Following the release of the Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance series on Netflix last year, En Masse Entertainment, has reimagined the world of Thra in a tactical game format.
As you can probably gather from the title, this is tie-in video game for the new The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance show which itself is a prequel to the Dark Crystal movie by Jim Henson. The movie and show are both masterful demonstrations of storytelling and world building through the unconventional art of puppetry which show us the fictional world of Gelfings and other fantastical creatures.
Gelfings? “What are those?”, you may ask. Well they’re the small, humanoid species that is native to Thra will make up the majority of your party as you play through the game.
Age of Resistance Tactics tries to offer an additional lens into this world but doesn’t reach the level of imagination and wonder that precedes it.
Since Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is based off the Netflix series, the story follows the narrative from the show. Though it’s not clear if the intended audience is the fans of the Dark Crystal franchise or if it’s supposed to attract newcomers since the introduction doesn’t enhance any interest that current fans might have or entice newcomers with the weight of the story.
As someone who watched the first few episodes of the series I assumed I’d be more prepared for where this story was going but the speed of the game’s narrative leaves you confused as new names and details get thrown at the player and the roster of characters are mostly Gelfing which don’t look that distinct from one another (Am I a Skeksis for saying that?).
You jump around battles fairly quickly when you start with little backstory on who the characters are before leaving them behind for the next scene. I was able to follow along for the first battles before being totally lost with trying to follow the story and understand how the gameplay worked. I think part of the reason that I got lost was due to the lack of voice acting.
The characters are all portrayed through puppets in the television series with each having their own voice actors. Playing through the game without any of these lines being read aloud made it harder to connect with the characters in unique ways and this was made even more challenging due to the tiny text and often indistinguishable character models on the map. Voice acting would serve as a great way to make the characters feel more unique and balance out the small text for dialogue and instructions that appear on the screen. It’s almost like this game was made for Gelfings themselves.
Mother Aughra, the returning character from the original Dark Crystal movie, narrates and guides the player through most of what’s going on. So if you’re jumping into this game because of the trailer, don’t worry. She’s coaching you throughout the campaign but she’s not the best and grabbing your attention when you’re trying to figure out the story and the game mechanics simultaneously.
Your starting characters will begin in one of three classes :Soldiers, Scouts, and Menders. Soldiers are your melee damage dealers and tanks, Scouts can hit long range with rocks and bolas, and Menders support the party with healing and stat boosts. There are also creatures and characters with their own specific abilities but they’re less common as the game mostly centers around Gelfing characters.
The class system will reward you for grinding different classes since you unlock new abilities for your primary class as you gain more experience. But reaching master level classes requires you to grind up a character in a class that doesn’t suit them so they’re high enough level to qualify for the joint class. Since secondary classes don’t level up, you have to make it your primary class and change all your abilities which can be very annoying. It’s like starting over each time you want to change your character but not keeping what they already excel at. This also doesn’t mesh well with the UI and controls which were cumbersome both in and out of battle.
I spent five minutes on the first stage trying to select the fly ability for one of my characters because the abilities are laid out in a circular interface that doesn’t let you rotate through the options. You have to precisely move at an angle to select options that aren’t in the cordial directions. And when looking at your party you have to back out to the character select screen which makes comparing stats hard. Not to mention just how tiny the text is. I almost preferred playing handheld so I could as close to the screen as possible to read the lines and menus but that experience wasn’t great either.
This was initially pretty frustrating along with the fact that you need to select the “Move” option if you want to place your character in a new spot. But the strategy and interactions expected of the player were actually pretty engaging since character placement was key for surviving matches and defeating enemies which had plenty of health most of the time. Equipping characters with weapons can also help but getting the currency, pearls, was a hassle since side battles could be tedious.
Some quality of life features that were missing from this tactical game are a quick save during battle and autobattling which would have been extremely appreciated since the battles never felt like they were a satisfying length. While maps weren’t terribly huge it felt like ages between turns for some characters. Pulling off combos are the greatest source of excitement in the combat portion of the game but it could be painful to get to that point with the tedious move mechanic.
On the audio side of things, the music was pretty pleasant throughout with the map theme being my favorite. But the sounds effects further showed the limited resources that this game seemed to have since the sound that characters make when they’re damaged doesn’t change as far as I’ve seen. Elements like this keep the game feeling cheap which is a shame since its skeleton has potential. One of the neat choices that they made was incorporating the Dreamfast from the show as a mana replenishing ability for both characters which is a clever translation of the events of the show into the game.
Digesting the Soup
Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics falls flat in several areas which overall stunts this expansion of the Dark Crystal universe. With a release date that falls over 4 months past the show’s debut I can’t see anyone except hardcore fans picking it up. The $20 price for the title is actually not terrible but I wouldn’t try jumping in completely blind. And unless you’re dedicated to looking past the awkward controls it won’t hold your attention for long.
A review code for Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics was provided by En Masse Entertainment, for the purpose of this review.