Self proclaimed by the developers Bitmen Studios as being inspired the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones, The Storm Guard: Darkness is Coming is a fantasy turn based RPG with a very similar format to X-COM. The dramatic opening will tell you about how the Storm Guard protected the land from forces of evil a thousand years ago. You are now the Commander of the Storm Guard with all those stories of heroism to live up to. However the Storm Guard is nothing like it’s former years, disheveled and very much unprepared for the battles ahead.
The game starts with an introduction to the Town, this is where you will embark on missions, recruit soldiers and heroes, purchase supplies and level up your army. It is very similar to that of the headquarters in X-COM however you cannot build any more buildings or manage the layout of the Town. The different buildings are introduced as you progress through the first half hour as to not overwhelm the player.
To embark on a mission you need to select three members of your army. Heroes and soldiers come in many varieties, ranging from pike-men that taunt the enemy and have big sweeping area of effect attacks, to rangers, warriors and healers. Each class starts with four basic abilities that can each be individually leveled up in a linear fashion, with extra slots for more abilities as the character themselves gain experience. At first all these abilities can be rather overwhelming, but I soon gained confidence in each class once I properly tried them out.
After you have chosen your three “heroes” you are greeted with a simplistic but randomly generated map screen. Using the arrow keys you move your party from one section of the map to the other, each location will present you with an event. This consists of a small scenario with a few options for how you could proceed. Perhaps you find some dwarfs getting attacked by some undead? Maybe you find an abandoned camp? Managing risk and reward is a huge aspect of these decisions, you are almost always given the option to simply abandon the situation and move on. Sometimes taking the risk will pay off with a simple reward, other times you will have to engage in battle. These fights matter too, they are the main source of experience and if any one of your army members dies they stay dead.
Unfortunately this is where The Storm Guard: Darkness is Coming starts to unravel. It is not initially clear how many actions your heroes can perform with each turn. Additionally engagements rarely differ from three of your heroes versus three uninspired fantasy creatures, blankly staring at each other across the terrain ready to run into each other and bash heads until the victor remains. Healers can easily run away, and spells can be spammed. With the scenarios being so simple, and lacking variety I never truly felt in danger. The lifeless character animations, and low quality models make it hard to get attached to any of your units either. When one of my characters bit the dust I found myself shrugging, there are more where they came from.
Despite the combat system, all these things sound like a pretty solid game on paper. However the whole game is very inconsistent, sound effects vary from passable to absolutely awful. The music ranges from the beautiful heart wrenching strings of the main menu, to the modern synthesized beat of the map screen. The camera pans the battlefield like it’s attached to a robotic arm. The user interface is clunky with some awkward drag and drop interactions that don’t work as expected. The actor for the voice over is good but the writing is unintentionally hilarious. None of these aspects would individually ruin the game for me, but almost everything is lackluster. You can tell it was a labour of love, they wanted to make a fantasy epic and it does have it’s moments. The town has a lot of atmosphere to it, and the systems are solid even though they aren’t very fleshed out. Be that as it may, Bitmen Studios bit off more than they could chew and it hits hard, many other games simply do the same thing better. Despite this there is still fun to be had, it runs well and I didn’t come across any noticeable bugs. If you’ve exhausted other similar games and fancy a change of setting this might be for you.
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