Voidspire Tactics

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Tactical RPG’s which combined strategic grid-based fighting with a world to explore and interact with have never been very common, but I’ve always been fond of this particular subgenre and I am more than happy to say that Voidspire Tactics completely blew away virtually all of my expectations. This is more than just a solid game, this is an experience which allows for a degree of freeform exploration rarely found elsewhere and one which consistently rewards experimentation in every facet of its gameplay. Voidspire Tactics walks a very thin line, implementing a good number of features which have sent many a game tumbling towards disaster in the past, but the versatile class system ultimately helps it to maintain its balance.

On the surface, the class system here doesn’t look like anything new, but it is impossible to describe nearly any other element of this game without coming back to this system. Players start with access to three basic classes, the melee-focused Warrior class, the fast support-oriented Scout class, and the magic-wielding Scholar class, with each of the remaining fifteen classes eventually becoming unlocked after earning a certain amount of experience points in one or more other classes. There are no levels in Voidspire Tactics and experience points are instead used to learn and upgrade class-specific skills or to unlock passive skills which can be placed into three available slots and carried over between classes. Classes can be changed at any point outside of combat and each character can even have a secondary class, which grants access to all of its skills, but experience is only gained for a character’s main class and each class has certain default passive boosts which are only granted when it is the main class.

Up to this point the class system still sounds rather standard so let’s dive into the more unique elements. For example, there is a ‘star system’ where a star will be given to a class for every 200 experience points earned by that class for that character (most fights grant a bit over 100 experience points). These stars can then be spent to boost a character’s elemental and weapon affinities or to increase HP and MP and these boosts are permanent and shared between classes. Thus, you never need to worry too much about ‘wasting experience points’ by trying out a new class or by leveling one purely to meet an unlock requirement because, even if you decide not to use that class’s skills, you will still earn stars to permanently upgrade some aspect of that character. Between the permanent boosts of the star system, the presence of secondary classes, the ability to equip any three learned passive skills regardless of a character’s current class, and the lack of class-based equipment restriction, characters are incredibly customizable and experimenting is actively rewarded with little in the way of risk of ruining a character build. More importantly, the skills themselves are extremely varied and the majority of them are useful both in and outside of combat.

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Environmental interactions are handled in many different ways in games. Some games go for a Golden Sun approach with many skills, but with puzzles and situations which call for the usage of a specific skill or a specific combination of skills. On the other side of things, games like Minecraft have fully interactive environments with the ‘puzzle’ element coming from discovering ways to use objects or new things to craft rather than from any direct obstacles. Voidspire Tactics falls somewhere in the middle with puzzles and obstacles which can be overcome by a wide variety of skills and items. For example, a lever might be on the other side of a large gap and needs to be flipped to progress deeper into the area. If a character has a particularly high jump skill, they can probably jump over the gap if set as the party leader or a Gatekeeper with a few points in the Gate skill might be able to teleport across it. Alternately, if the gap is filled with water any number of magic-based classes could cast an ice spell on it or an Enchanter could give a weapon an ice enchantment and use their weapon to freeze a path. If there’s a cave wall a pickax could always be used to tunnel an alternate path or perhaps vines could be placed along it to climb across. Of course, in this particular scenario the easiest option would probably be to just use a ranged weapon to shoot the lever and if it’s too far away perhaps a Sharpshooter’s ‘Farshot’ skill could still reach it. For a dark room, you can place down some seeds, have a Sage cast Growth on them a few times to grow them into a plant, and then set it on fire to illuminate an area for a few moments or have a Gatekeeper use Gate: Storm to summon a massive bolt of lightning for a brief glimpse at the entire area. I used my laser spear for lighting campfires every chance I got and there is a wonderful feeling of satisfaction and a great deal of entertainment to be had from using ridiculous weaponry and earth-shattering spells for even the most mundane of tasks alongside smiting one’s foes.

Speaking of smiting, let’s talk a bit about the combat system. For the most part, this is a relatively standard grid-based tactical turn-based combat system, though with a few nuances worth noting. Other than the occasional ambush, groups of enemies, along with their classes and a general idea of what type of equipment they’re using, can be seen before approaching them. Combat usually starts once an enemy notices the party, though most buffs can be cast in advance even when not in combat and ranged attacks can be used to deal some damage before the fight begins. Movement and range are particularly important in Voidspire Tactics with most skill upgrades boosting range, area of effect, or some other element instead of raw damage and every melee-based class has at least one skill which allows it to move farther or attack at range. Turn order is flexible and always displayed in a banner at the top of the screen and movement can be performed either before or after taking an action; choosing to move without taking any other action will reduce the amount of time before a unit’s next turn. Most spells and many of the stronger attacks in general also have casting times and the skill in question will appear on the upper banner, where it can be moused over at any point to double check the area it will be hitting.

Voidspire 1There are also a few combat systems which are emphasized more than usual or otherwise implemented a bit differently. In many ways, accuracy is valued more highly than damage. A dark room isn’t merely inconvenient, it can be outright devastating as light sources, and the strength of the light sources in question, can greatly influence the hit rate of attacks. Wielding a lantern in place of a shield in a character’s offhand can be a worthwhile tradeoff and I quickly learned how valuable the light-generating Sun Gate passive skill really is. Unlike in most tactical games, the direction a character is facing does not affect damage, other than for a few specific skills, and instead further affects hit rate. As far as equipment goes, there are a few clear upgrades, such as steel weapons consistently being stronger than iron weapons, but the big focus is on the equipment types themselves, such as crossbows being strong, but needing to be reloaded after every shot, hammers having reduced accuracy while ignoring 50% of a target’s armor, and greatswords hitting in a three-tile line.

Combat pacing is often a stumbling block for the tactical RPG subgenre as a balance needs to be struck between the frequent, short fights of RPG’s and the much lower amount of much longer fights in most tactical games. Like in most other ways, Voidspire Tactics strikes the balance it needs when it comes to encounter frequency and length. Though some encounters are randomized and respawn, most encounters are fixed and never respawn, resulting in painless backtracking. This is also a low-stat game where from start to finish both the four controllable party members and all non-boss enemies will remain in the double digits in terms of health and damage, resulting in encounters which are fast and brutal rather than mindless or drawn out. Pacing in general is also handled well as both HP and MP rapidly restore while walking around outside of combat and the only penalty for a party member dying is a temporary reduction to their maximum HP until you find a campfire or a bed to rest at. The saving system also further benefits the pacing as auto-saves are often created after entering a new screen or on a few other occasions and manual saves can be created at nearly any point outside of combat.

Though the skill system, environmental interactions, and the combat are impressive in their own right, the biggest strength of Voidspire Tactics comes as something of a surprise – the sense of exploration and discovery. The number of secrets to be found is outright absurd and fans of Dark Souls and especially the original The Legend of Zelda will feel right at home here. Digging at a patch of rubble may result in nothing at all or it may uncover a hidden staircase, a patch of wall surrounded by rocks may very well be hiding a secret passage, and more than one small, seemingly unimportant room has a fake wall or two. Though some of these secrets simply lead to a nice item, a rather large number of them lead to entirely new regions or miniature dungeons, often with an optional boss of some variety. There are a few instances in which this sense of exploration mixed with the freeform skill system results in unintended results, such as entering the exit to a side area before finding the intended entrance, and this is especially true if you have access to and make extensive use of the barrier-bypassing Gate spell, but this is almost never game-breaking and the multiple auto-saves and a built-in ‘help’ skill (with an extensive cooldown) which teleports you back to a certain location combat these situations if and when they appear. I probably spent about half of my more than twenty hours of playtime looking for and exploring secret locations and even as the credits were rolling I was left with the sense that there were almost certainly a few places I hadn’t discovered and several stones left unturned.

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The sense of exploration and discovery is not at all exclusive to secrets. Within the first hour of playing you’ll encounter the region which serves as the main hub of the game and from there you are free to explore down several different paths, opening up new routes and shortcuts as you go. The game itself also takes place on a floating landmass stitched together from various ‘stolen lands’ so the environments themselves change frequently and unexpectedly. Though finding outright lore is a rare occurrence, there is a ‘Look’ option which can be used on any enemy and nearly any item or environmental object to gain more information on it, often with a hint as to ways to interact with it or circumvent it.

If there are any elements in which Voidspire Tactics stumbles and losing some of its otherwise near-perfect balance, they would be the plot and especially the inventory system. Though the plot is not bad in and of itself and it is nice to have an RPG in which your characters happen to be unwillingly pulled into a larger conflict instead of being generic ‘destined warriors’, the actual execution falls somewhat flat. You do not recruit new party members and the four party members you do have are complete blank slates with names, races, and appearances all being fully customizable at the start. Unfortunately, this blank slate status carries over to the dialogue as there is nothing in the way of a morality system or any other system which keeps track of how you’ve previously replied to NPC’s in the past. On the plus side of things, you do have the ability to talk yourself into a nearly unwinnable fight at several points in the game, but for the most part there is a surprisingly restrictive sense to the storytelling and it feels like you have very little control over how events play out or what role your party ultimately plays at any point in time.

Voidspire 4As for the inventory system, each party member can only hold their own equipment and eleven other items in a game where class changes are likely to be frequent and item experimentation plays a major role. This restriction is likely in place to prevent you from stockpiling an excessive number of consumable items in combat, but it results in an annoying amount of inventory juggling. You’ll come across plenty of bags and other containers throughout the game and these can be placed directly in an inventory slot so inventory space itself is unlikely to be an issue unless you’re like me and are particularly excessive with your item hoarding. The issue here comes from actually keeping everything organized as there is no easy way to do so. For example, if you have a bag dedicated to crafting materials and you find a lump of iron ore, you would either need to open your inventory, navigate to and open the bag in question, and then click and drag the iron to your existing stack or skip opening your inventory and have the iron ore be placed in the first open slot in one bag or another instead of automatically being added to the existing stack. Pickaxes and shovels are both very useful for exploring, but they also are consumed after a few dozen uses so you want to keep extras on hand, but moving an item from a bag to your standard inventory takes up an action in combat so you want to keep non-combat items in bags whenever possible, but actually finding which container any given item is stored in can be time-consuming and messy. By the end of the game I had a character whose inventory was almost entirely devoted to carrying various bags and boxes, one of which was in turn dedicated to holding even more bags filled with crafting materials, consumables, and situationally-useful pieces of equipment. It’s a system which feels unnecessarily disorganized and can quickly become a pain to sort through, especially when compared to systems found in other games with limited inventory space, such as in the Dragon Quest series where each character has a limited personal inventory space alongside a shared ‘bag’ with infinite storage.

Inventory management woes and a somewhat disappointing execution of the plot aside, Voidspire Tactics is very much a game worth paying attention to. There are so many ways in which the freeform exploration and skill interactions could have gone wrong, yet time and again I found myself surprised and amazed at the depth and fluid malleability of the systems at play. Unlocking a new class wasn’t just exciting because it gave me more options for how to fight in combat, it was exciting because it meant potentially gaining access to new ways to explore and interact with the expansive and unpredictable world around me. This is an entertaining, innovative, and solidly executed experience and I hope even more so than usual that this game eventually gains more attention than it currently has as I would gladly welcome the creation of more games like it.

1 Comment

  1. Kopyrda

    Great review of a great game:) Developer is going to make another RPG.Those interested in giving some feedback (especially about Voidspire) may vist this thread: http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/voidspire-tactics.104631/


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