The Dark Crystal was a beloved film back in the 1980s and certainly won my heart with its character design, charm and storytelling. When Netflix announced the series, I was immediately clamouring for a release waiting for the day I’d eventually get to see it – Netflix delivered in such massive scopes and bounds that it brought tears of joy. So when there was an announcement for a game based on the Netflix series, I couldn’t hold back my feelings and was gleeful to know that I can enter the world myself instead of seeing it on the screen. Six months passed from the release of the series to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics.
As the game name instigates, the game is a retelling of the events of the series. There are some parts of the story not told in the series – such as when some characters have differentiating paths. When they’re all converged, the story is the same; this is both this game’s saviour and a curse.
All the major plot points, characters and stages are included within the game, but it leaves out a lot of padding that is required to make the game any sense, most likely assuming that the player has already watched the Netflix show. Thankfully I have seen the show. Despite that, the flow of the story seemed like it was jumping from one plot to the next.
For anyone that has not seen the series, there would be so much confusion that you would be forgiven for not understanding the lore of the world. Instead, the depiction of critical moments is in comic-style driven videos that have a brief amount of dialogue before dropping you back onto the world map.
There are points in the story where dialogue is displayed on the world map to justify skipping the character development and moving straight on to the next mission. A missed opportunity to flesh out the lore for non-watchers of the series, even a menu option showcasing detailed transcriptions of the characters would have helped alleviate the shortcomings. A brief assumption of their class is in place instead of more character development and lore.
These menu screens, however, are lacklustre, you have three main categories – Classes, Abilities and Equipment. Every character can utilise another class at specific levels; each of these classes has its own set of skills which are limited to three. Once your characters hit level ten, then you can set a secondary class for them.
Once you acquire a secondary class, then your characters are given more abilities to use, but these have defaulted abilities that are available at level one. Despite that, there are other abilities available that are mixed skills from the two classes chosen.
Choosing a secondary class also opens up your potential equipment. Assuming that your goal is to go Warrior/Paladin then you will only be able to choose heavy armour. If you select Scout as a secondary class instead, then medium-based armour will be available to use.
It’s a system that isn’t used too often in games. When it works it offers a lot of potential and customizability, however, with the presentation of the class structure, you are heavily limited due to being forced to use only three abilities from the primary-class tree. With so many skills on offer, I found myself skipping the most useful ones for the majority of the game until the spruced-up version was available to use.
With such a simple and basic menu system, it is tedious to navigate, having more time spent navigating menus instead of a quick switch. For instance, changing several characters’ abilities, why can’t I have a button to switch characters instead of pressing back twice before selecting another character and going into another two menus from that point? The same applies to many instances throughout the menu system.
The simplicity of the multi-class system also hinders the potential this game should have had. With there being a convergence towards fewer classes, the number of characters required for a reliable team diminishes with every battle. Mostly you only need one healer, a mage, a DPS and two tanks, as long as everyone has a heal option, then almost every battle is a cake-walk.
That is until you hit a brick wall where the mission’s level cap jumps. Sometimes this can require a specific skill that is part of another class or just levelling your characters enough and forcing you to back-peddle and grind specific battles over and over again.
Fortunately, there’s a subtle variation in regards to the terrain of each battle ranging from flatlands to high desert cliffs and taverns to libraries. There are also environmental hazards to avoid and other hazards being part of the turn order which helps spice the tactics up a bit.
Each character has a turn timer placed on a timeline at the top of the screen; all enemies and events on the same timeline affect the turn order of the events during battle. Skipping a character’s turn will allow them to make another turn faster than if they spent both action points, effectively putting them at the back of the queue. Skipping turns can be strategically played and make moves and proceeding attacks and heals for a predetermined attack on enemies sooner.
Character positions can change dynamically throughout the battles with the environmental effects such as the dust storms pushing characters across the screen against walls or boulders being pushed against monsters causing damage and not only pushing them back but also creating an obstacle to move around. There are also several pit types that cause varying degrees of damage and is an excellent strategic way of pushing enemies into the pits to create an advantage.
Positioning is a crucial factor, however, and the tactics here makes things quite cumbersome and often frustrating. Unlike other tactics based games where you can rotate your characters on the spot to point them in a direction, in Age of Resistance Tactics you’re forced to go with whatever the AI decides to point you in. You can’t even control which squares your character takes to reach its destination.
As there is only a single movement point per turn, if you wanted to move three squares to the left and look forward, there is no option but to only look left - this leaves you open for an enemy to backstab you for considerably more damage. This situation is the major crux with the game’s tactics overall. It can leave the experience not only frustrating but at times, making an easy fight impossible until you grind and come back later.
Weapons and armour are quite limited throughout the story. You earn pearls after each battle, and you can spend these in the shop via the world map. During the grinding phase, it’s effortless to generate enough pearls that you can deck out your main characters enough to make the next set of battles a walkover. What is bewildering is that once you purchase an item, you can not sell it at a later point in the game.
Such a basic necessity yet not being able to sell items feels like forced padding to make you grind out the game for more extended playtime. In almost every game there is a way to sell items you no longer require or even turn them into materials to upgrade weapons and armour, of which this game is also devoid!
The basics of a tactical game are there, and the best parts of many tactics games are present, but they’re either poorly implemented or just not expanded. The mechanics make the battles incredibly dull and simplistic – so much so that you would be forgiven to think this game is targeted at the mobile market over computers and consoles.
A massively missed opportunity for what could have been an essential purchase, but, instead we’re given a bland experience with many features incorporating next to no features. If there is a rework or a sequel then perhaps more time could be spent on improving the core mechanics rather than rushing through a tie-in game.