By – Thomas Faust

Telepath Tactics Review He

While strategy RPGs are by no means an uncommon sight on the PC, there has never been an attempt to emulate the gameplay of Nintendo’s successful Fire Emblem series on this gaming platform. These games offer turn-based tactics with a few unique quirks: weapons degrade when used, and if one of your characters falls in battle, they stay dead and the story carries on without them. This is a clever way of imbuing your units with a certain individuality; they are not just faceless soldiers, but a band of friends that’s been carefully trained and nurtured. Every loss feels like a hard blow instead of a minor annoyance. This formula has proven to be incredibly effective
Craig Stern’s Telepath Tactics takes the foundations of Fire Emblem games and similar tactical RPGs and builds upon them, creating something special in the process. Taking place in the same setting as his previous Telepath games, Tactics is set in a fantasy world with hints of Steampunk and mind magic. It’s distinct enough to be interesting while not completely leaving the comfort zone of established fantasy tropes.

The game takes an understated approach to world building and characterization. Instead of shoving needless exposition in your face, the story is conveyed through dialogue alone. It doesn’t explain much about the setting, but that’s fine and actually leads to you paying more attention to detail. The largely female cast is another nice touch. It rather subtly undermines your average high fantasy clichés of brawny barbarians, strong knights, and scantily clad female mages and healers. Additionally, Telepath Tactics’ story is focused on the personal, and not the fate of whole nations.

Escaped from slavery and raised by a tribe of lizard warriors, the sisters Emma and Sabrina Strider set out to rescue their father from a life of servitude. Hell-bent on revenge, Emma is an unflinching, strong-willed character, with Sabrina acting as a sort of counter with her more timid and cautious demeanor. Along the way, they meet lots of other adventurers, each of them with their own story and reason to join the fight. You end up with a colorful group of different people, from the average fighter and bowman to the exotic psionist, mantis-rider, and even automaton. There are no generic units, so every single character adds something to your merry band of adventurers.

Right from the get-go, you have important decisions to make. Telepath Tactics can be played in casual or normal mode. If you value your sanity, you should probably choose the former. You see, when a character dies in normal mode, they’re gone for good. Add to that the game’s generally high difficulty and some particularly nasty difficulty spikes in certain missions, and you have a recipe for disaster. Normal mode certainly has its charm, and it once again harks back to the Fire Emblem series, but if you’re unfamiliar with the game and its tactical intricacies, it will probably frustrate you to no end. One early mission had me losing all but two characters on casual. If I had been playing on normal mode, I could have restarted the whole campaign right there.

Telepath Tactics Review He

In general, Telepath Tactics doesn’t stray too far from the path cut by similar games. Battles are turn-based, with a certain amount of action points each character can spend to move around, attack, and use skills or spells. Each action nets you experience, which prevents your front line fighters from taking all the credit and leaving your support units lagging behind. With new levels come new abilities, further increasing your tactical options. Enemy and friendly stats are freely accessible. Being able to look up enemies’ movement and attack ranges, as well as strengths and weaknesses of every unit allows you to plan ahead very carefully and consider every possible outcome. The deterministic damage model makes certain that every move will pan out just as you planned it, but that’s a double-edged sword. There are no miraculous last-minute saves and no beating the odds. Once you commit a turn, you’d better be sure that you planned it well. This makes for incredibly intense planning phases, which will either make your brain hurt or feel immensely enjoyable.

You can use the terrain to your advantage, creating bottlenecks or, even better, pushing people off ledges. Not only does this a small amount of damage, it also costs them one turn to get back up, which is a major tactical advantage. Turning your back on an enemy is the worst mistake you can make. Backstabbing causes a ton of damage and forces careful positioning and planning. The enemy AI is generally without mercy. Those units will target your weak heroes and, preferably, your healers first. They will exploit every tactical error you made, forcing you to play careful and defensive whenever you can. But then, the game seldomly allows for such a playstyle, either by forcing you to fight on multiple fronts, or by sending you out on more aggressive missions where you have to rush forward.

The varied missions are most impressive. They occasionally lead to some uneven storytelling: one moment you’re pulling off a daring escape from an enemy castle, the next you’re gathering apples in the woods. They do, however, give you lots of different things to do and shake up the rules now and again, even completely switching the narrative point of view in one instance. Whether you’re fighting at night, crossing bridges, or rescuing someone from imprisonment, it is apparent that a lot of thought went into mission design. Here, Telepath Tactics evolves beyond the games it emulates, and while I sometimes missed the simplicity of missions where I simply had to defeat all enemy units, I really appreciate the variety on display here.

Telepath Tactics Review He

With some stages taking well over an hour to complete and no way to save your game mid-mission, each play session requires a significant time investment. If you fail, you need to restart the mission. I certainly understand that this forces you to really bring your A-game as a tactician, but losing a long mission in the last turn can really crush any motivation to try again. In fact, this is the biggest gripe I have with the game. The lack of a save feature might very well make Telepath Tactics a great challenge for master strategists, but it also prevents the more casual players from sitting down for half an hour and just play a bit. This leads to the impression that the game doesn’t value and respect your time, which is a cardinal game design sin in my book.

There are a bunch of minor technical issues, such as slowdown in some big fights, and a few design flaws – unskippable cutscenes should be a thing of the past, and the UI can be a bit clunky, especially when trading. Six weeks after release, a few annoying bugs still remain, but Craig Stern has managed to fix most of them shortly after they appeared and apparently continues to do so. It should be noted that I encountered two game-breaking issues that forced me to restart the whole campaign, rendering a few hours of progress moot. These have supposedly been dealt with and I haven’t encountered them again, but for the sake of transparency they need to be mentioned nevertheless.

In terms of content, Telepath Tactics offers far more than the included campaign. There is a hot seat multiplayer mode that lets you compete against a friend in various ways. It’s a shame that this fully developed duel mode is not playable online, but considering that the game was essentially made by one person with a limited budget, it’s certainly understandable that there were a few corners in need of cutting. Another feature is the map editor, which allows for the creation of mods, custom maps, and even campaigns. At the time of writing, no custom levels have been posted to the official forums, but a handful of mods that change the game mechanics in meaningful ways can be downloaded. From different UI modifications and alternate unit portraits to non-degradable weapons, there are quite a few interesting mods available. But even if you’re not taking advantage of these features, the main campaign is lengthy and well wort the asking price alone.

Telepath Tactics Review He

Concussion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Telepath Tactics is a challenging and well-designed entry in a somewhat underrepresented strategy subgenre on the PC. Despite minor issues and the rather big oversight of not allowing mid-mission savegames, it’s an easy recommendation for strategy fans and RPG aficionados alike. If you’re into turn-based tactics, you really shouldn’t waste any more action points and immediately pick up this gem. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time on the lengthy and difficult missions.

Telepath Tactics Technical Summary:

Telepath Tactics Review He

  • Time Played – 20 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1366×768
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Game breaking bugs
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard & Mouse
  • DRM – DRM Free, Steamworks
  • System Specs – i5-4200U@1.60GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD8670M 1GB
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Official Site, Steam, GOG
  • Demo – Yes
  • Saved Game Location – Users\AppData\Roaming\SinisterDesign.TelepathTactics\Local Store\#SharedObjects\TTwm.swf

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