, harpoon launchers, and the like, enough to fit any play style. There is however a drawback to using ranged weapons. Alder’s Blood is unique in the fact that in addition to enemies seeing or hearing one of your hunters, they’re also able to track your scent.

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That’s right monsters can smell you. This is represented by a line of “scent” trailing behind your hunter. Which could shift direction any given turn, based on wind direction. If a hunter was seen, heard or smelled by an enemy, that enemy would interrupt any action you may be performing and automatically attack you. Your scent line could be decreased by equipping certain charms but would increase if you decided to carry a ranged weapon, due to the smell of the gunpowder. I liked the added depth in combat because of the scent mechanic.

Combat in itself is very satisfying, because Alder’s Blood relies heavily on stealth, you’re encouraged to take this approach by hiding in tall grass or bushes, throwing pebbles (that every hunter is automatically equipped with) and sneaking up behind an unwitting enemy to perform a back stab. If performed correctly the enemy will be immobilized long enough so that you can banish it. Banishment is dark art known by all hunters that allows you to instantly vanquish an immobilized enemy without further need for combat.

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Hunter’s also possess an ability called 6th sense which allows you to see if any enemies are lurking off screen just outside of your vision. 6th sense is activated by pressing down on the D-pad and I found this ability very helpful while traversing the dark corners of this terrifying world. The more time spent fighting and banishing enemies the more a hunter’s corruption level will grow. This will inevitably lead your hunter to “snap” and possibly attack his fellow party members. Whenever a hunter’s corruption rises, you’re notified by an on screen prompt, and while back at you camp you have the option to perform a “Sacrificial Rite” which kills the corrupted hunter but transfers any experience gained through combat or completing quests, to a different hunter. It made losing a hunter more bearable because everything wasn’t lost upon death.

One thing I can say for sure is Alder’s Blood’s combat is brutally difficult. Although you can save from your camp menu, this wasn’t something that I was explicitly made aware of. I had to start from the beginning quite a few times and this may be frustrating and a dealbreaker for many people. Being a huge fan of challenging games like Dark Souls and Darkest Dungeon, I was determined to complete my journey, but I’m sad to say that after a while I was forced to give up because of my inability to complete one quest I had been stuck on for a couple of days. I even went back to a previous save and tried doing everything differently a few times but ultimately, I was unable to complete the entire game.

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AUDIO

I enjoyed the audio in Alder’s Blood, it did an amazing job of setting a tone in this dark and dreary world. With a combination of dark synth melodies and haunting sounds, like crows cawing in the distance or the hoofbeats of the hunter’s horse as it galloped to its next destination. It did a good job of hitting highs when combat intensified and tapering off into moody undertones when there was a lull in the action. I did have a couple of issues with the audio however, the partially voice acted dialogue, actually took away from my immersion.

It was only a word or two at most for much of the story usually while transitioning to a different character’s dialogue, someone would audibly say “Chief” or “Good Sirs” and then the rest of the exposition would be in written text. This is more of a personal gripe, and didn’t ruin it for me, in the least bit, it was just something I didn’t care too much for. The other thing was the variety in the soundtrack was a bit lacking, I would’ve liked a little bit more.

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I felt like after the first few hours I had heard entirety of the composition and it gave way to a lot of repetition. Overall, I enjoyed it for the most part, aside from those two small complaints.

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VISUALS & PERFORMANCE

alder's blood

Alder’s Blood uses a combination of hand drawn animation during battle sequences (much like Banner Saga) and beautiful still frame watercolor images in the parts that play out almost like an interactive novel. There is a great blending of dark greens and browns, with vibrant and colorful purples and blues, maroons, reds, yellows and oranges on display.

I absolutely love the art style. It’s a perfect juxtaposition of light and dark, to great effect. I believe the art style is by far Alder’s Blood’s strongest quality, outside of the challenging yet engaging combat. You can see from almost every static background scene; a lot of care went into each colorful backdrop.

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The graphics aren’t anything that will set the world on fire but, I enjoyed them very much. I didn’t find any bugs or performance drops during my playthrough. All and all, it ran and played beautifully.

VALUE

Alder’s Blood is $19.99 with a 25% discount until March 29th, €19,99 which brings it down to €14,99, and £17.99 with the same discount bringing it down to £13.49. With a surprisingly massive amount of quests, side activities, exploration and random encounters, Alder’s Blood is quite robust. After nearly 20 hours of play before I was unable to proceed, I felt as if the asking price was more than justified.

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There is quite a lot of content here and the 25% discount just makes it that much easier to fit it into your budget. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really say if there was any replay ability as I was unable to finish due to the challenge of some of the later game combat.

Alder’s Blood Review provided by SwitchWatch.co.uk
Developer: No Gravity Games
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Price: $19.99, £17.99, €19,99
Game Size: 1.5GB

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alder's blood
  • Story - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Gameplay - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Audio - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Visuals & Performance - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Value - 6.5/10
    6.5/10

Summary

Alder’s Blood has a unique and engaging story. A thoroughly interesting take on progression, and a challenging but ultimately engaging combat system. I enjoyed my time in this dark and haunting world. I can definitely say that this game isn’t for everyone, and I’m sure a lot of people may be turned off by the difficulty. But if you’re up for a challenge and you enjoy stealth and turn-based tactical gameplay with some truly engrossing enemies set in a dark and dismal, apocalyptic world, countless weapons, traps and abilities to acquire, then Alder’s Blood may be the game for you.

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Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10

Pros

  • Fun Combat
  • Beautiful Artstyle
  • Engaging Story

Cons

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  • Brutally Difficult
  • Convoluted crafting system
  • Repetitive Soundtrack
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