General game information
Game name: Iron Tides
Release date: 24 July, 2017 (Early Access)
Price: US$ 14.99 (the developers have announced that the price will increase when the game leaves Early Access)
Store page: Steam
Genre: Adventure game with turn-based combat and roguelike elements
Developer: Crash Wave Games
Publisher: Crash Wave Games
Iron Tides places us in command of a band of Viking raiders as they attempt to establish a permanent base in a stormy sea full of pirates and high tech mercenaries. Crash Wave Games‘ debut title mixes exploration with turn based battles, and dead warriors will not come back to life, so we’ll have to choose our enemies wisely and know when to retreat if things go south.
Story and setting
Our journey starts right after a loved hero departs the Viking base, and our first task is locating his fleet and warriors. Sadly, things didn’t go very well for him, so the first part of the campaign will quickly turn from search and rescue mission to revenge raid. The current build of Iron Tides is light on story elements, but the basic foundations of the open ended campaign are already there, and they serve as a great guided tutorial.
Aside from the story based content, we can also engage in secondary missions that will provide much needed boosts to our economy (both Glory, which is used to recruit new warriors, and Hacksilver, a currency needed to purchase ship upgrades and supplies) and every exploration map scene will feature small encounters that ask us to choose between a few options (for instance, upon finding a farmer, we could help him out and earn Glory, or steal his sheep and refill our food supplies).
As soon as the tutorial portion ends, we’ll find out that the stormy seas hide more than just pirates or bandit outposts, as high tech mercenaries make an explosive entrance. Carrying gunpowder weaponry and traveling in ships armed with cannons, they quickly let us know that the world of Iron Tides isn’t exactly our own.
Iron Tides features three main portions that will consume our time. The first is the home base menu, a safe place where we can sell goods obtained during our raids, upgrade our ship, recruit new raiders and level up our experienced warriors. The second portion is the exploration map, where we’ll move our ship with the W, A, S and D keys (or the mouse). Here, we’ll have to worry about our stamina, since our Vikings require food or ale or they’ll soon starve, losing health with every move. Luckily, we can either acquire a reasonable amount of supplies before setting sail, or if we feel brave enough, we can also live off the land, raiding outposts and taking their food for ourselves. As we start each mission, the exploration map will be covered by fog, and our movement will gradually reveal it, letting us access icons that signify battle scenes, important events or trade ports.
As important as food and beverages are, we should always try to have a few free spots in our inventory, since at the start of the game it’s quite limited and we gain far more currency from recovered items than we do if we decide to break them down in the exploration screen.
The third portion of the game is the battle screen, which shows both our troops and and our foe’s from an isometric perspective in a tile based map. At the start of every battle we can choose the warriors we want to use (if we have more than the number required for each scenario) and after deploying them, we can engage the enemy and try to eliminate all of their troops. Successful commanders will always keep an eye on their forces’ movement capabilities and Fury points, a limited resource that powers our warriors’ abilities.
Every character can move up to two tiles, and movement does not affect their fighting skills. Some characters can also use other abilities to move further than the standard two tiles (such as the Valkyrie’s Leap, which lets her jump over obstacles and empty spaces, disrupting the enemy’s defenses) but they must use their Fury points in order to do this, restricting their offensive potential.
Positioning our forces well could be the difference between victory and defeat, as every character comes with their own effective range and the battlefield also offers tactical options that will improve or hamper our accuracy, such as cover blocks or elevated areas.
As expected from a tactics-heavy title, Iron Tides features a number of different units which all come with specific abilities. We’ll start with melee Vanguards and ranged Hunters, but soon after the tutorial is over, we’ll have to learn how to use new characters, such as the Valkyrie and the Berserker. Using our Vikings’ abilities in full will be key in most battles, as the enemy forces usually possess a numeric advantage.
Aside from using superior tactics, we can also turn the tide of the battle with powerful buffs that must be consumed before entering the combat screen (while we are on the exploration map). These buffs come from items that take away precious inventory space, but we should always prioritize our raiders’ benefit when setting sail for difficult scenarios, as losing a party member is a permanent event, forcing us to say goodbye to warriors who have been with us from the beginning (as well as their valuable combat experience, since new recruits will not start at the same level).
Graphics, sound and performance
Iron Tides is not a particularly stunning game, but the low poly art can be quite charming. Characters and ship models are stylized and cartoonish, an art style that works quite well for the genre, as battle scenes are easy to read and the environment never obscures our units. I particularly liked the musical score, a mix of epic songs for the combat engagements and relaxing tunes for the exploration map.
Performance wise, Iron Tides feels smooth as butter, once again disproving the widely believed myth that the Unity engine is a resource hog.
Featuring an entertaining mix of exploration, resource management and turn-based combat, Iron Tides is Early Access done right. There is enough content to keep players engaged for hours, and I didn’t experience any crashes or signs of lack of polish during my time with the game.