Review: Farabel28 Nov 2018 3
Released 01 Nov 2018
Here is a game with a novel and interesting twist. At first glance, Farabel may appear to be a fairly standard turn-based fantasy strategy game. However, start playing, and you immediately realise that, in a Memento-style plot twist, you actually begin at the end of the story and finish at the beginning. The upshot is that Farabel commences at the climax of a long and bloody conflict between humans and orcs. Play through to the end of the thirteen scenarios and you will travel right back to the beginning of the conflict, discovering why the two races got so cross with each other in the first place.
You play as human leader Cendor, and each time that you manage to lead your army to victory, you will be pushed back a little further in time. The problem with this temporal regression is that it causes poor Cendor’s battle experience to diminish. Consequently, Cendor’s skills will actually decrease as the game progresses. This is a bit of a bummer, but manipulating time does also have its advantages. During the course of each battle, Cendor has the power to reverse time. He first chooses a unit that has already completed its actions, said unit will then rewind to its original position as of the start of the round. This allows the unit to recover from any damage or ill effects that they may have recently suffered. Better still, the unit can move, attack and use abilities for a second time. It is a powerful ability and consequently, Cendor can only call upon this power a maximum of three times during each battle.
The action is portrayed in a low-key style, the unit graphics being quite simplistic and the map rather sparse without much visual appeal. It can be difficult to differentiate between certain units and the lack of an option to zoom in close or rotate the battlefield doesn’t help matters. The interface follows a similar minimalist philosophy but actually works really well. All of the actions only take two or three taps to execute, without any sub-menus or extra options to worry about. Each round, small coloured indicators will dim when a unit has used its movement or offensive actions, which makes issuing commands a breeze. This means that after a look at the brief tutorial, even inexperienced players will be ready to jump right into the thick of the action.
The bleak landscapes do not really present many opportunities for tactical manoeuvring, but the interplay between the various troop types certainly does. Battles rarely involve more than a dozen units, so the focus is on skirmishing. The units have a nice range of abilities: mounted troops can boost their attacks by charging into the heart of the battle, whilst scouts can teleport around the outskirts, peppering enemy units with crossbow bolts. You will also always have your healer on hand to dispense any necessary first aid. Enemies are similarly well designed, having a range of different powers, ensuring that the game remains challenging. The scenarios are also nicely varied, with an assortment of different goals. One level may see you trying to flood an enemy occupied village, whilst another will see you placed underground battling hordes of goblins, whilst simultaneously trying to destroy their points of entry. Some scenarios also have powerful boss creatures to overcome.
Sometimes these levels rely a little too much upon trial and error. Hidden enemies often ambush your troops leaving them vulnerable. Often, the only option is to restart the scenario with the only consolation being that forewarned is forearmed. When planning your manoeuvres it would have been useful to have some graphical representation of enemy movement and attack zones, rather than being forced to count hexes. There is a satisfying difficulty curve to these battles, but with no mid-point save options, defeat will mean that you will have to restart the current level from scratch.
The variety in the abilities of units on both sides and the range of different scenario goals means that you constantly have to tinker with your strategy. The time manipulation mechanic requires a further layer of tactical thinking. Deciding when to use your leader’s ability to reverse a unit’s turn so that they can take a second action is a key consideration. Furthermore, having to reduce your leader’s abilities initially feels very counterintuitive, but turns out to actually be a very effective part of the game’s design. It can be really tricky to decide which of Cendor’s five abilities to reduce. The inevitable decline in your leader’s prowess means that you will inevitably have to switch from a gung-ho approach to a much more considered one.
Once you have battled your way through to the end, or rather the beginning, of the main story, there are a few other options to keep you occupied. You can earn prestige in the daily challenges, or use gold to build an army from scratch. This army can then be used to either play through a series of different battles or to survive as long as possible against a never-ending stream of enemies. It would have been the icing on the cake to have a player versus player option but there is certainly plenty of content here. The whole package represents excellent value for money.
Farabel is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously; the bickering characters and humorous unit descriptions regularly poke fun at fantasy stereotypes. Even the rousing but clichéd music seems to be a bit of a parody. The background story is presented in short amusing sequences that do not outstay their welcome. The game itself manages to be both entertaining and challenging. The time travel mechanic could have been just a cheap gimmick but in fact, it turns out to be a clever and thought-provoking addition. Some may find Farabel’s straightforward approach too simplistic, but for anyone looking for something a little different, this is well worth considering.