Review: Shieldwall Chronicles07 Mar 2019 4
Review: Shieldwall Chronicles
Released 22 Feb 2019
A couple of years ago, Demon's Rise 2 was Pocket Tactics' RPG Game of the Year: a hex-based fantasy RPG laser-focused on complex tactical gameplay. Now, Wave Light has released the Shieldwall Chronicles: a hex-based fantasy RPG laser-focused on complex tactical gameplay. How does this new entry compare to such an illustrious predecessor?
Like Demon’s Rise, Shieldwall is an extremely crunchy game. Your standard attack calculation figures in the character’s skill minus distance, evasion, and cover, and then subtracts armor from your damage if you get a hit. Then the target may get a chance at a counterattack of the same complexity. With buffs and special attacks, you’re looking at a lot of calculations for each move. All this math can result in frustrating situations where two characters with piles of health can't hit each other at all or can only plink off single health points at a time, dragging out the battles.
Luckily, you can play in 'simple' and 'complex' mode and slide the difficulty of each mission up and down on the fly. Complex mode makes you use action points for everything, including moving and making attacks, while simple mode gives each character a set number of attacks and movement distance. In simple mode, you only need to be concerned about whether you have enough action points for the special ability you want to use, or if you should save them for the next round. These abilities are mostly determined by your characters class and level.
The characters come with both male and female models. Happily, the two models are statistically identical but visually totally unique designs, giving your team a lot of flair. Character animations are varied and give your characters and their individual moves some personality, even though they occasionally bug out and send them moonwalking across the tavern floor. Spell and damage effects are also well-done, especially the satisfying sprays of blood that accompany a direct hit and the molten fireball effects. Although the game runs on phones, it's definitely meant for tablet-sized devices.
Each of the fifteen character types has its own set of special abilities. It takes some time to learn what they are all capable of, but eventually you'll get some interesting tactical choices to make, even in simple mode. Back off and heal? Buff your attack and go for the kill? Which character best supports the others? Some specials are equivalent to more advanced attacks. Others are buffs or debuffs that can make the difference between your attacks bouncing off armor or scoring a critical hit. Magical items and gear also sometimes provide special abilities including bonus attacks. You'll pick up one for free after each level and between missions, you can freely buy from a massive selection of loot.
You also need to be concerned with your units' morale, which provides some realistic reactions to various battlefield situations, leading to panic if your units are surrounded or see their comrade fall. The consequences of panic are actually a bit too light, since it just removes the unit's ability to use special moves. I'd rather see something like XCOM where the AI takes over control of a panicked character. This can still lead to a failure spiral, if you suddenly desperately need your cleric to calm down and heal.
Maps have a lot of variety, including cramped indoor hallways, urban streets and squares, and wide outdoor spaces. The terrain makes a big difference in strategy, especially the many opportunities to take full or half cover. Cover makes a huge difference in reducing your chances of getting hit, making careful flanking moves a vital strategy and ranged units in good cover particularly deadly.
The storyline is well-written enough, but it doesn't stray from fantasy adventure tropes. This is a little disappointing considering the Demon's Rise series had you leading a party of devil-worshipers. In Shieldwall, you head a generic mercenary company that gradually gets pulled into to a larger conflict. There are a few choices to be made, but they are more of the "turn left" or "turn right" variety than critical dilemmas, mostly seeming to affect the next map you'll be fighting on. Your characters don't really have an individual impact on the story, and any one that drops during a mission will be right as rain during the next one. Mission failure just means trying again, and you can freely swap units to try a different strategy. The storyline is simply something to hang the tactical game on and provide an excuse for all the swords and arrows. It is very, very long, though: at least 40 hours.
If you're already a fan of Wave Light's Demon's Rise series, Shieldwall Chronicles is more of the same but with a somewhat less interesting setting and slightly more complex gameplay. New players who are after some RPG tactics with lots of math will also love this game.