Dungeons and Dragons: iconic, generation spanning, culturally defining. D&DTM taught me that games could have no boundaries and that the rule of cool always won out over written rules. Fun above all else. Invest in the story; you’ll get back what you put in. Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation is more than a long-winded title. It is a video game adaptation of a board game adaptation of the increasingly popular, you guessed it, Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. Tales from Candlekeep adheres heavily to the board game Tomb of Annihilation, unwavering in its dedication to the tile base targeting restrictions and effects. It is also unwavering in its dedication to adjust the less fun aspects of the board game. As such, the video game has all the same pitfalls and restrictions of the board game without the hassle of setting and cleaning up the board and a lot more visual finesse. This is our Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation review.
The game is gorgeous for its limited scope. There are effectively two different tile sets: the jungle and the dungeon. Both evoke a sense of place and vivid imagery that the board game lacks. The four characters and villains are interesting to see and look far better than any model I’ve ever painted and put on the table. Spell effects bring to life the few Dungeon and Dragons abilities in a way that the tabletop fails to capture because sometimes casting a spell is just rolling a dice.
The game plays similar to X-COM with grid movement, percent chance to hit (which always feels lower than the number shown), and turn based combat. Unlike X-COM’s vast array of different and unique soldiers, Tales from Candlekeep has four pre-made characters. Players can choose between several different abilities on each, but it lacks any real sort of customization. Even equipment upgrades have no visual representation. The rest of the combat runs exactly like D&D 5th edition, d20 rolls and all. It is, however, very barebones comparatively. It’s worth noting that despite these critiques and comparisons to a AAA title like X-COM that Tales from Candlekeep is marked at a great price at $15.99 USD on Steam and is worth every penny.
There are four different phases. The player phase, the encounter phase, the villain phase, and the exploration phase. Of these, the encounter phase is the one that player will notice the most and will also find the most frustrating. I compare it to having children. If you have children, or even vaguely know of the mischief and agony they can cause, the encounter phase is the equivalent of your kid taking his Tonka truck and ramming it bodily into your privates. This happens every round.
The primary issue the game has, as with its board game inspiration, is that players are put into purely reactive gameplay. Much like how you can only react to having your balls pancaked. How players affect the board is limited because they are forced to react to everything that happens to their characters rather than affecting the board state with any sort of action. The encounter phase is constantly affecting characters negatively with either damage or harmful effects, pushing players forward or putting their party at risk of being whittled down by what is essentially the map attacking them. Players can only negate these effects and have no real actions available against the encounter phase other than those negations. Creature spawns also force players to play reactively. The exploration phase happens after a player has placed a character on an undiscovered tile edge and passed the character’s turn. The tile falls, spawns a monster, and the monster immediately attacks. This, combined with the encounter phase, leaves players feeling hopeless and ineffective, unable to exact any proactive, or even active, playstyle. There is a mechanic to prevent these effects from happening, but prevention is not action, even if your groin thanks you for that prevention later.
Once the dust of the exploration phase and encounter phase has settled and you’ve iced down the swelling, the game really is a lot of fun. Combat is great and actually has strategic depth, though not like the likes of X-COM. The four classes make for a well-rounded party with various strengths and combos. Eventually the battles begin to all feel the same as there are not many different types of enemies or tiles.
Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation sticks true to its board game roots, almost to its detriment. The same issues from the board game rear their ugly bright yellow Tonka truck heads here, too. The encounter phase works to inhibit players rather than empower them, and every newly discovered tile feels like a punishment when the monsters can spawn and attack while your poor character sits there, a hapless onlooker as a fresh spawned half-ton four-armed undead gorilla barrels towards him. For its price point, the game is solid. Despite my gripes with its reactive playstyle, it is still a great deal of fun. Combat is satisfying. I looked forward to the tiles where enemies spawned in big groups rather than trickle in individually. Those moments made me feel the most challenged and rewarded. The game has a lot of fun in it for what is a decent tabletop game turned board game turned video game. All for a cheap price.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.
COMPARE TO: XCOM, Tomb of Annihilation board game
OVERALL SCORE: 7
- Great Turn based combat
- Unique characters with fun abilities
- Hours of fun for a Low Price Tag
- Almost entirely reactive gameplay
- The encounter phase
- Tonka trucks