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RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

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RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 27 May 2015, 23:58:36

Tags: Sinister Design; Telepath Tactics

[Review by Zetor]

It Came from The SNES (and/or Flash)

Telepath Tactics is an SRPG/TRPG (RPG-wargame hybrid with a focus on turn-based tactical combat) in the spirit of the console Fire Emblem series, released this April after being successfully Kickstarted back in 2013. It's basically a one-man project of designer-developer Craig Stern and the latest entry in the Telepath franchise -- originally jRPG titles written in Flash. BEHOLD!

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I'm not an assassin, but I don't think trying to stab a buzzsaw-flail-toting bronze golem from the front is a good idea.

... Did a lot of people suddenly stop reading? Good. Anyone who'd give up on a game because it's an homage to a console series / has jRPG origins / is written in Flash / doesn't fit their graphicswhore sensibilities probably isn't the target audience. Make no mistake, behind the cartoonish 1990-era console graphics lies a hard and unforgiving wargame-ish RPG with impressive combat and encounter design that sometimes rivals the best titles in the genre. While Telepath Tactics is mainly a game engine for custom content (such as Battle for Wesnoth), I imagine most people are interested in the single-player campaign, thus I will be focusing on it in this review. Oh yeah, obligatory Dorito Disclaimer: I backed this game on Kickstarter way-back-when.

Before the review proper, just a few words about graphics and sound: they're fine. Really. I didn't dedicate a section to them, because they're just not that important for a game like this. Graphics are functional and don't detract from the experience. Sound effects are nice and crunchy without being overwrought. The music is decent (somewhat evocative of Final Fantasy Tactics) and doesn't fall into the "epic music" trap, though I ended up turning it off and listening to Spotify after an hour or so. I do this for pretty much every game, though, so it isn't really a critique!

Travel The World

The main campaign is decently long -- it took me around 25 hours to complete. As expected, more than 90% of that playtime was spent looking at hand-crafted and -scripted battlemaps, sometimes for more than an hour at a time. The basic gameplay is the same in each battlemap: you deploy a certain number of units from your party (usually 8-10 to start with, eventually increasing to 12-13 in the endgame and 18 for the final fight), and then do your best to fight off a large number of pre-placed enemy units on the map while trying to accomplish some sort of objective (get to a certain location, use switches to open doors / create bridges, block off enemy reinforcement tunnels, kill the enemy leader, or just kill all enemies while protecting the tent or an NPC). In addition, each map has several secondary objectives such as recruiting a certain named enemy to join the party by sending one of the two protagonists next to them and and talking to them, or getting loot from treasure chests that are invariably placed in out-of-the-way locations and sometimes 'stolen' by neutral thief NPCs after several turns.

Overall, Telepath Tactics' battlemap design is solid and does a good job of setting up interesting encounters while also making it fairly obvious where to expect enemy reinforcements from. In fact, most battlemaps strongly favor the idea of splitting up the team in two (or even three) groups to cover multiple approaches and cut off groups of enemies before they can flank the main force. This gives the missions a sort of 'puzzle-like' nature, further enhanced by the presence of (visible) traps as well as scripted events, such as groups of enemy reinforcements arriving on the map by turn X. The latter is not always a good thing, since most of these events can't be foreseen and can easily cause soft fail states (oh, you didn't leave anyone to keep watch over the tent when this group of 4 fliers spawned in the bottom-left side of the map with everyone up top? Too bad!) that will turn into a mere annoyance once the player replays the mission and metagames to handle the situation appropriately.

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Do I pay the toll, or do I butcher these goons for xp, money, and loot? Gee, let me think...

Aside from the mostly excellent story maps, the game uses procedurally-generated maps for a small handful of missions -- unfortunately, those maps tend to end up filled with poorly-placed enemies just waiting to get pincushioned without any chance of retaliation. Still, there are only two or three of these missions and they're pretty short, giving a much-needed breather between 'real' story maps. Hey, if an RPG must have filler, I'll take a few slightly uninspiring semi-random maps over endless random encounters any day!

Another annoyance comes from the perspective. Telepath Tactics uses a sort of bird's eye view (or 'RPG Maker view') for representing battlemaps, and while this approach is fine for encounters taking place on flat ground, it becomes confusing and/or aggravating when different elevation levels are represented on the same map. It gets especially awkward around climbable slopes such as the stairs in a certain pub seen below:

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And to the right, we can see TWO manifestations of the eldritch monstrosity known as the "Non-Euclidean Stairs of Coria". Iä! Iä!

The stairs on the left are just plain evil. Not only is it only possible to walk through them via a sequence of left-down-left-down steps, but units that have straight-line attacks can't hit anyone at the bottom of the stairs from above. This was pretty annoying for me when I played this map, as the last enemy on the level rushed me while my group was at the top of the stairs, rendering my casters and archer all but useless. I assume this is a known issue, which is why - despite the game fully supporting 2.5D map design e.g. by introducing damage bonuses for attackers on high ground - there is only one early mission where elevation is a significant gameplay element.

The same engine is also used to implement cutscenes and dialog sequences, and those usually work decently well. The one exception is a non-combat mission where the player controls a single character inside a fort to talk to people and whatnot -- I didn't feel that to be a particularly strong part of the campaign, as the engine is just not well-suited for it. That mission is also completely linear with not much else to do other than go to location A, talk to someone, go to location B, talk to someone, and then talk to a whole lot of other people before the inevitable battle. Okay, you can go ahead and lose some money by gambling with an NPC, but I think we've all learned by now that gambling in RPGs doesn't work unless you can savescum it (and at that point, you may as well just hexedit your savegame to give yourself infinite gold).

Meet Interesting People and Kill Them

There is no initiative system in Telepath Tactics. You can move all of your units in a single turn, in any order, and their turn only ends when they attack -- and for some classes, not even then. This is fairly standard in SRPG-land; however, the game doesn't force you to end the character's turn after moving them. Thus it is possible to move a melee unit out of the way for an archer to get in position, fire off an arrow, retreat, then move the melee unit back to keep the defensive line intact. This has lots of fun tactical uses, and solves most of the problems that arise from using ranged characters with a short-ish attack range (which is most of them, except for maybe archers with longbows). On the flipside, the lack of an initiative system encourages alpha-strike gameplay: luring the enemy in range of 4-5 attackers and then massacring several of them before they have a chance to fight back (typically through the use of movement speed-increasing abilities and consumables), sometimes deciding the battle's outcome before it has even begun. This goes both ways, too, so you'd better not overextend with a single melee character unless the enemy is really weak!

Being aware of movement and battlefield manipulation options is central to this game. Melee-type characters and telekineticists have the ability to pull/push enemies and some objects around the map with several abilities, which should be used and abused often. In fact, pushing an enemy into a hazard (deep water, lava, or off a cliff) is almost always the better option over killing them as long as the pusher doesn't expose themselves to the same fate. Cryokineticists can temporarily freeze water to build makeshift bridges. Engineers can build more permanent bridges and barricades that can be critical in order to block off an enemy advance or open a backdoor into the enemy flanks. Naturally, all of these things are destructible (mainly by spells and Crossbowmen), and there are few better things to do than detonating an explosive charge under 4-5 enemies standing on the middle of a bridge to watch them all plunge to their deaths.

Even though the game doesn't have zones of control (which is generally my preferred solution to handle 'frontlines' in turn-based games), it's still possible to control enemy movement simply by bodyblocking them at chokepoints, be it natural or Engineer-created. In case of tougher enemies, being aware of their movement and attack range is critical. Observe the example below -- even though the enemy has a high movement rate and a 3-tile charge attack, everyone on the team is safely out of range. The Cavalier in the upper right corner is getting pushed forward one tile by the Hero, allowing her to get within 3 tiles of the boss, and use Charge to (likely) stun him without risking a counterattack. Is that tacticool or what?!

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Not shown on the picture: the two stun attempts failing and the Cavalier getting clobbered in retaliation. She didn't die, though!

The combat system is deceptively simple: every attack automatically hits (with few exceptions, see later under RNG), but positioning matters. Attacks and spells do more damage from the side and a LOT more damage from the back; in addition, ranged attacks do more damage from close range. If the target has a weapon that can retaliate against the attack (e.g. a bow against a ranged character, or a melee weapon against a melee attacker) and they still have counterattacks remaining this turn, they can turn around and counterattack afterwards, usually for mediocre damage. This sort of positional combat in a turn-based game is actually a pet peeve of mine -- how can a combatant just walk around someone they're actively fighting and strike them in the back for much damage? A trained fighter should be able to keep their guard up and at least make an effort to face their foe (assassins excepted); a turn-based game should try to support this. The best backstab implementation was in the Gold Box games, where each unit could turn to face the first attack against them each turn, and subsequent attacks could backstab them or get a flat to-hit bonus. Ah well, can't fight against the SRPG industry standard!

All special abilities take energy to use (basic attacks and shoving/pulling enemies are free), which only recharges when a character is idle: 1 energy per turn if the character performs non-attack actions such as movement, 5 energy per turn if the character doesn't do anything at all. Considering that everyone starts combat with one-third of their max energy (with melee characters typically having a much lower energy cap than casters), energy management as well as proper use of energy-recharging consumables is a critical decision for most characters. Unfortunately this also makes casters lackluster for most encounters, as they are forced to pass most of their turns to be able to cast their spells when required. Speaking of consumables, they can be used at any time during the character's turn, and using them is a free action. As they can be quite powerful (restore a lot of energy and/or health, give the unit 40% more movement for one turn, give 20% physical damage reduction for a time), rampant Fallout-esque exploitation (hey, let me just go into my inventory and use 30 stimpacks) is kept in check by consumables being somewhat expensive and/or non-trivial to get more of.

In the end, overcoming challenges in a mission is done through a series of risk:reward decisions, and this game has them in spades. In fact, one of its greatest strengths is that there are so many ways to deal with those. You can play it safe or be super-aggressive; you can kill everything that moves or win a map without really fighting any enemies; you can even re-arrange the map to create your own strategy for winning the battle. Some examples that came up during my playthrough:
  • Do I move in tight formation to protect my squishies, even though this exposes me to AOE attacks and getting flanked by ranged enemies?
  • Do I split up my team to deal with enemies attacking from three directions, or do I keep everyone together and try to block off some approaches?
  • Do I send off my fastest units to open treasure chests behind enemy lines, thus possibly exposing them to danger while leaving me with less units to carry out the main objectives? Or do I leave treasure chests alone until I've dealt with the main threats, thus risking their contents getting stolen by an NPC thief?
  • Do I keep out of movement/attack range of potentially dangerous enemies while I get everyone in position (possibly allowing them to get reinforcements), or do I rush to the most important targets ASAP and try to protect my vanguard?
  • Do I move slowly and methodically through the map, destroying all enemy forces for extra gold / experience / item drops at the risk of taking more damage and losing resources, or do I send a flier to beeline for the main objective to avoid getting outmatched?
  • Before engaging the main enemy force, do I constantly reposition my casters in reaction to enemy movement to keep them as safe as possible, or do I try to get them into a moderately safe position in the first turn and then pass their turns to gain 5 energy instead of 1 per turn (and perhaps keeping another unit back to babysit them as needed)?
  • Do I save that suicidal NPC and expose my own units to danger, or do I let them die and possibly miss out on a new party member or even a side mission?
  • Do I burn consumables to burst down an enemy with a dangerous attack, or save them and prepare to take the attack?
  • Do I partially destroy a bridge to create a chokepoint and take the risk of the bridge getting completely destroyed by enemy Crossbowmen as a follow-up?
  • Do I attack from max range with my casters to avoid exposing them to danger, or walk to a 2-tile range from the target (or even melee range with Mind Blast and some point-blank AOE attacks spells) to get more damage out?
  • Do I kill this target by focusing attacks on them, or do I just push them into the water to make them waste their next turn swimming to shore?
  • After gaining the upper hand and having the option of finishing the battle at any time, do I let my lower-level characters pick off the last enemies to gain experience and possibly expose them to unneeded risk?
  • Do I switch to a weaker/cheap weapon to dispatch a near-death enemy, or do I keep using the good stuff in case the character gets attacked and needs to make the counterattack count?
Now keep in mind that some battles are long... and some are VERY long. They are also mentally exhausting -- once I was done with a 2-hour monster of a fight, I was typically not up for playing the next mission immediately. This is definitely a game that's best played in bursts with some time to recharge in between!

Put a RNG on It

There is basically no randomness involved in combat. I consider this to be -- arguably -- the best feature of Telepath Tactics. Consider that in a typical 'tactics' game, your plans may be thwarted by your sniper missing a 97% headshot (and this will happen every 30 shots), or the last remaining near-dead troll rolling a natural 20 and hitting your fighter for 30 HP, instantly killing him. In some cases this can increase tension and force the player to think of a backup plan... But let's be honest here, most of the time people will just reload a save, restart the fight, and possibly post an angry rant about the unfair random number generator (RNG) while conveniently ignoring the fact that the RNG can screw the AI over just as much. Not so here! If you miss with an attack, it's because you're deliberately using a risky low-hit move, trying to hit someone in defensive stance or attacking while blinded. Similarly, if an enemy one-shots any of your party members, it's your own damn fault for overextending or exposing them without controlling all potential threats first.

Of course, fully eliminating randomness isn't ideal either, because it makes encounters static and eliminates the need to adapt. Telepath Tactics does have a few random elements, but the key thing is that their effects are either relatively minor or have a high enough probability that the player can't just ignore them. Perhaps the best example is the 50% chance of attack spells to apply their appropriate debuff such as blindness or burning -- it feels fair, and yet requires the player to create contingency plans both for getting hit by these effects and the enemy resisting them, as well as drives you to try manipulating this chance by setting up the right units with the right kinds of resistances. For instance, when fighting white spriggats that can freeze characters, frontliners should have fur cloaks to reduce the freeze chance to 35%, turning the coin toss into something closer to rolling 1-2 on a d6; the immunity-granting frost orb should be given to the pyrokineticist character, as she is the only one who can remove frozen status from others.

Speaking of which, some status effects are absolutely brutal in this game. While it's easy to ignore something like Poison or Burning (just heal your way through it), a Blinded character becomes a completely unreliable attacker, a Frozen character is effectively removed from combat until someone thaws them out, stacked Weaken and Slow effects will make a character unable to move or do damage, and Mind Control is just devastating. This also means that taking out casters and other units that can inflict these effects is absolutely priority #1.

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"Weakened Weakened Slowed Weakened Slowed Weakened Slowed" is going to be the chorus of my next death metal song.

The lack of randomness also means that the AI can be a lot more vicious than in other games. If a unit has the opportunity to kill a healer or push a party member into lava, they will do it and they will succeed -- your RNG god won’t save your unit here unless it’s an overpowered assassin with insane dodge! The AI is also fairly decent at prioritizing targets and using the right tool for the job to maximize damage (including backstabbing whenever possible), but it’s rather single-minded in its efforts, which can be exploited if you know what makes it tick. Some simple examples include using high-defense tank units (or barricades) to bait enemy groups into advancing and dying to an alpha-strike next turn without being able to do much damage, bringing a frontline enemy to near-death and disabling it to force a healer to get in melee range, or just trolling enemy groups with ranged attacks from archers moving out of their attack range to force an advance or retreat. Traps are also a critical component in handling large numbers of enemy AI units by exploiting their love of back attacks: just lay a trap in a tile that blocks enemy advance, turn the trap-laying character’s back to that tile, and watch the enemy roadblock themselves! It is a nice touch that, while -- somewhat realistically -- enemy units that are already engaged in melee combat will not notice freshly-laid traps and merrily walk into them, enemies that aren’t similarly distracted will notice a trap being laid and try to destroy it.

We Are All Individuals

Another SRPG staple is the use of differentiated units, just like in a proper wargame. Instead of a more free-form system like Blackguards or the Gold Box games, each unit has a specific role and typically isn't very good at doing anything outside that role. This also means that you should consider which units to deploy on the battlemap depending on the opposition. Fighting a lot of ghosts? Bring on the casters! Need lots of mobility? Deploy both Cavaliers and flying units. Lots of hazards just waiting for enemies to fall into them? Deploy everyone who can Shove and Pull enemies. Etc., etc.

In (rough) order of appearance, the following units will join the party during the campaign:
  • Hero: The class of the two main characters; both are tanky melee characters with decent damage. Emma can inspire other units to give them extra turns, while Sabrina can lay traps that stun enemies.
  • Photokineticist / Cryokineticist / Pyrokineticist: Squishy casters that have fairly short-range attack spells with very useful secondary effects (blind/freeze/burn). They also have a melee-range mental attack, essential against ghosts.
  • Mentalist: Normally a controller type with spells that re-position enemies or straight-up mind control them. The Mentalist in the story also gets healer skills, making her one of the most important characters (and the first one to permanently die in my playthrough, of course).
  • Bandit: Slow-ish melee type with mediocre armor and hard-hitting attacks, eventually including a whirlwind attack hitting every tile around them. Can equip consumable throwing axes to gain a short-range throwing attack.
  • Archer: Ranged attacker with mediocre damage. Useful against fliers, can move after attacking, and eventually gets a long-range indirect attack.
  • Crossbowman: Shorter range than an archer and can't move after attacking, but wears better armor, does more damage, and has more utility (such as an attack that destroys objects / bridges).
  • Cavalier: Fast skirmisher that does low damage, but can move after attacking; can also charge enemies to knock them back and stun them.
  • Black Spriggat: Squishy flier with low-moderate damage, but essential for mobility. Their breath attack is decent against physical-resistant enemies.
  • Engineer: Almost useless in actual combat, but can lay down barricades and bridges (or explosive charges to destroy them).
  • Assassin: Extremely fast and mobile attacker that does massive damage with backstabs and can become immune to back attacks (in my opinion, a highly overpowered class that can win some of the encounters by itself -- damage multipliers are nasty things).
  • Spearman: Very tanky melee unit with extended range, can hit multiple enemies and equip consumable javelins for an even longer range.
  • Bronze Golem: Slow and tanky unit with melee AOE attacks, can use energy to temporarily move faster or repair itself.
  • Shadowling: Squishy flier with a large variety of healing spells and a few utilities/debuffs.
  • Barudit: Fast melee type with no armor and various debuffs; one of them can lay traps as well.
Enemy units are similarly varied; some enemy-only units include Stone Golems that can pick up and throw characters, White Spriggat that have a breath attack capable of freezing units (or water), and Ghosts that can drain energy or health while being almost immune to physical attacks.

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Oh, don't mind me, Mr. Heavily Armored Boss Dude, I'm just here taking 103% of your max HP in a single attack with my rusty shiv.

Characters gain experience by performing combat actions or by using (rare) XP book consumables; the amount of XP gained depends on the action itself as well as the action's target. Characters level up whenever they gather 100 XP, gaining a slight increase in offensive/defensive stats and possibly new abilities. Once a character hits level 20, they morph into an elite class at level 1 (Hero becomes Champion, Crossbowman becomes Arbalist, etc.), receiving some extra stats and improvements to their existing skills as well as the ability to equip high-end gear -- although I only found two 'super-weapons' in the entire game myself. Since to-hit chance is not affected by levels (except for the relatively small Dodge chance), a level 3 character of the right class can be just as useful as an elite class in many combat situations. Sure, they won't hit as hard, won't have too many abilities, and won't have the HP to take many hits, but my level 3 photokineticist's spells blinded enemies in the last battle just fine. This is a welcome change from the SRPG status quo, where deploying an underleveled character is a handicap at best (3% chance to do 1 damage to the enemy, I can do it guys!), and a liability at worst (oh my, did Newbie Bob get one-shot by that boss AOE again?).

Speaking of which, the main reason I'd deploy underlevelled characters in a critical plot battle in Telepath Tactics is because of... permadeath. Yep, if someone dies on a battlemap, they're gone forever unless you're playing on the easy difficulty setting -- and you're not playing on the easy difficulty setting, right, Citizen? Good. Anyway, with battles being as long as they are and no way to save mid-battle, choices have very real consequences. I lost two characters during the campaign in my playthrough -- the first time I was careless and didn't expect an enemy spearman to one-shot my healer, the second time I didn't block off a path in a cave, allowing an enemy flier to get past my frontline and backstab my archer for way too much damage. Both of those were tactical errors, and I accepted the consequences, even though losing a healer leaves you at a massive tactical disadvantage... Especially given that I accidentally killed a potential healer recruit in a subsequent battle.

Most gear is class-specific; typically each non-caster class has a weapon type that's exclusive to them, and some of them have secondary weapons such as javelins and throwing axes that are also class-exclusive. As weapons have limited durability before breaking (typically 50 attacks or counterattacks total), it is very important for every non-caster to keep a backup weapon in their backpack at all times. Armor is a bit more generic, with every humanoid unit capable of wearing light armor and boots, tanky melee units capable of wearing chain mail, helmets and shields, and very tanky melee characters being able to equip heavy shields and plate mail.

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Just as in any proper RPG, the lead character is hoarding all the good lewt.

More and better gear as well as additional consumables can be obtained in several ways: (rarely) dropped by enemies, (often) found in chests, or bought from merchants. Merchants pop up at fixed locations during the campaign, and (just like in any jRPG) tend to have better stuff for sale as the party gets near the endgame. Additionally, each merchant sells a rare special item for quite a lot of money. These items can be very powerful (one in particular allows its user to fly every turn that it’s activated at the cost of 1 energy per activation), but choosing to buy them may mean that the group will not have enough money to fully outfit everyone with weapons and armor. C&C!

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Come on Lakshmi, you've been in the party for like 4 missions. Surely you've had enough opportunities to find out your leader was raised by freakin’ lizardmen...

Omisigah!

The official campaign takes place in a really weird setting: there's psi instead of magic, giant mantises that you can ride instead of horses, and black blob-like psionic entities that feed on human suffering... Okay, the last one is probably not that out of place. The world is also a chaotic republic instead of the usual monarchy/empire, which just feels weird... It's like a billion jRPG/SRPG developers cried out in shock and were suddenly silenced. Craig seems to have put a decent amount of effort into building the world (even if it was done as part of the development process of the previous Telepath games), if the 5-page Lissit dictionary in the manual is any indication. Did you know that 'zetor' means 'the strong'?

On its surface the main plot seems to hearken back to old genre cliches: two children -- one of them with a MYSTERIOUS GIFT -- are saved from slavery by unknown benefactors, and then raised by lizardmen as powerful fighters. After completing their training at 18, they gather like-minded allies to return to the scene of the crime and EXACT THEIR REVENGE. Thankfully, the story itself is a bit more elaborate than that, and a lot of the typical cliches are avoided (except for the gloating end boss problem). Most importantly, it's a refreshingly low-key story with no world-saving -- it really is about these two sisters meeting up with a lot of other people who share their interests, and then dealing with local problems like bandit lords and slavers while they pursue their vengeance. The cRPG world needs way more of this, I think!

Speaking of what the cRPG world needs more of, I really liked the sheer variety within the gang of misfits that join up with the Striders along the way. Just take a look at the picture below.

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Not shown: a philosophical discussion on why the city guards ignored the massacre that just took place on the streets (I am not making this up).

In fact, this is perhaps the first RPG I've ever played where the women outnumbered the men: by the end of the game my team consisted of 9 human women, 5 human men, 2 lizardwomen, 1 lizardman, a female Spriggat, a female Shadowling, and a male Golem (debatable, but hey, he/it is sentient). And honestly, I think it is pretty refreshing after playing sausagefest RPGs like Blackguards where 3/5 of the party was male even with a female PC. Variety is the Posh spice of life, and all that.

Party members aren’t really “deep” -- each has one or two personality traits to make them memorable, and that’s about it. Honestly, considering that this is a single-developer game and you can have a roster of more than 25 units by the endgame, I don’t think making the characters more fleshed-out would have been a feasible option. There is a fair bit of interaction between party members in-between (and sometimes during) missions, including the obligatory campfire scene where you can talk to everyone -- and even trigger a romance, or so I hear. Each surviving party member also gets an appropriate ending slide at the end of the game with some mild C&C and character development, which is neat.

The writing is competent and functional. More importantly, it never tries pretending to be more than it is. It cracks a few jokes and puns here and there that made me smile, and that's already more than I can say for typical video game writing. On the other hand, if you're looking for catharsis playing an indie wargame-RPG hybrid, I don't know what to tell you.

I Got 99 Micro-Issues, But Lack of Ambition Ain't One

Telepath Tactics is an impressive game (or game framework, even) that tries to do a lot of things at once. In addition to having a single-player campaign that rivals the length of full-scale RPGs by itself, it has a mission/campaign editor, is fully moddable, and even has local hotseat multiplayer with capture-the-flag and deathmatch scenarios (that I never had a chance to try out, sadly). The potential is crazy, and with sufficient community support, it could easily become the next Battle of Wesnoth.

But... there are problems, too. The game has many, many bugs. I ran into about 8 bugs: the trivial (an ending slide not recognizing the death of a character, a wrong portrait being shown for one of the dialogues), the superficial (campfire scene not loading on my second playthrough, so I missed out on the aforementioned romance), the annoying (inventory issues, such as equipment getting mixed up between characters sometimes, or not being able to equip the last item in a character's inventory or switch between deployed characters unless I moved them to a different slot first), the serious (my Crossbowman's HP overflowing into negatives during her promotion to Arbalist, causing her to die when any ability was used on her), and the rage-inducing (AI lock-up when an enemy died to a trap during its turn). Before you ask: I did report these bugs to Craig, and most of them have already been fixed. It's just that if a normal playthrough (without specifically trying to break things) runs into this many issues, this may be indicative of a lot more bugs waiting in the wings.

Aside from the simple bugs, there were two major problems that can seriously being down the enjoyment. First of all, there is no mid-battle save. Obviously this has its positive side (no savescumming, though there's not much of an RNG component to savescum for in the first place), but with battles being as long as they are (I had one go on for 3 hours), the lack of a mid-battle save can be a huge pain for those who can't play that long in one sitting. Not to mention that hitting a serious bug (one that results in character death or the game locking up) 1,5 hours into a battle and having to restart the fight all over again isn't good for anyone's blood pressure. I should know, I've been there! The second issue is somewhat related: there is a very noticable performance drop after ten or so turns, eventually slowing down animations by a lot. This results in turns -- and thus, the battle itself -- taking waaaay more time than they should. I resolved to just alt-tabbing out during enemy turns after a while, and alt-tabbing back once the sound effects stopped playing.

Now, this is a one-man project, and we all know what that means -- even though Craig is working around the clock like crazy to address all these bugs and add critical features (like mid-battle save), dealing with them all and making sure no regressions occur is going to take a while.

You may have noticed that I haven’t really said much about the game’s UI. I consider it to function well enough. It has its quirks: some elements are not movable, and others do not look particularly pretty in certain situations (e.g. Sabrina’s debuffs overlapping with her abilities on the character sheet), but none of these quirks reached my personal annoyance threshold. OK, I guess the shop ‘interface’ (which is basically your standard dialogue tree with sub-trees for armor / weapons / consumables) made me narrow my eyes a bit, but it didn’t come up often enough to become truly annoying.

This Ain't Your Daddy's RPGMaker Game

There's a lot to like about Telepath Tactics, and it does lots of things better than established sRPG franchises, even if it's far from perfect. When it works, it really works... It's just held back by a number of missing features and technical issues that will, hopefully, get addressed in due time. If you're remotely interested in SRPGs or squad tactics games, you should pick this up simply because good PC games in this genre are so rare, and this one is better than most. Otherwise, give the demo a try at least!

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I have now made it my life's goal to see what happens if I get more than 32767 points.

Warning: extended exposure to Telepath Tactics may induce side effects such as buying a console and various Japanese games with either 'Tactics' or some fancy German word in their names.

Telepath Tactics is available on Steam and on GOG.com.

There are 24 comments on RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

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