Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review

General game information

 

Game name: Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Release date: October 3, 2017

Price: US$ 29.99

Available on: Steam

Genre: Turn-based RPG

Developer: Airship Syndicate

Publisher: THQ Nordic

Opencritic: Here

Trailer




Introduction

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a turn-based RPG set in Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers universe, a fantasy world firmly rooted in the late nineties’ fascination with scantily clad heroines and badass looking mysterious heroes.

Setting, story and characters

A gorgeous animated intro sequence sets the scene for the first part of the 40 plus hours long adventure, as our group of would be heroes gets separated after an encounter with sky pirates, crashing in an unknown continent filled to the brim with bandits and dangerous beasts. With the locals against us, we’ll have to take command of three adventurers, searching for lost party members who went missing after our clash with the pirates.

The first few hours of the game will act as a sort of extended tutorial, easing us into the nuances of Battle Chasers: Nightwar‘s combat system, and introducing key characters that will be instantly familiar to fans of Joe Madureira’s comics. It’s important to note that even newcomers to the Battle Chasers universe should have no trouble following the story (as it’s actually a standalone chapter and not a continuation of an already existing storyline) and that there’s tons of lore to be found, doing a great job at immersing us into this steampunk universe.

With the exception of an unexpected twist, Nightwar‘s story follows classic JRPG beats, and while all the characters are competently voiced and have their own personalities, I felt that there was a distinct lack of character development as the adventure went on. Our party members will chat with one another every time we rest at a tavern, giving us a much welcome insight into their personal relationships, but aside from those moments, they will mostly function as a very efficient combat unit, with few non-story related dialogues. This seems like a big missed opportunity, as the characters are genuinely interesting, and I’d love to spend more time with them, learning about their backstories or just watching them talk to one another after a tiresome battle.

Not all the cutscenes are as lavishly detailed as the intro sequence, but I can’t say that I was disappointed with the way developers Airship Syndicate handled key story events, as they chose to present them in comic-style animated scenes that pay homage to the game’s origins in a clever (and great looking) way.

Gameplay

The majority of our time with Battle Chasers: Nightwar will be spent in three different screens; the overworld, an overhead map that lets us follow predefined paths, with points of interest clearly marked to let us know that we are about to fight an enemy or transition to a different screen, the exploration areas, which are 3D scenes with moving enemies, puzzles to be solved and loot to be plundered, and the battle screen, where we’ll engage in turn-based combat with a variety of foes.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar‘s combat system is where the game shines, as expected from a title that will make us spend a great deal of time staring at battle screens. This doesn’t mean that we’ll be forced to fight our way through myriads of random encounters, as the JRPGs of old often did. Thankfully we are living in more modern times, so we’ll always be able to clearly see enemy markers, and choose whether to engage in combat or not (with varying degrees of success, as the foes found on exploration areas will try to attack us on sight).

Dungeons are also marked on the overworld, and once we enter them, we can choose our preferred difficulty level (with an extra Legendary difficulty unlocking after we beat a dungeon on Normal or Hard mode) which will affect the enemy types found inside, their stats, and the quality of the loot obtained from a successful raid. There’s a randomization element present here as well, to avoid boring the player with the same room layout whenever they decide to replay a particular dungeon.

If we decide to start a fight, we’ll be presented with a side view of the battlefield, our three party members to the left, and up to three enemy units at the right. Although the game’s combat is turn-based, we can somewhat alter the order of battle through the use of haste-enhancing stats or abilities, letting us attack our foes twice in a row, for example (or stun our opponents to they miss their turn).

A mana system is in play, powering our most powerful moves and preventing us from spamming healing auras or other useful tools that could break the flow of combat. Interestingly, there are two types of mana, one that is generated by our basic attacks (Overcharge), and does not carry over from battle to battle, and another which can only be replenished through the use of mana potions or resting at an inn. This mechanic adds a lot of strategy and depth to an already engaging combat system, increasing the amount of possibilities we have during each fight.

Every ability has a speed stat attached to it, with our basic attacks all set to instant, and more powerful moves requiring some down time, something that we must learn to manage if we intend to succeed. There’s also a lot of interplay with the different skills at our disposal, with some abilities adding bonus damage if the target enemy is on fire, for example. Status effects play a big role in every battle, whether they are the result of our actions, or they are inflicted on us.

As we progress through the story, another resource meter will be unlocked, a “Burst gauge” that will slowly fill up as turns pass, and once full, will let us unleash powerful moves that are specific to each playable party member.

Combining Burst with the use Overcharge and other abilities will be essential if we wish to progress through the game without banging our head against the wall, and we’ll quickly establish a pattern for most fights, attacking with basic skills in order to generate overcharge, using that to avoid wasting our mana, and preferably spending our Burst gauge on group heal abilities, so we can keep everyone on the green and ready for battle. Luckily, although all the systems involved could feel overwhelming for newcomers to the turn-based RPG genre, the game does an amazing job with the way it introduces them, avoiding long and boring tutorials, but also staying away from quick and dirty explanations that would surely be forgotten the minute we closed the text popups.

Aside from combat, we’ll also spend a great deal of time exploring beautifully rendered 3D scenarios, solving puzzles, fishing (which is actually a fully fleshed out activity and not just a boring minigame) and looting new equipment. The latter of those activities will be very important if we intend to succeed in our quest, and Diablo fans will probably feel right at home here, thanks to color coded item drops that will gradually improve our characters’ combat capabilities.

Our characters can make use of some special abilities outside of combat, such as a stealth field that lets us ignore enemies, or a healing tonic that will rejuvenate our party’s weary spirit. Of course, those skills can’t be spammed, and they run out after a set number of uses, requiring a visit to the local inn if we wish to replenish them.

Party members will gain experience from every fight they participate in, and while we can’t allocate points in “normal” stats, we’ll be able to select different perks that can greatly improve their damage output. Defeating enemies in combat will also unlock new perks that may grant us buffs against certain types of foes, a welcome addition to an already quite interesting character development mechanic.

Gamers who enjoy making their own equipment will be happy to learn that Battle Chasers: Nightwar also features a relatively straightforward crafting system, which will let us create new weapons and armor, as well as a number of different potions that could save us during heated battles. New blueprints and recipes can be bought from a number of shops, or found as we advance through the story, and defeated enemies will drop materials in abundance.

So far, everything has been going swimmingly in the gameplay department, but I do have two things to complain about:

  1. Once we’ve unlocked all the playable characters, we’ll have to either focus on three of them, or take the other three for a spin from time to time, as the only way to earn experience seems to be through combat, and “parked” party members stay at the level they were when we swapped them out. This leads to somewhat excessive grinding if we intend to be on equal terms with late-game opponents.
  2. In order to swap party members we’ll have to travel all the way to the inn, and sometimes that means we’ll spend entire minutes walking through the overworld or looking for a teleporter.

The first of those two complaints is just a minor gripe, as the game’s combat is genuinely fun and I didn’t mind the extra grinding time, but the second is more severe, since there is no point in having to traverse long distances looking for a teleporter back to the inn.

Graphics, sound and performance

Nightwar isn’t a technically impressive game, but its world feels alive thanks to an excellent soundtrack, some clever use of ambient sounds and Joe Madureira’s gorgeous art syle. The overworld is exquisitely drawn, exploration areas are packed with tiny details, and the battle scenes let the player experience the thrill of combat with weighty animations that illustrate the heft of every attack move.

I had some issues with long loading times (which were mostly solved by the day-one patch) and aside from that there isn’t a lot to report on the performance front.

Conclusion

Battle Chasers: Nightwar hits a few bumps along the road, but overall, Airship Syndicate‘s debut title is a resounding success, thanks to its excellent combat system and gorgeous art style.

9/10 – Great.

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