Playing an Early Access title and trying to analyze its merits can involve a lot of trial and error. You might start a level and almost immediately get crushed by the AI. When that happens, what was the problem? On the one hand, it could just be that your skills weren’t up to snuff. On the other, it could just as easily be a balance problem that needs to be tweaked and adjusted.
This was a dynamic I often found myself pondering while playing Spirit Oath. While there were certain moments where the issue was with the game and its stability or balance, the majority of these times required a readjustment of play on my part. By striving to learn the mechanics and master them, I found success despite adversity. That’s a very promising feeling to leave players with, especially from an indie strategy title.
- What is Spirit Oath? It’s an action RTS wherein players place tiles, spawn Spirit Warriors, and direct their forces to victory against the enemies assailing Elderwood.
- Developer: Triangle Square
- Release Date: June 2, 2020 (Early Access)
- Price: $14.99
- Reviewed On: PC
- Website: www.fb.com/spiritoath
That’s the Spirit!
The first thing that struck me about Spirit Oath (aside from the visuals, of course) was the elegance of its tutorialization. This is a subject I like to broach when talking about games, in part because so many developers either put forth a half-assed approach (i.e., asking players to read walls of text) or avoid putting any effort into teaching players whatsoever. Spirit Oath, with the way its visuals and interface are presented, is instantly intuitive.
Tile placement and unit spawning quickly become second nature, and the majority of instruction is conveyed through play rather than through lengthy stretches of text. The result is that you can immediately dig into the game’s mechanics, and when you fail, you can rest assured that it’s not the result of failing to grasp the basics. This is important because you’ll probably find yourself failing at this game… a lot.
Spirit Oath isn’t a particularly easy game, especially for someone like me. When I’m playing strategy games, I like to take the time to work out problems on my own and think through every order I give to my troops. This was a habit I had to unlearn quickly. Some levels are particularly merciless, sending groups of enemies after your central totem (which, if destroyed, causes the mission to fail) mere moments after dropping you in. Consequently, I had to get used to getting the ball rolling on spawning troops and setting up my defenses immediately, with little time to plan or deliberate.
Now, once you’ve acquainted yourself with the basics and adjusted to the game’s pace, what is Spirit Oath actually like to play? For one, it’s lovely to look at, sporting a cohesive aesthetic that fits this mystical, spiritual world like a glove. It’s also deeply satisfying, especially after losing a few runs, to set up an adequate defense, then proceed to charge ahead and overrun the enemy’s base. The story campaign’s mission objectives can be unforgiving and occasionally buggy, but overall, provide a good framework for learning new units and incorporating them into your strategies. Meanwhile, an emphatic, often whimsical narrator conveys the story to the player, giving the mood of hearing a myth or fairy tale.
The Spirit of Progress
Spirit Oath is hitting Early Access at an ideal point in its development cycle. Its central mechanics are functional and fun, and the broader framework of the game seems promising indeed.
Moving forward, the developers should pay special attention to unit controls. Currently, the only method for selecting units involves dragging your cursor around a group and ordering them about. Early on, when levels are more straightforward, this isn’t a big issue. But when engagements increase in complexity as the game progresses, micromanaging your units becomes an increasingly valuable tactic. This is problematic, because (at least so far as I’ve discovered) there’s no easy way to select a specific set of units among a crowd. Especially when organizing a defense and trying to fend off enemies from multiple directions, specific troop selections in a critical moment could be the difference between victory and defeat.
The other major problem I encountered was a bug in the Grove of Growth mission. You’re tasked with locating a temple, which requires building a path for your ground troops. After learning the location, however, and upon retrying the mission, I just sent some flying troops to discover the location immediately. Every time I did this, the game crashed. Of course, the bug itself needs to be fixed. But the larger implication here is that the devs need to be cognizant of the options available to players. They need to ensure that, if nothing else, the game has a stable response to these actions.
Overall, Spirit Oath is fun and challenging, visually striking, and distinctive. I think it’s safe to have high expectations for the full release.