Fort Triumph is one of those games that sees the main characters amusingly observe the flaws inherent to feudalism, then encourages you to use the game’s over-the-top, physics-heavy combat system to reduce the local peasant population. In that way, playing through the game’s story mode felt much like playing through a D&D campaign. This is no accident: Fort Triumph is rife with homages and references to the tabletop RPG giant, and it’s full of jokes that lovingly skewer the fantasy genre’s many tropes. While the jokes do have a tendency to pile on and become tiresome, Fort Triumph’s real strength comes from its tactically rich, exhilaratingly joyful combat system.
- What is Fort Triumph? It’s a turn-based strategy game with RPG elements. Its story, filled with socially conscious Rangers, numbers-averse Paladins, and absurdly treacherous Nobles, is irreverent, lighthearted, and often downright satirical.
- Developer: CookieByte Entertainment
- Publisher: All in! Games
- Release Date: April 16, 2020
- Price: $24.99
- Website: www.forttriumph.com
- Review On: PC
A Mage, a Paladin, and a Ranger Walk into a Tavern
Tonally, Fort Triumph is exceptionally tongue-in-cheek. Initially, this was a barrier to my enjoyment. The jokes were a mixed, overstuffed bag, and the overall impression it left was that someone was trying a little too hard. However, once the party members found a groove with their banter, along with some none-too-subtle social commentary, the game’s humor became considerably more tolerable, even charming. Watching the exasperated reactions of the party to my Paladin’s profound naïveté brings a smile to my face. Signs in taverns forbidding maniacal laughter aren’t quite as delightful. The humor is at its best when grounded in the contrasting personalities of the player characters, as opposed to when it forms a deluge of forced meta-jokes. There are plenty of clever, funny lines peppered throughout the game’s text, but they need more room to breathe.
The art style of Fort Triumph, reminiscent of World of Warcraft with its vibrant color scheme and exaggerated character designs, fits the tone of the game perfectly. It isn’t sporting a gigantic budget, and its visuals reflect that, but there is – for the most part – a cohesive aesthetic that ties the game together nicely. A notable exception is the appearance of the Storyteller character, whose portrait feels uncanny and out of place when compared to other human characters.
The sound design offers a stirring orchestral score and evocative effects for the din of battle and the destruction of environments. Overall, the audiovisuals not only serve the tone well, but also the general feel of combat, capturing the fist-pumping, absurd thrill of using Whirlwind to hurl a Footman into a tree, thereby causing it to topple and crush a nearby Peasant.
Now, a couple paragraphs ago, I cited the distinctive personalities of each character as a positive. This does come with a particular caveat once permadeath gets introduced into the mix. Each class sports a certain personality type, archetypal, but with just enough specifics to make the repetition strange. Generally, permadeath is a mechanic that doesn’t mesh as well with the narrative as one might hope.
During my Campaign playthrough, I went through some troubles to rescue a Barbarian woman, who then joined my party. A couple missions thereafter, she was killed in combat. But this prompted no reaction from the other characters whatsoever, and she was soon replaced by a palette-swapped version of herself, who was, in turn, killed and replaced with a male version of the previous two characters. The permadeath adds enough mechanical tension that the lack of narrative impact feels like a missed opportunity.
A World of Hurt
While the relationship between storytelling and mechanics is often strained, Fort Triumph’s combat is, well, a triumph. Similar to XCOM in terms of tactical structure, the game also emphasizes the use of one’s environment to create an advantageous situation. All melee characters sport a Kick action, especially useful for knocking foes into objects and stunning them, preventing them from using offensive abilities. A more subtle option, available to everyone, is the Lift action. It can be a marvelous tool for teamwork, with characters hurling enemies into a cluster so that the Mage can incinerate them with a single fireball.
There are numerous interactions between character abilities, the environment, and equipment. A favorite combo of mine was equipping Greg, my Barbarian, with a pair of Winged Boots, allowing him to take a free move, then using Battle Cry to give every other member of the party free movement. The framework which allows for such combos is deeply rewarding to explore.
The result is a combat system that is continually satisfying and engaging as you play. There’s the quiet appeal of squeezing every bit of worth out of each Action Point spent, and of course, the spectacular joy of obliterating an enemy encounter in a single turn. Progression flows nicely from the early game to the midgame, as you master the basic mechanics in the former and transform your party into a well-oiled machine in the latter. Experimenting to see what works gives way to hyper-coordinated, lethal strikes, the environment itself becoming a powerful weapon in your arsenal.
All that said, the endgame is something of a letdown, with many encounters becoming routine. Once you’ve mastered a versatile, effective strategy for your party, the game struggles to keep the curveballs coming. Eventually, the challenge starts to seep away. Granted, one can bump up to the next difficulty when such a feeling arises, but it would have been nice to see a natural difficulty curve charted for the Campaign.
Speaking of the Campaign, the strategy layer feels considerably less developed than the tactics layer. The first two Acts especially feel barebones and repetitive taken together, and it quickly becomes clear that the encounters strewn across the map are limited in terms of scope and variety.
The gameplay of the strategy layer is competently put together; it just needs the same care and attention that was lavished on the physics of the tactical combat. But when all the mechanics have been established, and the AI factions start to go on the offensive, as in Act III of the Campaign, the strategic choices at play finally become fully realized. While the lack of a satisfying difficulty curve remains a problem, Act III’s strategic gameplay is easily the most dynamic and engaging in the Campaign, with siege defenses and the final quests serving as a fitting culmination of Fort Triumph’s mechanical strengths.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Tactical Layer - 9/10
Skills, Upgrades, and Equipment Choices - 9/10
Campaign - 8/10
Strategic Layer - 7/10
Audiovisuals and Storytelling - 7/10
Especially when dealing with the contrasting personalities of the characters, Fort Triumph’s story is funny and charming. A few too many jokes are groaners, difficulty and progression feel uneven, and it would have been nice to see more cohesive interactions between narrative and gameplay. That said, with its supremely fun tactical combat and climactic third act, Fort Triumph is a must-play for anyone who gets excited at the thought of a lovechild between D&D and XCOM, as well as those who enjoy joking about societal inequality while delighting in dropping tree trunks on hapless peasants.
- Thrilling tactical combat
- Satisfying Campaign mode
- Character upgrades and powerful synergies
- Jokes are a mixed bag
- Uneven difficulty curve
- Permadeath awkwardly implemented