Switch version tested
Review code provided
God is dead, destroyed by mankind his body lays rotting deep within the wastelands spewing corruption over the world. The lands are dying, the skies are darkened and to top it off some bloody nasty monsters roam the land slaughtering mercilessly. For humankind, times are more desperate than a trip to the local supermarket to acquire toiletries, thankfully, a race of hunters has been spawned to fend off these savage beasts. Though the cursed blood that runs through their veins means their lives are short, these Van Helsing cosplayers will stop at nothing to rid the world of its curse and are not afraid to go down swinging, which is frankly a relief because Alder’s Blood is a tough and brutal challenge.
Alder’s Blood is a mature turn-based strategy with a strong focus on party management and stealth ambush combat. Things start off with a detailed tutorial where you take control of “Duke” who is close to finding the body of God, the tutorial is well-paced and will teach you the finer points of gameplay. As enemies roam the map your best chance of success is to utilise the foliage on offer to try and stay hidden. Each character will have a radius highlighted around them indicating their moving distance, foliage that will conceal you will be highlighted with a purple marker to help you plan your route. You can move further than the radius indicates if you wish but this will be at a heavy cost to your stamina and if you are spotted while moving you will be frozen on the spot and have to face your pursuer.
Each turn you will have a number of options available and they are all factored into your stamina, moving, attacking and using actions such as reloading, if you are using a firearm, will use up stamina so it’s important you keep an eye on the gauge to ensure you are able to defend yourself if attacked after or during your turn. Avoiding conflict or sneaking up behind an enemy and hitting a lethal backstab is the ideal tactic, once an enemy is downed they are easy pickings and can be finished off or banished altogether. Embracing your inner gunslinger is also an option but beware the gunfire can be heard from some distance and may attract more creatures to your location.
Staying out of sight may seem like a simple premise but you will also have to take into account the wind direction which will carry your scent. Your scent is indicated by a vapour trail and if an enemy passes through the trail they will catch a whiff and come looking for you. This add’s a nice depth to the traversal but also a slightly frustrating one as the wind changes direction each turn with no obvious indication or pattern to which direction it may change too. You could be moving silently like a ghost and having a good run only for your skilled tactics to up and vanish like a fart in the wind as the direction changes, trailing your musky odour straight into the nostrils of a lurking creature which on one hand manages to add a good level of suspense but on the other makes a key element to the strategy too random and offsets the idea of planning ahead.
Between missions is where things slow down and not always for the better, as you travel across the land using the tried and tested Mario World style map, you will be able to undertake a selection of side missions. You will gather resources for crafting weapons but the most important item will be food, this will be the resource most consumed when camping and travelling. When you camp you can choose which duties your party undertakes from crafting, hunting, keeping watch and resting to recover health. Merchants will sell food and other items but money takes a while to accumulate meaning you will be spending a lot of time in between missions just camping over and over to heal your party and save up enough food to move on to your next objective.
The hunters have cursed blood which may make them efficient monster killers and although they can level up and be equipped with a range of weapons, items and charms that can boost their health or reduce their scent trail they are all susceptible to corruption. As corruption set’s in the hunters will begin to suffer, becoming less reliable in battle until eventually they snap, causing their death. With no cure to speak of you have two options when your hunter’s corruption level gets to critical levels, grit your teeth and keep going until they drop or sacrifice them and use their knowledge to bolster and level up a newer hunter. New hunters can be recruited throughout the game providing you have the coin and this way of recycling these poor souls is a novel way of levelling and progressing and soon starts to pay off once you get some higher levelled hunters together.
Managing multiple gaming mechanics can be an overwhelming experience especially in the early going and it’s easy to see that Alder’s Blood is not for the faint of heart. The difficulty feels slightly unbalanced at times and this can be even more frustrating due to a selection of performance issues I experienced. A couple of times my save files would just vanish meaning I would lose a chunk of progress that was hard earnt, other times the menu screens would just lock up not allowing me to start a mission or select any of the camping or menu options causing me to resort to rebooting the game.
The story is very well written and intriguing albeit delivered through lots of text with minimal voice acting. Graphically Alder’s Blood is very pleasing with a gorgeous graphic novel art style that suits the bleak setting and provides a clear identity to the world but the colour palette can sometimes become a bit murky looking in handheld, thankfully everything looks sharp and pops well in docked mode.
Alder’s Blood is a challenging, verging on punishing experience that takes inspiration from some of the best titles in the genre like Darkest Dungeon, The Banner Saga, X-Com and even sprinkles on a bit of Bloodborne. Though the gameplay feels grindy and disjointed between missions, there is a great experience to be had if you have the patience and don’t mind being slaughtered over and over. Hopefully, the bugs can be ironed out in the near future as Alder’s Blood is a great choice for players looking for a tough strategy experience with a big dose of Victorian horror and if you are on the fence, why not feast your eyes on the free demo available now!
TBG Score: 7.5/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC
Release Date: 13/03/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Horror, Adventure, Strategy
Developer: Shockwork Games
Publisher: No Gravity Games
Download link: eShop