Acaratus has promise. Distinct promise.
Described as a Medieval Steampunk Turn-Based Role Playing Game, you get exactly what you’re told you’ll get. An MSTBR - which is a few letters short of something bad, so let’s never shorten that again. I didn’t expect much going into Acaratus, taking a look at development team Nodbrim, it’s a tiny staff. That may not have mattered that much in the past, sure, you could get off a decent retro game with a team of two or three, but these days, to compete in this market - a large development team certainly doesn’t hurt.
Having a small one certainly hasn’t hurt Nodbrim.
The game is set just after a war named “The Valerian Conflict”. Helios has crowned himself Emperor - though we’re left wondering how. Presumably there’s a lot more detail contained in the “Cinematic Placeholder” that we have to suffer through missing out on due to this being Early Access. It’s told that Battle Suits won the fight for Emperor Helios - and thus he has set the punishment for owning a Battle Suit as a death sentence. Well, that’s certainly one way to gain popularity. Following this, the “Mechanica” religion formed, supported by empire funds - which quickly overtook the “Church of Manju”, which was frowned upon, then outright condemned by the Emperor. You have to wonder how the people managed to follow the religion of a state-formed body, when they aren’t allowed to own the revered symbol that it idolises without being sentenced to death.
Our story begins with a Slave Trader named “Adina Collora” and her slave “Bolt”. Adina stowed away a Battle Suit from the prying eyes of the emperor - however somehow she managed to let this little fact slip to a slave named Bolt - who subsequently reported it to the Emperor in exchange for his freedom. Clearly, despite being an ex-soldier, Bolt’s not a smart man - and didn’t foresee the betrayal of the Helios Guard coming. The Guard received orders to assassinate the entire household. So our character, Bolt, is forced to assist the Slave Trader whom he despises to gain access to the Battle Suit to free themselves from the compound.
Thus, our journey commences.
Minor plot holes aside - the game is well crafted and it’s obvious a lot of love has been poured into it alongside man hours. It’s very reminiscent of Space Hulk, except this time instead of hulking terminators you have hulking
Steampunk monstrosities. It’s a fun concept, one I thoroughly enjoyed. As soon as you leave your first location it’s clear that customisation is a key focus - as you’re immediately granted some spare parts to modify your BattleSuit. As soon as you view these parts you’re given a mini tutorial (very mini) as to how to customise your Battle Suit - I would have appreciated a lot more guidance here. A breakdown of how I unlock other slots for more Battle Suits to follow me into combat? Why sometimes, when I select a new part, it reverts my entire Suit back to my Core? Presumably, these are things that will be included after the Early Access is finished.
Once you complete your time in the workshop you’re taken to an overhead map that isn’t spectacularly amazing to look at, but again, it’s early days. A nice touch was the weather effect that streamed over the entire map and kept changing - that was gorgeous. On this map you can navigate using the W, A, S, D keys or with the mouse - however, it’s immediately obvious that it’s better to use the WASD keys because as soon as you encounter a step that’s too far distant and thus not visible, the mouse won’t take you there, only using one of the keys will. This was… odd, to say the least. On the overhead map there’s a number of things to keep an eye out for; Nodes- marked in grey, are simply movement points; gold nodes are chests and contain weapons, cards and upgrades; and pictures/red nodes which contain foes to defeat.
Always collect chests before engaging in combat, all too often I realised if I didn’t have the right cards or weapons I was doomed from the outset. Combat is exactly as Nodbrim defined, turn-based tactical. You gain Commander Points depending on your leader and these are what transfers into your “Turn Points” listed in the game as CP. I noticed that the round doesn’t immediately end when you’re out of CP and for a while I thought this meant I could take other actions, but sure enough, not the case. This may be because of the ability cards you find randomly, which it seems you can play at any time throughout your turn - which is great, but left me feeling more reactive than like a tactical genius overseeing battle. I would have preferred the game to make me think ahead and force me to use cards at the start of my turn. So, for example, I needed to plan where I stepped if I used my Guard card (Increases my defense) as opposed to if I didn’t use my Guard card I would need to find better cover.
The first two combats felt genuinely easy, facing one Battle Suit inside the house and one in the “barn”, which turned out to be a gate not a barn? These two combats were simple and straight forward, the first was a one-on-one fight - I felt in danger but not fatally worried. This was quickly counteracted by my second and third battle. You see, in my first run through, I ran into some sort of battle that took me to a garage and, not entirely understanding what it did - I upgraded one of my slots rather than unlocking a new one - not realising how important having two troops in battle would become. I was quickly defeated when confronted with three battle suits (two ranged, one melee) to my one.
Here’s the thing though, I could never again find nor replicate that garage option. Not even once, with three more play throughs. I searched the “guide” that I can access at any time (a feature that I genuinely appreciated Nodbrim) but it didn’t tell me how to unlock these spaces, only that I could do it. Unlocking those spaces probably would have saved me defeat after defeat after defeat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. This greatly hindered any progress I could (and still can’t) make.
The overhead map that you move through from area to area felt beautifully made, yet empty. I would have loved to see more detail, and perhaps I will after Early Access is complete. Though as it stands, it felt a little bland - there was also probably far too many empty nodes with nothing occurring within them between chests and enemies - even random encounters with village people/dialogue sequences would have aided this slightly. There are some minimal frustrations between utilising mouse and keyboard to move from area to area when your mouse refuses to explore a node beyond the fog of war boundaries. Though, over-all, it’s pleasing to the eye and lacks any real issues.
Did any of this stop me having fun? No, not really. I miss games like this. Games that feel thought out and intricate, where there’s a genuine focus on what you can do, what you can build and how you should play. Did I spend far too long in the garage customising my Battle Suit? God yes. Did I laugh at the sometimes cheesy dialogue? Yep. Did I cringe at some of the misspelled words in the dialogue? Yep. Do I still have high hopes for this game? God yes, and I’ll be requesting a review copy when it comes out so I can give you the full run-down of the complete game.
VERDICT It’s worth your money already, especially if you were a fan of tactical overhead games similar to Space Hulk. The customisation feels like it’s going to be endless and varied after the Early Access has ended and I truly hope they stick with the beginning of what they presented here. If they do, then this truly could be a game changer for Nodbrim studios - either way I’ll be following all their releases from today onward. The combat didn’t feel too clunky, though I would have appreciated a softer introduction via tutorials to the combat options and nuances of the game. Niche title’s make my entire world go round and these guys look to be brimming with amazing ideas. Grab this game early so you can see how far they take it in the final version.
Writer, Gamer, Father, Tattoo and Gym Addict, I have no time to do any of it but I want to do it all- So I'll give it a damn good shot.
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