No one truly dislikes the entirety of any one genre of anything, with people that say they don’t like Superhero films, perhaps they’ve only seen the Marvel stuff and should try out some fun time stuff like Disney’s Condorman from the 80’s. Or perhaps like me you’re not a fan of Reggae, but have you listened to every Reggae track ever? No, of course not, we as a species just make snap judgements and close our minds off from experiences because of a preconceived notion of a genre or taste. In gaming for me it was always Tower Defence Games. I’ve played a handful in my time running PixelBedlam and I’ve occasionally had fun with them but still felt slightly disconnected from the genre. I’m always one for a mash up of genres, often these days the only way to make something feel fresh is to smush various concepts together. Lornsword Winter Chronicle which recently hit Steam Early Access mixes Tower Defence, Action and RTS all together to make something that nearly makes me look past any prejudice I have to the genre.
Set in a fantasy world, Lornsword Winter Chronicle sees you take on the role of Corun, a family man who seems to be accidentally amazing at military careers and falls his way up the chain of command. Through the prologue you’re tasked with capturing rebel bases and temples making your way up the food chain to capture to capture a local villain. The game packs on the lore pretty heavy upfront leading you the player to feel somewhat out of your depth; terms, people’s titles, names and past conflicts all come flying thick and fast with barely any explanation. Obviously writing this side of things into story text is hard without relying on an amnesiac character as the audience puppet, but the pace that the developers, Tower Five, have gone for does deliver a little whiplash.
The story is presented in still cut-scenes that has some truly original and visually stunning art pushing it along, almost like stained glass or papaer collage images present a world to you that really is intriguing. A family dinner on the eve of battle alone makes for a glorious sight and some oddly believable writing despite the world at large. This art style of the cut-scenes is juxtaposed by the sparse and quite plain world you then play in. I wasn’t expecting a one-to-one translation but it’s odd to have something so stylised for story and text boxes in world but then something, whilst by no means unpleasant, but ‘normal’ be used for game-play.
The game itself sees you start as a lower ranking military man until a general takes a shine to you and with the help of his adviser teaches you ways of commanding an army. This Prologue could probably take most players about 30-60 minutes to get through and to be blunt it’s quite a slog. Each mission presents a new mechanic to get through and whilst none of the tasks assigned are hard to do by any stretch of the imagination it really does make the opening couple of hours feel like a chore and could put a lot of people off moving further into the game. The crying shame is that any that do drop off before getting out of the desert maps and hitting up some snowy scenery are really going to be missing out on something that is absolutely fascinating as a gaming experience.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle pushes the player to use a controller which would be considered sacrilege for most PC players looking at the this genre but Tower Five really have worked in a control scheme that simply makes sense. From a high view you directly control Corun, with him you must run, at least for the opening section of the game, around the battle field building up new forts, huts and temples to produce soldiers, watch towers to defend key locations and mines and farms to bolster your resources.
The game is all about resource management and path management. When laying down a new spawner for your army, a fort for example, fighters are produced at X per minute. Once it reaches 7 they will join a near by row of lanterns that lead the way to the nearest enemy stronghold. You are somewhat restricted here, you have no options as to where the paths start or finish and it is entirely possible to build in a location not close enough to a light path meaning your army will just stand around like they’re waiting for the job centre to open. If you have an objective to destroy three enemy encampments you’ll need to spend time after the first is destroyed demolishing your structures that no longer connect to an objective as building numbers are restricted by food. A saving grace of this is the split screen co-op.
Drop in drop out co-op arrives after finishing the prologue which is slightly odd as the prologue is a long tutorial, if your co-op partner wasn’t there for the introduction it does mean that you as the player will need to spend time explaining the nuances of the game and the general set up. It’s not the most arduous thing in the world but it is a tough game to get your head around when going in blind. Once you’re over that issue the actual co-op works wonderfully, being able to delegate jobs with someone makes the action flow so much smoother as you’re not hopping back to close down spawners or being pulled in too many different directions at once.
In it’s current Early Access state Lornsword Winter Chronicle already feels like good value for money, with 2 really quite loaded chapters that takes many hours to play through you’ll definitely find the experience worth it. The only gripes in it’s current state that I have relate to the feedback of Corun. Whilst navigating the battle it’s possible to swing your sword and be involved in the combat with your minions, the unfortunate thing is that there’s no controller vibration, there’s no feeling of damage being done, you just tap a button and the enemies flash red and eventually fall down. You don’t feel like the badass general getting involved in front line fighting, you almost feel like a hindrance that your troops roll their eyes at wondering why you aren’t dealing with the awful economic situation that the army has found its way into.
With content drops coming out already since launch it feels like a safe recommendation to say that Lornsword Winter Chronicle is definitely worth picking up. A mash up of genres that I haven’t seen before and a way of revitalising the tower defence genre that has somewhat fallen out of favour since the downturn in mobile gaming means that Lornsword is doing something new, and it’s doing it right. The minor issues I have are patch-able and the base game is something solid that plays like a dream in co-op.