A Testing Of Faith

HIGH The aesthetics and art design are on point.

LOW Bugs haunt this experience.

WTF Collecting trees for businessmen.

My first look at Alder’s Blood came when it was in Early Access on PC. At the time it seemed like it would mature into a fresh take on tactics. Of course there were some bugs that came up given how early it was in the process, but I figured everything would be ironed out in time. Unfortunately, I’m sad to see that even after full release, it’s still plagued with problems.

This isometric tactical RPG puts players in the role of Chief, leader of a band of hunters who fight the forces of darkness. Chief stumbles upon a fellow hunter who’s been injured and learns that the world is coming to a turning point that could plunge it into darkness completely.

In any mission, players select up to three hunters. Each has a stamina meter used to move around the map, attack creatures, or use items. While it has much in common with other tactics games like XCOM, the developers have differentiated their work by focusing on stealth. Each hunter gives off a scent trail, and the wind can change each turn. If a monster walks into the scent lines of the hunters, it will smell them and rush in to attack, so players not only need to stay out of sight, but to stay downwind as much as possible.  

If stealth fails, the hunters have melee weapons like axes or swords, and also can use ranged weapons like guns and grenades. Players will want to only use firearms in dire situations though, as they’re much louder and will draw enemies to the hunter when are used. Hunters can also utilize things like traps and lures to sneak up on monsters and to hold them in place, either for an attack or to make an escape to get back in stealth. 

Some monsters are resistant to the weapons hunters have. If they can’t be avoided, players can take these tough foes down by depleting their stamina and staggering them. Once staggered, it’s possible for hunters to instantly kill one with a potent spell. 

Players can camp outside of battle and assign hunters to keep guard, scavenge for supplies, or craft items to use in combat. An important thing to note is that hunters don’t heal after combat, so players can also have their characters rest and recover instead. 

Each camping area around the world holds different items and has different qualities. For example, players can camp at a city to ensure they won’t be ambushed while sleeping, but they can only scavenge for food. Players can camp in the wild to get crafting material and money to hire more hunters, but this means a higher chance of ambush.

These mechanics are already solid, but the most interesting to me is that of “sacrifice”. Hunters can become corrupted though various actions in the game such as killing monsters, getting ambushed while camping or using the one-hit-KO banish spell.  If this corruption goes unaddressed for long enough, a hunter will snap and attack their party members. However, players can sacrifice a corrupted hunter and transfer some of their experience to a new hunter of lower level. This can quickly toughen up a low-level hunter safely and helps avoid grinding for EXP.

Unfortunately, while Alder’s Blood has a lot of good ideas, the execution leaves something to be desired.

While Alder’s Blood has a focus on stealth, there were many missions that required me to kill all enemies. This put a lot of corruption on my hunters, meaning that I had to sacrifice them. The corruption racked up so quicklythat I wasn’t able to keep enough new hunters coming into my party to stay ahead of the curve, and without enough hunters, the campaign ends rather quickly — it’s too tough to maintain a full team strong enough to survive. 

Some of the mission design also left something to be desired. One in particular had creatures known as Avatars spawning every turn. As soon as a hunter moved, an Avatar struck them down with a single hit. Unless I went into the mission with the foreknowledge to bring multiple sets of traps that immobilized or put these enemies to sleep, the mission felt unwinnable. Another mission requires players to hunt down a specific enemy — not inherently bad, but it felt out of place when it the target is an enemy that a hunter can take down in one action. 

Apart from design issues, the review code I had for the Switch version was rife with bugs and glitches. For example, if an item was used while in stealth and then I moved to attack a monster, the game would hard-lock and require a software restart. There were also occasions where traps I used would either give the animation but not deploy, or enemies would walk through the trap without getting hurt. Another glitch cropped up when I tried to send a hunter back to camp. Instead of going there, the game copied the hunter multiple times. I then had three identical characters, but they took three times the resources to maintain and left me with no one newer to sacrifice them to. 

Those issues were bad, but the biggest issue was the market for purchasing new hunters was wildly off-balance — the prices for new recruits were extreme and erratic. I’d see two identical recruits with vastly different hiring prices for no reason. Despite having the same stats and gear, one would be $250 to hire, and the other would be over $2000. With these massive swings, there were times when I couldn’t buy any more hunters because it wasn’t possible to earn enough money to replenish my corrupted troops.

As this review was being written, the developers were fast-tracking several fixes to the code so these issues may be resolved, but these things were significant issues during my playtime.

For those interested in the content or concepts, there is a free demo available, but I’m sad to say that prospective players should avoid it. This demo is a “prologue” to the main game, but it doesn’t explain crucial mechanics like scent and line-of-sight, and monster locations seemed random. Being able to finish the demo content was a challenging crapshoot and this quick bite leaves a very sour taste.

I find Alder’s Blood in a very strange position. The aesthetic, combat, and ideas drew me into the shadows of its world. However, the bugs, design issues and general lack of polish have killed my drive to continue playing. I might come back to it in the future once it’s been patched, but not until it’s had a lot more time to polish off its rough edges.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Shockwork Games and published by No Gravity Games.  It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. There will be some blood splatters when striking monsters, and there are some cutscenes where hunters look bloodied. The sacrifice mechanic does give a screenshot that looks like someone is dissolving, but there’s nothing bloody about it. For violence, hunters will be stabbing, clubbing, and shooting eldritch-like horrors and being attacked back in kind.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Characters have some utterances, but the text needs to be read to be able to understand what’s going on. Unfortunately, the text and relevant icons in this game are minscule. Text is not resizable, and therefore the game is not fully accessible

Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable, and there is no control diagram in the game. Players can use the control stick to move across the map in combat and select places to travel to out of combat. The “A”  button will confirm choices and “B” button will cancel. Players will use Down on the D-Pad to activate hunter sense, Up to change weapons, and left and right to select different abilities.

Eugene Sax
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