Published on April 2nd, 2013 | by Darik Kirschman1
Telepath Tactics is like an indie, psychic Fire Emblem
It’s no secret that I love Fire Emblem. There’s just something about the series’ blend of great characters and deep, tactical combat that really gets me going. While I was at PAX East, milling about and generally doing all the journalism, I stumbled upon a booth for Sinister Design’s Telepath Tactics. Having heard a bit about the game through its Kickstarter campaign, I decided to get some hands-on time and see just how the game’s faring. It’s a title that feels similar to Fire Emblem, but has unique sensibilities that really shine through.
Telepath is a turn-based strategy role-playing game which takes place in a steampunk fantasy world; a world the developers are saying will stave off the typical tropes associated with the setting. Instead of magic, people rely on good old fashioned machinery — as well as psionic abilities (hence the ‘telepath’ part of Telepath Tactics). Elves, goblins, orcs and other fantasy trappings have been done away with and, in one of the coolest ideas ever, knights ride gigantic armored praying mantises instead of lame, girly horses. Political intrigue and horrifying wars will no doubt be featured in the narrative, but giant praying mantises seem much more important.
The combat is standard turn-based strategy fare. Players take control of a small army filled with a respectable 22 different character classes — bowmen, rangers, knights and telepathic swordsmen among them — maneuvering troops around large maps with the ultimate goal of defeating the opposing army. What really sets Telepath Tactics apart is the amount of depth the combat has, as well as the wide range of status afflictions. Soldiers can be partially blinded, lit on fire, frozen, lifted up into the air through telekinesis, and pushed off of cliffs to incur fall damage, with a whole host of other damaging systems in place. The developer from Sinister that I spoke with was also keen to note that, unless a combatant has some sort of mitigating factor, attacks will have a 100% chance of hitting, making Telepath Tactics more about your keen strategic mind than random luck. I’m torn between excitement and fear on this front; making it through a tough battle by the skin of your teeth due to that one character landing a particularly risky attack is incredibly satisfying, though the inverse is every bit as frustrating. It will be interesting to see if this changes the way players interact with Tactics at all.
Sinister Design wants players to realise that defense is just as important as attack. Gamers will have the ability to construct barricades, as well as blocking off certain routes with boulders or barrels. A true master tactician will have to rely on both to survive, as the enemy AI is, in their words, “aggressive and reactive.” Your opponents will actively seek out the weakest, most defenseless unit on the field, as well as using many of the same methods players themselves will rely upon. In my short time with Telepath Tactics’ demo, I learned that first hand. My foes weren’t keen to just sit back and let me kill them — upon drawing blood, they quickly swarmed my bowman, with one particularly cruel soldier backstabbing him for extra damage. The artificial intelligence seems to be at a good level, though it’ll be nice to see if the developers will be able to increase its guile and human-like behavior before the game’s final release.
I enjoyed my time with Telepath Tactics, finding its combat to be a much deeper experience than Fire Emblem‘s, though only time will tell if the single-player story will be just as engaging. Sinister Design has a solid game already in place, but their Kickstarter is still open for those interested in helping out. If you can’t spare the money, a simple vote on Steam Greenlight would certainly make a world of difference. With some extra polish and time, Telepath Tactics could easily stand up there with the best of the genre. After all, they already have giant praying mantises.