Game name: Othercide
Release date: July 27, 2020
Available on: Steam
Genre: Turn-based tactics
Developer: Lightbulb Crew
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Lightbulb Crew‘s Othercide caught my eye a while ago, thanks to a striking art style (seriously, why aren’t there more games that look as good as this one does?) and an intriguing mix of genres. You see, where most XCOM-likes are content with either giving the player number of linear story missions to accompany their turn-based combat, or putting them in control of some sort of world-conquering/saving affair that involves a world map and plenty of choices on where to strike next, Othercide goes with neither option, instead putting us smack dab in the middle of a roguelike’s cycle of defeat and rebirth. Oh, and you have to sacrifice units in order to heal others, because why not? So, are you ready to join me in this journey through a strange land as I tell you what I thought of this little gem?
In spite of its roguelike mechanics, Othercide actually has a pretty in-depth storyline, something that, depending on the player, might be a boon or a curse. I guess I’m kind of in the middle ground here, as I enjoyed the storyline itself, but found its somewhat frequent interruptions of the action a bit too much. Of course I’m not going to spoil any major events in this review, but the basic premise is that there’s an army of terrifying monstrosities ready to destroy the world, and the only thing between them and their objective is our character and their small army of daughters, who’ll be doing a whole lot of dying, reincarnating, and being sacrificed as the plot advances and we take part in the myriad of battles that separate us from the end of the game.
This cycle of death and rebirth is also mirrored in the way the game works around failure. We are not expected to beat Othercide in one go, but will instead advance from day to day, fighting battles, winning some, losing some, and then facing a powerful boss that requires all of our tactical prowess if we wish to beat it. Should we fail at this task, we’ll be sent back to the start, but there is a currency (Shards) that will let us make the next run easier, so there’s always a sense of progress, even if we are beating our skull against a boss over and over again. Advance enough through the campaign, and you’ll also be able to bypass previously defeated bosses, something that I was very thankful for near the end of the story, because even though I quite enjoyed the combat, I can’t say that I was 100% onboard with the repetitiveness of the whole thing (though to be fair, I’ll freely admit that I am not the most skilled strategy game player, so the length of my playthrough might have been influenced by my repeated failures).
Of course, tactical combat is the meat of the game, and in this aspect, Othercide excels like very few similar titles do. Our small army of would-be world saviors will be composed of three main archetypes (plus another that I’d rather not discuss as it sort of veers into spoiler territory), the sword-wielding Blademaster, who can deal staggering amounts of damage, but is otherwise ill-equipped for defensive combat, the ranged/support Soulslinger, equipped with revolvers for long-range combat, and enough utility to help out sisters in need, and the tanky Shieldbearer, who packs less of a punch than her compatriots, but will be invaluable when it comes to saving Blademasters’ bacon.
Each sister has a number of Action Points that are used to move around the map and use abilities (or simply attack enemies), and there is an Initiative system in play that will dictate the order in which each unit gets activated. This applies to everyone, not just our team, so our foes will also depend on their Initiative, something that we can exploit with some of our abilities. As you might expect from a game like this one though, things aren’t exactly balanced in our favor, so there’s a pretty important caveat when it comes to Initiative, which is that should our Daughters spend more than 50% of the base AP in a single turn, they will enter Burst mode, which will incur on an Initiative penalty for the next turn. This means that we should only engage Burst if we are certain that it will either save a unit from a grievous wound (or certain death), or it’s necessary in order to kill that last pesky unit and finish the mission. Otherwise, there are far too many downsides and (with certain exceptions), it’s better to play more conservatively.
One of the first things we should check before embarking on a combat mission is that our team of warriors is balanced, since going off to battle with a bunch of glass cannons might sound tempting, but it’s a recipe for bitter regret, as we’ll almost assuredly return with a few casualties under our belt, or a team of severely wounded warrior maidens. Interestingly, the latter option is almost as heartbreaking as the former, since the game doesn’t feature any health potions, medical leave, or anything of the sort. So, how do you heal wounded combatants? You SACRIFICE another daughter so her vital essence may heal her sister. Yeah, it’s a pretty horrifying trade-off, and one that I was certain I wouldn’t need, until I did, and it sort of haunted me for the duration of the playthrough. You see, since this is a pretty long game, sometimes it’s in your best interest to try and keep a core team alive as long as possible, so they are leveled up and can face bosses more effectively. This is accentuated even further thanks to the fact that there are revive tokes that can be used to bring back from the dead fallen units, and they can even be used from run to run, so in spite of all you might think, you WILL end up sacrificing a good amount of daughters in order to keep your crusade going without too many hitches. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to keep sacrificing units so others may continue living, then there’s also the Traits system, which will give bonuses to characters that have been alive and fighting for a long time. Those can be incredibly helpful in the long run, so I couldn’t exactly say no to them, and I doubt you would either.
If all of that wasn’t enough, there is also another aspect of the game that further pushes you down the sacrifice road, which is that certain abilities require a health expenditure in order to be used, and they are usually the most powerful at our disposal, ensuring that even if we try to keep most of our daughters out of harm’s way during combat missions, they will still spend part of their health in order to do so.
Speaking of abilities, in what is now classic XCOM fashion, we’ll unlock new powers from time to time, and will get a choice between two options, losing the chance to use the one we haven’t picked on that specific character. And while we are talking about this part of the game, it’s also important to note that there are more than just “spend AP to use/spend Health to use” abilities. Further complicating things, we’ll have to juggle between instantly activated actions, delayed actions, reactions (which require an enemy attack to trigger them, for instance) and support actions (buffs/debuffs). Thankfully, the enemy forces also operate using the same type of abilities, so we’ll be able to interrupt shooters who are setting up the perfect kill-shot, for instance (and it’s as satisfying as you might imagine).
All of these mechanics I’ve described in the previous paragraph come together during battles in the most ingenious ways, and more often than not (especially during boss fights), the solution to a fight is not to just dump damage on our foes, but to try and combo our Daughters’ attacks and powers so they can maximize their uptime and minimize their enemies’ Initiative as much as possible. In my opinion, here is the genius of Othercide, as the different parts of the game, on their own, are interesting but not enough to carry an adventure that can last upwards of thirty hours. When you start comboing your way through battles though, that’s when everything “clicks” and generates that all too familiar feeling of “just one more run!” that so many roguelikes sadly lack.
And of course, the audiovisual design helps wonders when it comes to player engagement. Othercide‘s black/white/red art style is incredibly striking, and it never ceased to amaze me that the developers managed to pull it off so well that it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay at all. The music won’t appeal to everyone, but it fits the game perfectly, and my only gripe when it comes to sound would be that certain lines are repeated ad nauseam, causing the impression that the game lacks variety in an area where you definitely don’t want to do that.
Aside from that, my other minor gripe would be that characters can miss shots, something that feels a bit too cruel for this game, considering its roguelike nature. At the same time, I know it’s present in XCOM, which can be played in an even more punishing manner should we enable Iron Man mode, so I’m torn between saying that it shouldn’t be there and that it should. Overall though, I am incredibly satisfied with Othercide. It’s the kind of game that sucks you in, forcing you to spend countless hours in front of the monitor even in the face of frustratingly difficult runs. Lightbulb Crew have crafted a gem that will shine brightly as one of the genre’s most innovative and addictive exponents.
9/10 – Great.