I’ve been playing a little bit of the Telepath Tactics demo, and by a little bit I mean I played the one scenario it offers twice. My advice to you is to take these impressions with a grain of salt, and probably a hefty serving of sawdust as well, because impressions of a one-scenario demo are probably worth about one stale potato chip in food terms, and you’ll want to feel like you’re eating something substantial.
Telepath Tactics is a game from Sinister Design, the developers of the other Telepath RPG (which kind of makes sense), Telepath RPG: Servants of God. The Kickstarter page for Tactics mentions a bunch of stuff that I think is worth getting excited about, like multiplayer for up to six, and easy map editing and modding. All this, by the way, in a game “in the tradition of Fire Emblem and Disgaea.” Additionally, there are promises of building and destroying terrain, and PUSHING PEOPLE INTO LAVA. I tried to push an opponent into a river while playing through the demo. Unfortunately, in my excitement I selected a friendly unit for swimming lessons. Enemy units murdered him during their next turn, as he doggie paddled in his own lifeblood. And that’s how I ended up ragequitting my second attempt at the scenario.
Dive On In
This is a project that actually needs its Kickstarter funding and isn’t just using the crowdfunding platform as a means to interest pre-order customers for a practically finished game. The demo of Telepath Tactics showcases a game that is not very attractive. This is really important, because the Kickstarter page and Sinister Design’s website advertise the game as containing “destructible environments” and, again, “pushing people into lava.” These gameplay elements all sound cool, but pushing people into lava is only going to be cool if there’s a good burning-to-death animation. It’s also worth mentioning that the terrain is bland, ugly and other words like that.
I have a feeling that Telepath Tactics will thrive as much as its community does. Downloadable fan campaigns, art, music, and conversions can give indies a staying power that mainstream games take for granted. By all means, take a look at the demo for yourself [Windows | Mac | Linux]. But it’s not very instructive in terms of where this game will be if it succeeds.
“Telepath Tactics takes place in a fantasy-steampunk universe that averts most of the tropes you’re used to from these sorts of games.”
There’s the barest hint of a story, most of it contained in a long Star Wars style (floating white words in a black space) intro that I skipped both times I played. The unit abilities are somewhat interesting, but it takes a lot of effort to use some of the weirder ones (like river-pushing-into, which, it turns out, is quite a situational ability). My favorite unit was the assassin, who is the only unit with the ability to jump over obstacles (instead of waiting for them to be destroyed or moved). I had mine jump over a barricade and flank two archers for massive backstab bonuses.
Overall, the scenario doesn’t do much to show those really cool moments (and tactics, of course) that its Kickstarter page hints at. You can win by killing one unit, the enemy general, and doing so only takes a little more than ten turns if you rush him. You have to play in a very unnatural way to set up the interesting abilities, rather than just use your lame bowman and crossbowman to kill everything from a few spaces away while your swordsmen tank. The scenario starts with building a bridge in order to cross a river, but you would hope for sneakier and subtler ways to use this ability. You actually can’t reach the enemy unless you use your engineer to lay some path down across the river.
But one demo scenario is a silly way to judge games in this genre. RPGs are about characters persisting and changing through the game: grabbing items, leveling and developing as characters in a story. Telepath Tactics is promising a lot, and I’m excited to see whether it can deliver. This is one to watch, and it definitely needs the Kickstarter money to give it the depth that it deserves.