Review – Alder’s Blood
Alder’s Blood is a tough game for me to review, not only because it itself is a tough game, but I want to love it despite it pushing me away. A strategy RPG game that is a cross between XCOM gameplay and Bloodborne’s theme? Absolutely sign me up! However, there are a few issues present in the current build that make it hard to praise the title. I’m almost certain a little T.L.C. patch can tighten some of this up, but for now all the issues are here to stay. First, let me plead the game’s (and my) case to you, the now possibly worried reader.
In Alder’s Blood you play as the Chief of your clan of Hunters, a class of people who were born to fight the evils that have devoured humanity. God is dead. Without a God, the evils of the world roam free, but with the death of God, The Hunters were born. They aren’t quite human, but not fully beasts; Hunters are the only ones who can be in the proximity of evil and not go mad. However, even The Hunters are not immune as they will eventually become corrupt and turn on the humans.
As Chief you must manage your traveling caravan of Hunters during your quest. This includes various activities performed at the camp, and on hunts. At camp you will craft items, scavenge material, recruit/upgrade/sacrifice Hunters, and manage loadouts. To perform any actual tasks such as crafting or scavenging materials you will need to set Hunters to that task. Each Hunter can be assigned one of four tasks to complete per day and resting will advance the day. A Hunter can stand guard, greatly reducing chances of an ambush. Scavenge materials, which are needed for purchasing items, recruiting, and crafting. Setting them to craft will work on the items and weapons you selected to craft, depending on their skill or how many Hunters are crafting, it can take a couple day cycles. The last task is for them to rest which helps heal them.
The more Hunters you have in your clan, the higher the chance of an ambush, and there is always a chance an accident can happen and your Hunters could get injured. Leveling up Hunters also gives you the opportunity to assign perks. Perks range from scavenging bonuses, health bonuses, sacrifice experience bonus, and a few others. These don’t impact the combat much, but do wonders for your base management. Assigning scavenging bonuses to all of your Hunters, tasking them to scavenge in one of the best spots, and dealing with a few ambushes is enough to almost break the economy balance of the game.
Hunters of course aren’t around very long because as you go on hunts or deal with ambushes their corruption rises. Once the corruption reaches “Worrying”, you may want to think about sacrificing them to bolster new recruits. If you do not sacrifice in time, they will turn and do damage to the rest of your Hunters and camp. Sacrificing a Hunter essentially transfers their experience to another Hunter so your XP isn’t a total loss. Some XP is lost during the transfer, but it’s enough to bolster a new recruit to be a more effective Hunter.
Being Chief of a clan of Hunters means you’re going to send them on some hunts. There are only a few different types of hunt objectives, but each scenario is very different. You will explore the map, consuming food resources as you travel, as well as stop at various locations to accept hunt contracts. The hunts are easily my favorite part of Alder’s Blood, despite a couple of annoying design decisions. Hunt gameplay is a fairly typical top-down strategic RPG with each Hunter having a set amount of Action Points that will dictate your combat and maneuvering. It will of course remind you of other titles such as Phoenix Point or X-Com, but it has its own unique attributes.
During hunts you will rely on stealth far more often than not, mostly because even small enemies can put up a fight. You’ll need to position yourself in bushes almost constantly, and use your Hunters Vision to see your enemies vision cone. Sneaking up on any target from behind and using a small dagger will cripple them for an entire turn. This will be your main approach for any enemy since it allows a Hunter to use a Banish spell. When a monster is crippled you’re able to cast a Banish spell to get rid of them no matter how much life they have left. This is very useful for larger targets, but like all strategy games you must be careful of your action points. If you run out of action points you will collapse wherever you are and can’t move for an entire move cycle.
This is why it’s very important to plan your attacks appropriately to make sure your Hunters get back to stealth with some AP left. The best approach is to use two Hunters if possible: one Hunter to cripple, the other to Banish. Banishing takes up three AP, so it’s important to take that into consideration. There are also a wealth of combat options to select from: weapons with various damages, guns of varying size and loudness, items to throw, and snares to set. I really enjoy the amount of options available here and there were often times I was stuck in a hard spot, but remembered an item to use on my last AP that got me free.
Stealth mostly takes place in bushes, and for the most part this makes you completely invisible to enemies. However, there is a scent mechanic that can get you in trouble and is my least liked feature. I actually really like the idea of a scent path blown by wind, unfortunately the wind pattern changes every turn with no way to predict it. This puts a RNG factor in place that can lead to annoying hunts and some save scumming. There is also no pattern to the way enemy AI behaves, it seems very erratic. Between random enemy paths and a RNG wind pattern, it can quickly ruin even the best laid plans.
This leads me into some other issues I have with Alder’s Blood that range from annoyances of the platform, and some bugs. I did mention above feeling the need to save scum due to RNG designs, but I ran into some strange issues with saving. You can save at any point, however, be careful with overwriting save slots. I had some instances where a save slot took me back multiple missions despite displaying my most recent date and time played. There was also a time I reloaded and it brought me to a save file that was at one thousand days and I got a game over screen because my Hunters all died. The only thing that worked was to create a new file slot each time I saved.
There are also plenty of glitches within the menus at times showing error codes or items code script. As well as quite a few spelling mistakes throughout the text conversations. All these things easily take away from being absorbed in the game and make it feel cheaper than it should. There is also the general controls that can at times be frustrating, but this is mostly due to the Joy-Cons and the Switch’s small screen. Using the joystick moves a mouse cursor which is how you select everything from moving to combat. The Joy-Cons aren’t the best at small movements and things are very small on that screen, especially text.
Luckily the visuals can still be appreciated even on the Switch’s small screen. The art style and theme is fantastic and perfectly realized and rendered. It has a 2D comic book style with heavily weighted black lines to really make things pop. However, it is the subject matter being Victorian-era Gothic that I really enjoyed. Hand drawn art slides that depict visceral gore and dark tones are very well done. Unfortunately, a lot of this is lost during hunt gameplay since everything is so far away. Even zoomed it still doesn’t give off the same level of quality and gore like the still drawn scenes do.
Sound design isn’t much to get excited for since it’s very minimalist. Majority of the soundtrack, if you can call it that, is various low and somber tones. It does meet the visuals and tone of the game, however, there is a missed opportunity to hit us with some big pieces during fights. There isn’t really any voice acting, which is fine if the text wasn’t as riddled with spelling errors. The various sound effects found throughout the game from combat, menus, and some still art scenes are well done and serviceable.
Alder’s Blood is a game I want to recommend because it does have a lot going for it. The gameplay is competent with some unique elements, and it has a great theme and visuals. However, due to the issues present in this review build I would recommend waiting on some patches. If you’re looking for your next SRPG and love Bloodborne‘s themes and setting, then Alder’s Blood is the game for you. Just maybe not in its current state.
The art style is striking with its heavy weighted outlines lending well to the games darker, gory, Victorian-Gothic theme.
Strategy RPG elements work well and the focus on stealth adds an extra dynamic. However, there are some unpredictable elements that lead to frustration. Joy-Cons also aren’t the best with this type of game.
Low somber tones throughout the title that fit the theme of ever impending doom. Unfortunately, it never rises above this to set higher stakes. Various sound effects are serviceable.
While there is a solid game with unique elements, there are too many frustrations and a handful of annoying bugs.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Alder’s Blood is available now on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Alder’s Blood was provided by the publisher.