Tactical RPG games are a rare breed. They mix and match many elements from turn-based strategy games, role-playing games, and even rogue-likes to create one intricate beast. They can consume hundreds of hours playing through their campaigns, sometimes ending with heartbreak as your favorite party member is defeated and permanently lost after spending so much time building them up. The mechanics used across the genre are varied, but I have never quite seen one that blends so many options together like Telepath Tactics, a game funded via Kickstarter in mid-April of this year.
I got to sit down and play Telepath Tactics for an extensive period of time at C2E2 with the developer and founder of Sinister Design, Craig Stern. When I got my hands on the title for the first time, he explained in brief to me that, “Telepath Tactics is like Fire Emblem and Disgaea…but better.” Bold words for the Chicago-based developer that I hope he can deliver on.
Beginning the game, you start off with a small story sequence where you control one of the game’s characters and spar with one of your allies. This brief moment gives a little character insight, but more importantly, teaches you the basics of the game. Units are moved across the battlefield on tiles, which are square units that compose the ground of the playing field, and you can only move across so many spaces in a turn. Players can rotate their soldiers to take advantage of tactical positioning to get bonus damage on backstabs or to conceal their backs and sides to minimize the brunt of enemy attacks.
After this short briefing of basic mechanics, the game sets you out with a small group of varied units to show off the different soldiers at your disposal. The main units shown included swordsmen, archers, cavalry, and two casters that rely on psionic powers: the healer and cryokineticist. Swordsman are the most basic unit having decent health and a basic melee attack. Archers have a little lower health but could be set up to attack from several tiles away to their direct left, right, top, or bottom. Healers can provide small or large heals in a similar fashion for a cost of points from a psionic pool. One of my favorite units is probably the cavalry who can successfully dash in and out of combat to get quick and devastating backstab damage. Attacks are also not based on any sort of dice roll or random statistics, but purely on how players manage their units across the battlefield. Avoiding the annoying factor of random chance that some other tactical RPG games face, Telepath Tactics rewards players more for their actual skill.
I continued through the campaign to reach what appeared to be a small village that needed to be cleared of enemies. Slowly and methodically I moved my soldiers through, keeping my archer and caster units protected in between my swordsmen and spearmen all while prodding the enemy with cavalry. The AI was very responsive and smart; they’d move through buildings for cover, group up when trying to take out a lone unit, and attempt to maximize damage like backstabs when I accidentally provided openings for them. Units leveled as I progressed, gaining statistics like extra HP and even learning new abilities. I was also promised that permanent death is featured and that you can lose high level characters for good throughout the single-player campaign. The game was overall extremely snappy and responsive, resulting in a very polished experience that sucked away half an hour of my time at the expo.
Craig also went on to explain to me that Telepath Tactics features destructible environments and that you can also create your own objects as well in the game. In later missions you can use an engineer to build bridges to cross rivers or create barricades to protect your units. Players will also be able to interact with the environment itself by being able to shove enemies off of cliffs, into water, or even lava to add another layer of strategy.
The most jaw-dropping thing about Telepath Tactics is the support for multiplayer, where you can battle out a massive skirmish with up to six friends across several different levels. Telepath Tactics also comes with full mod support so that you can create your own tiles, textures, units, and more to customize the experience. Full single-player campaigns and stories can also be crafted and shared through these tools. Unfortunately, these features were not on display at the expo for me to try out.
The only thing that bothered me during my experience with Telepath Tactics was the story for the single-player campaign. Reading the text, the story seems to be fine, but it’s presented in a very bland fashion. Text boxes merely appear over characters’ heads to display what they are speaking; no sprite image next to the text box or any kind of extra flavor is displayed. This turned me off at a few sections, and I often found myself just skipping through walls of text to get to playing the actual game. This issue I do not think will drastically affect the game in the long haul, mainly because of Craig’s reiterated focus on multiplayer, and, with mod support, that could very well provide dozens of user-created campaigns that do not share this problem.
Overall, I am deeply satisfied with Telepath Tactics considering it’s only in early alpha. Its smart AI and reliance on skill make it a satisfying experience that really captivates a player. Destructible environments, mod support, and a lengthy single-player campaign is more than enough to provide for a solid tactical RPG game, but the addition of multiplayer really makes Telepath Tactics stand out. It’s a simple but amazing game that has great potential to be a hit with fans of the genre. If Sinister Design can deliver the multiplayer Fire Emblem-esque game that fans have dreamed of, it will surely be a must-play experience. You can visit the Telepath Tactics Steam Greenlight page to vote for it to come to the popular digital distribution platform if it sounds like Telepath Tactics is up your alley.