Tactical RPGS have had a long history of putting players in tough situations that require critical thinking and executing a well-thought-out plan. From the early days of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, we have been engaging with deep systems and determining the best way to develop our small armies in order to tackle the many difficulties ahead while minimizing casualties. The Iron Oath sets out to ramp up that challenge by offering a different approach to this formula while delivering challenging gameplay with a difficulty that can be adjusted to fit your playstyle.
An interesting story that involves you building up a roster of adventurers that will develop over centuries, assuming that your characters live long enough to see their name passed on that is, The Iron Oath is a story that feels like a very simple high fantasy affair. You lead a band of adventurers through various story missions, from escorting a group of merchants to safety, to exterminating threats plaguing the nearby village.
During the course of the game, you will have the option to select different dialogue options that result in a change of how the town sees you. For example, as I was returning from one of my various adventures, I ran into the captain of the vanguard, and he inquired about the status of his men. Men that I happened to send to help the caravan that I saved.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, his men passed on at the hands of the evil monsters in the cave, and I was offered the option between telling him a carefully crafted lie, or that his men had died as they succeeded in helping the caravan. I was hesitant to tell the truth because I did not want to be the bearer of bad news, but I felt that he would have liked to know that their efforts were not in vain. In telling him the truth about his men, my relationship with the vanguard and the village went up. The game is filled with a plethora of decisions such as this, which made each relationship with the NPC’s feel much more meaningful.
While the story is interesting enough to drive the game forward, with you trying to track down the person who betrayed your band of adventurers, it’s the gameplay is where things really start to shine.
When you start an adventure, you are able to select a difficulty option that will tailor your experience to fit what you like. I originally started on hard, since this was recommended for players who are experienced with Tactical RPGS, but soon found myself at the main menu more than I would like to admit.
Combat can be brutal, and adventuring through dungeons unprepared can wipe your party out in just the first encounter. After dropping to easy, I found myself enjoying the game’s story and combat that much more while still being offered a slight challenge. The difficulty impacts things such as how many enemies you will encounter during a run as well as how tough they are, but you don’t have to be worried about missing out on any content since it is not locked behind a difficulty level.
Outside of combat, you navigate your caravan of adventurers to different towns to take on the range of available quests each location has for you. In town, you are able to utilize a multitude of facilities before jumping into adventuring.
Inns allow for you to rest up and recover health or, in a fun twist, throw a celebration to raise morale. If a party member’s morale drops too low, then there is a chance that they will abandon the party, so it is important to keep an eye on this over the course of the game.
Failing to succeed in dungeons or suffering severe damage along with making bad choices can impact morale. Also, an Inn will also give you the option to recruit new members for your caravan, along with determining how long to sign them on for. Each new recruit will join the group for a different amount of money as well as a set amount of time. I often opted to sign on new adventurers for longer periods of time in order to get an extra bonus in pay, since I wanted to try and play the long game by developing characters early on to help in the late stages.
When recruiting a new member, you are able to select their class as well as customize what their character portrait and sprite looks like. I really enjoyed this, since I tend to build parties in games that consist of my friends, allowing for a more personalized experience. If you don’t like the way that the character looks, then you can always adjust it from the party menu at no cost.
The town also has an infirmary where you can leave characters to heal wounds in exchange for not having them available during your next couple of adventures. This can be harmful in the early states since your strongest warriors will see this room frequently, as the temptation is to rely on using them often. In response, I chose to fill my party out with a ton of cannon fodder, that way I could still take a full party into dungeons while maintaining my main crew. If you opt to not utilize the infirmary, then your characters will face difficulties during combat since some of the effects will impact their skills. Broken limbs, along with severe wounds, hinder your character’s development and lower their chances of survival during your dungeon runs. Since you have to leave the characters in the infirmary for a various amount of time depending on injuries, it is important to go into each combat encounter with the mindset of minimizing casualties, avoiding being put in a bad spot down the road.
Once you have finished up your affairs in town, you can move the caravan to other towns or quest locations, which use up time and encourage you to be aware of your movement across the map since time plays such an important role in the game.
If you only have 40 days left in your strongest character’s contract, you will want to make the most out of the time they have left with your party. As you travel to different locations, you run the risk of being ambushed by enemies, as such it is vital that you keep your party in the best condition possible.
When not wandering around the map in search of adventure, you will be diving deep into the dungeons and engaging with one of the other core mechanics in the game. Instead of navigating the area from a first person or third-person perspective, you will move around the dungeon on a traditional grid based map, uncovering the mysteries as you make each move, revealing a map shrouded in darkness. Certain tiles will indicate that there is an event to be triggered when you step on them, but what that event is will remain a mystery until you come across it.
You might be rewarded with some extra treasure or a more secure place to set up camp, while other times you will find yourself facing off against one of the many monstrosities that lay in wait. While it may seem like a good idea to head straight to the exit, there are treasures and other things encouraging you to take minor detours here and there. You might stumble across enemy tracks that will alert you to which tile has a combat encounter, or you might find supplies that will help get your team back into fighting condition. Keep in mind, however, that these detours will cost you precious time and resources, so it is important to pick and choose when you want to take these risks.
I found myself leaving a trail of dead enemies behind as I stumbled through the cave, and this meant that my next combat encounter would start with the enemies having the ability to land critical hits during the first turn and, thus, wiping out my already weakened party.
. Taking place on a hexagon-grid based map, you place your units at set locations during the initial stage of combat. Once things get going, you are in charge of moving units around to get a better position on the enemy and executing attacks as you take turns exchanging blows. There is a timeline at the top of the screen that keeps track of your turn order, so there is an added level of strategic planning here. Do you risk making an extra attack in an attempt to fell a dangerous foe, or do you spend that time healing up one of your weaker members? These decisions are ones that pop up a lot over the course of the journey.
Each class has a set amount of skills that can be utilized in combat, and some are best used to make sure your hits connect. Dazing enemies will allow you to attack from the front without having to worry about missing, but this tactic can be used against you as well, so the placement of the units is just as important as the actions taken. If you try to move a character that is on an adjacent tile to an enemy, there is a chance they will get to take a swing at your character as they pass. This was a mechanic that I often forgot about due to many of my usual experiences lacking this feature, and it was a nice breath of fresh air from a tactical perspective since I really had to change my thought process when taking on combat.
One feature that I did not fully get to engage with was how your units evolve over the course of time, since I saw the game over screen pretty frequently, even on an easier difficulty. While the difficulty might be off-putting for some, this really challenged me to find new approaches to combat as well as genuinely thinking about what units need to be taken into battle and at what time.
The Iron Oath was phenomenal and is definitely a game that I will be revisiting quite frequently due to the challenge that it offers. I would love to see my characters serve out their time with my small group to the end of their contract, and this will require me to grow as a tactician in a way that I enjoy. For fans of Tactical RPGs, this is definitely a title to look into, but may be very off-putting for those with little to no experience with the genre.
- Engaging combat is sure to keep you locked in during sessions
- Customization of party members makes the quest feel more personable
- time spent outside of combat feels like it actually matters and impacts how combat will turn out
- Difficulty, even on easy, can be quite challenging and off-putting
- It can be hard to determine what skill is being selected without mousing over the skill bar again.
Xavier grew up playing classics like Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, and Silent Hill, so the indie scene has been full of love letters for him.
A perfect day for him includes hours of grinding out levels and exploring creepy hallways in scary games.