Conclave is a diamond in the rough when it comes to virtual tabletop gaming. With its relaxed pace, it’s perfect to play with friends you don’t have time to visit normally and doesn’t eat up as much time as a traditional game. But how do its features hold up with frequent play?
Created by indie game developer 10×10 Room, Conclave has just appeared as a desktop client available on Steam after a few years of being limited to a web browser. Its premise is simple: a casual mix of interesting combat and interactive story meant to be played with others. You can create multiple characters and — with a choice of five classes, five species and six character portraits – there’s a lot of scope for customisation. In the maximum party size of four characters, you’re unlikely to find your body double.
The available classes are similar to those in traditional roleplaying games. Beacons are described as leaders and appear paladin-like in their ability to inspire others, Rogues are as stealthy as they always are, Runecasters use runes and rods to call powerful spells down upon an enemy or treat the injuries of allies, True Bows can deal damage to the enemy from afar and Vanguards rumble forwards as your standard tank.
Each of these classes offers unique abilities, but in a party with fewer than its full four members, combat encounters can be unbalanced, with ranged characters having a distinct advantage.
Playable species are: the Forgeborn, bulky humanoids with skin like burning coal; the Lumyn, who are the most ‘human’ species; the Mezoar, who are colour-changing lizard people; the Nix, who are elves; and the Trow, who come across as horned druids. Whichever species you select grants you a unique ability which affects combat, making the choice more than just cosmetic.
When you first start, you’re presented with three orbs on the map, all over the city of Bastion. At the Vault of Arms, you can purchase equipment from a pool of available items with renown, which you earn from completing quests. Unlike in similar traditional games, these items can be returned for their full renown value. You can, of course, obtain new items during quests. The Pool of Reflection is where you can level up and respec – there is no penalty for doing so. You are able to access quests through a green orb, more of which will spring up over the map after completing your first quest.
All quests begin with story text, after which you’ll either be thrown straight into a combat encounter or asked which course of action you’d like to pursue. If you’re playing in a party, you choose via a voting system and follow the most popular option.
Combat consists of minor and major actions, alternating between players and enemies. In each round, you can select from a series of abilities that are specific to each action type. Some abilities can be used at will, others can be used a certain number of times per encounter and some can only be used once per quest. You can add to these abilities with equipped and useable items, as well as through the normal means of levelling up (where you can choose one ability per level and occasionally increment your attribute scores).
However, the interface can be a little clunky at times, with target select guides sometimes disappearing, forcing you to cancel and retry the action. Due to the way multiplayer is handled (there’s no initiative order and party members can come online whenever they want), any action from another player will boot you out of whichever menu you’re on and force you to click-through again – unless you get interrupted again. The developers have said they’re working on a less intrusive way of doing this, which is promising not just for the gameplay but for the fact it shows clear communication between the development team and players.
The animations moving enemy tiles across the board during combat are also a little slow, so if you’re a quick reader or skip over the combat text, you sometimes have to wait for several movements to finish playing on the screen before you can see what you want to do next. This is a minor issue, though, and likely isn’t a problem for those playing at a more relaxed pace.
The fact that one player’s death causes the failure of an entire quest can be more of an annoyance and, while it makes sense, it can lead to frustration in smaller, less balanced parties who may have finally won out with just one more move. Hopefully the fact that single-player control of multiple characters is in the works will make this less of a concern.
It’s worth saying that this game is best played with people you know and who want to play at the same pace as you. If you play with random people and they stop making any actions, you have the option to wait for them indefinitely or let the game choose for them every twenty-four hours, which isn’t great if you were planning on completing more than one combat round or story decision per day.
After a few playthroughs, the quests and combat encounters may start to grow old, but for a game that only costs £9, it’s worth it. There are even musings of letting players create their own quests, which could add a great deal of replayability further down the line if the developers decide to implement it.
The story is easy to follow and there’s neither too much nor too little to read during quests, with each screen of text supported by atmospheric music to set the scene. The character portraits are very well done and enemies are easy to differentiate, with the painted combat boards making for visually pleasing, nostalgic encounters.
All in all, Conclave is a game that’s very easy to be pleased with. It comes across as well-polished, despite a few flaws, and is well-suited to being played on the move. In fact, it would probably do very well with a tablet-based version at some point. After all, who doesn’t want to play D&D on the toilet?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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