Review: Tactis

By Kelsey Rinella 18 Jul 2013 0
The yellowish-greyish-brownish forces of good prepare to defeat the greenish-greyish-brownish forces of evil! This was literally the most colorful screenshot I took.

Keywords: tactical, permadeath, squad, fantasy, no in-app purchases. Tactis ticks some excellent boxes. Whether you'll enjoy the full package rests greatly on your willingness to indulge indie developer Savant's quirks.

Tactis is a squad-tactical game in a roughly-drawn fantasy world played over a small square grid. It distills the squad tactical into its most basic components -- it's so simple almost analogous to chess. Sometimes dedication to simplicity comes in forms that we admire, like stoic Buddhist monks. Other times, it means arduous no-frills airline flights and store brand potato chips. Which one of these is Tactis?

You start with a squad of two random characters selected from five classes: Knight, Sorceror, Baresark, Blackbow, Healer. Respectively, these play the roles of tank, short range, DPS, long range, and the well-named healer. Each class has a set of three upgradeable statistics, like mobility, damage, vitality, evasion, etc. Your squad fights other squads of selectable difficulty on a 7x7 grid. High ground confers a damage bonus and some protection, but terrain is otherwise uniform. The higher the difficulty selected, the more money you get to spend on recruiting new squad members or upgrading the aforementioned stats.

It's a fairly simple structure, but it provides various risks you can manage in a few different ways, and I've had success (and failure) with varied party compositions and on-field tactics, so these choices are mostly genuine. It is true that permadeath of party members can be a big blow, so there's rarely reason to attempt a battle more challenging than the easiest one available (which scales with your squad's strength, the easiest tier of opponents no longer remaining available to high-level parties), but that keeps the emphasis on the squad.

Sadly, the presentation of Tactis commits most of the sins available to it. There is no tutorial, nor even any explanation of the rules. Though characters are carefully modeled and animated, the display is needlessly unclear because of the isometric perspective used to show them off and the uniformity of the palette, which displays not only the characters but the terrain in various shades of grey and brown. Team affiliation colors could have helped relieve the visual tedium and provided valuable information, but are too bland and appear on too little of each model to accomplish much of anything. The animations, though lifelike, aren't particularly well-chosen--the berserker's mad dash into combat is portrayed as more of a menacing mosey, for example.

Just kidding--A) is unavailable. Will you spend your gold on A) ale and wenches or B) self-improvement and proselytization?

Given that the presentation is murky enough to muddle the action and make errors more likely, the absence of an undo is particularly irksome. Similarly inexplicably absent is any ability to move characters in your squad. If you recruit a healer to your front line, there he stays until killed. There's also no use of Game Center, which is puzzling for a game which seems to be designed to foster competition on leaderboards. Games tend to last a little over half an hour from first recruitment to the end of the final battle, so there's some similarity to the roguelike genre, but with nothing to unlock and no achievements to earn, the only incentive for repeated plays is to try out various strategies. Unlike more traditional roguelikes, there's no new content to discover. It's also not very stable or consistent at resuming where you left off should you leave the app.

Tactis is a good game in a terrible wrapper. It lacks many of the accoutrements we've come to expect from well-made apps and makes the game itself less accessible than it easily could be. Despite all of that, I played it more than I had to in order to write this review, and plan to keep it around for a while.

Review: Tactis

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