I was given access to Heroes of Steel – the upcoming tactical fantasy role-playing game from the Trese Brothers – on November 24th at around 1:30 am. I was getting ready to head to bed and figured I would just install the game and really dive in after I got some sleep. After getting everything downloaded I thought I would just boot it up so I could check out the beginning of the game, but then get some sleep and play more in the morning. The next thing I knew, it was 4am and I was still playing.
I guess the very, very short version of this review would stop after three words: it’s really fun. I also feel as though I should be honest with you. I’ve been a fan of the Trese Brothers’ games since their first foray into mobile gaming – Star Traders. I have subsequently purchased each of their games since, and I continue to be impressed by the dedication that they show to their games and fans. All of their games are updated constantly. These updates aren’t just the bug-squashing variety either; new content and functionality is often added as well.
When I saw the Kickstarter for Heroes of Steel, I signed up immediately. I had a pretty good feeling that any money raised would be put to good use. In fact, one of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter allowed them to update their game engine, which not only helps Heroes of Steel but will also benefit all of their games in the future.
Anybody who has followed the Kickstarter, or seen the early promotional material for the game, will be happy to know that the new engine has made a tremendous difference, as everything looks great. All characters are animated; you can see the main characters’ heads, torsos, and legs move during gameplay. The movement seems somewhat arbitrary at times, especially during battle, but it’s all very fluid and makes for a far better experience overall.
Conversation and plot are handled via static images of the characters overlaid across the bottom of the screen. There are a few NPC faces that look a little bit rough, but overall everything fits into the fantasy genre, and most of the character design looks great. I also really like some of the little touches – during enemy turns the active character window is simply labeled as “Evil”, and blood splatters across the ground in combat areas, for example.
The story of Heroes of Steel is gritty. Your party starts in the prison of a corrupt baron whose motivations are unclear. After managing to escape, you must fight your way out of the subterranean prison and work your way to other bastions of humanity. I won’t delve too deep into the story, but there are secrets – even amongst your own party – that are not completely divulged during the build that I played. I was given access to the same build that Alpha testers have been playing for the last month or so, and it stopped just shy of the next human encampment. My Thief was undoubtedly very upset – she was so excited about finally sleeping on an actual bed at the inn.
Gameplay is straight-up tactics. Turn-based, party-system tactics. Right up my alley for sure. While outside of combat, all four characters can be controlled individually, or as a group. You can switch between active characters either using the golden arrow button to choose the next available character, or the four ‘blocks’ button to choose a specific character. Otherwise you can simply tap on the character you’d like to use. Each character has one or two base attacks that do not require spirit (magic) points, along with some that use spirit to strengthen the attack and other class-specific talents. There is some overlap on a few of the talents – both the mage and thief have talents that can unlock doors/chests, and both have some variety of far sight. This is almost certainly done to make sure that all available parties will have those same needed talents throughout the game once additional character classes are added. It would make for a pretty boring game if you rolled a party that could never get out of your jail cell.
My only complaint about the gameplay itself is small, and relates to the positioning of a few of the buttons. While in combat, the end-turn button is located in a bigger circle on top of the active character image. The next-character arrow is significantly smaller, and located below and to the right of the character image. I wouldn’t mind if those buttons were either switched, or at least resized during combat. The end-turn button is right around the spot where my thumb would settle during gameplay. Otherwise movement, attacks, and talents are all straightforward and easy to grasp. In battle, each character starts with seven action points which can be distributed between movement and attacks or talents. Action points can be augmented through buffs and curses, and your goal is obviously to remain standing once all enemies have fallen. Be careful though, if even one of your characters die you are defeated.
There were really only a few times that I could even tell that I was playing a pre-release product. The game has a very high level of polish. I ran into one force-closing bug, which had already been reported on the Trese Brothers’ forum, and was fixed for the next release. I also ran into another complaint that is being researched. Through some sloppy play on my part, I was out of potions, mostly out of health, and entirely out of spirit points for my healer. I’d run into some enemies who dispatched my party swiftly. When you are defeated you are given two options – retry from your last turn, or restore an earlier state in the game. Restore generally takes you back to the beginning of the level, though you do not seem to lose any of your progress or exploration. Unfortunately, if there are any enemies active anywhere on the map, you are stuck in battle mode and cannot camp, combine your forces, or otherwise flee the attackers. In my case the enemies were roughly ¾ of the way across the map and were making no efforts to pursue me, but I could not heal at the camp or do much else so I was forced to start over. I’m hopeful that this issue will be resolved in future updates, but for now it’s mainly an inconvenience that can be overcome with a little bit of planning. I had much better luck on my second game and tore through guards, ratkin, and anything else put in front of me. All told, I believe it took me somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four hours to get through to the end of this release, though I was definitely taking my time.
Trese Brothers have broken from tradition slightly with the pricing of Heroes of Steel. Their first four games have had a Lite (free) and Elite (paid) version of each app. The Lite version gives you a taste of the game – honestly a pretty big taste, the free games are still quite large – while the Elite version unlocks even more content – bigger maps, more options, etc. Heroes of Steel will be broken down even further. The base game is a free download and will include four main characters and the Prologue level. The remaining four episodes can be purchases for $.99 each, while four new characters can be purchased for $1.99 each. In the future, four additional characters will be available, again at $1.99. It is quite the departure jumping from $2.99 for an Elite version of Star Traders to nearly $20 for all characters and episodes.
Personally, I would say that the base game and the four episodes are a no-brainer if you like tactical/strategy RPGs. The game looks fantastic, the story is intriguing, and the gameplay is solid and fun. The Prologue is slightly longer than the build that I played, and the first episode should include two new towns and twelve new dungeons that are not in the Prologue. If the rest of the episodes follow suit, that’s an awful lot of tactical gameplay for a very small investment. I trust that the additional characters will be developed and integrated into the story as well, so if a particular character or play style tickles your fancy you should be able to download a few characters to completely fit your style. Based on my experience with Trese Brothers’ games, anybody that choses to download all available material should be rewarded. Different characters with different talents ought to open up plenty of replay into an already deep game. Some may not like the introduction of in-app purchases, but these are done the right way. Outside of the episodes which include additional story, all of the IAP’s simply augment the game to suit different play styles. You can definitely play through the entire story with only the four base characters.
So, tl;dr – Heroes of Steel is really fun. If you like tactical RPG’s, there is absolutely no reason not to install and play through the free Prologue. I have a feeling you will come back for the episodes as well. I know I certainly will!
Heroes of Steel will be available on December 5th, 2013 on Google Play, Amazon’s App Store, and iTunes, with a PC release set for sometime in 2014.
While you are waiting for the game to release, have a look at the latest promo video:
Find Heroes of Steel and all other Trese Brothers games at the links below:
- New release: Heroes of Steel (indierpgs.com)
- [Bonus Round] Savant Ascent, Heroes of Steel RPG, Never Alone Hotline, Island Of The Lizard King, And Little Inferno (androidpolice.com)