Lornsword Winter Chronicle Hands-On Preview
Lornsword Winter Chronicle is an RTS/ARPG hybrid from Tower Five that has only recently launched into Steam early access. I had an opportunity to check out a bit of the game. What I found is a mixed bag of impressions of a game that tries quite hard to blend two genres together, though struggles to do so. That said, however, all is not lost. There is a seed of something special inside Lornsword that, with a bit of time and work during early access, can turn it into a unique entry into the games space.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle opens with Corun Lan Ka speaking with his family about the troubles that seem to be coming to the country. Corun is a guardian of a defensive barrier on a little traveled flank. He has made a life with a wife and two kids and is seemingly content until he is called to battle. He agonizes over leaving his family, but fulfills his duty and leaves them behind. Once he arrives and meets the elderly commanding general -- obviously someone Corun admires -- he is given command and orders to take the fight to the enemy.
Players are tasked with defending their base, constructing buildings to summon units, farms to increase production limits and how many buildings can be constructed/upgraded and mines for the obvious reason to fund construction. Essentially, it is RTS at its most basic.
As units are deployed from specific buildings, the player can gather up to ten to travel with him to outlying posts / farms / mines where they can be left to defend or they can accompany Corun to attack enemy outposts. Corun can also summon any one of four different types of elementals from his base. Water Elementals can heal, though are weak. Earth Elementals are durable and strong for attacks against enemy bases.
Corun has a trio of abilities for use at any given time. Far Sight allows him to view any outlying locations as long as there are friendly troops there. This way he can assess what's under attack and how large the attacking forces are. It allows the player to determine what can be summoned. Corun can also use his sword to attack and he can call down a firestorm on enemies. He can also have an artifact equipped that can provide a small boon to his abilities.
Lornsword is breathtaking. The cutscene visuals are reminiscent of Tyranny and have a look that is similar to stained glass.
The world itself is beautiful as are the structures that feature a level of detail that seems unusual for RTS.
Lornsword is really trying hard to bring something unique to the table with its combination of RTS and ARPG elements. Those who love RTS games will be challenged to learn the ARPG elements of the game and vice versa. It's worth mentioning that it's a nice change of pace to be an active participant in the game's story rather than a passive all-seeing overlord. It's cool to gather up your troops and actually lead them into battle, though there is a caveat to that as you'll see below.
The game is beautifully optimized as well. The experience of the developers really shows here. During my time playing, I did not encounter any bugs at all.
Tower Five has said that Lornsword ill be in early access for about six months and will launch with an additional chapter and "challenge mode". The team also has robust plans for split-screen PvP and to adjust the balance of the game to both provide a lower curve for new players and adequate challenge to experienced players.
What needs improvement
As an early access title, Lornsword is in the position of being a game that can improve over time and there are several things that need work. With relatively minor tweaks to each, Lornsword could fulfill its potential as something different and unique.
The first item on my list is the need for much, much better keyboard controls and the addition of mouse controls for movement and basic attacks by the hero. Clearly, Lornsword was meant to be played with a controller and that fact should have stated plainly rather than try to stuff the hamfisted keyboard control system into the game that is currently present. To completely eliminate the ability to use a mouse is absolutely inexcusable. Key controls can be remapped, but the sheer number needed make it nearly impossible to remember which one does what and it is awkward to move about the map as a result.
The hero needs improvement as well. While the ability to control a single hero is cool, it loses its luster when he dies so easily. Survivability depends on being surrounded by troops that can take the brunt of the damage so that the hero can flutter in and out to rain fire on enemies and then retreat to the back lines to summon elementals and so forth. With a limited mana pool, however, Corun spends and awful lot of time running back to his base to refill mana, pick up new troops and re-summon elementals. Once back in battle, it's rinse and repeat before he heads back to the base. There are far too many times when Corun is left on his own running back and forth between locations that can be deadly if he encounters anything of any substance at all and he is left with only weak sword attacks. Making him a bit more self-reliant and tougher with a larger mana pool and with a true progression in abilities would go a long way to solving the lackluster RPG elements in the game.
Next on the list is the absolute need to provide much better UI elements. For instance, unit health is not displayed. Going into battle becomes guesswork and hopeful optimism that "my army is bigger than the enemy's". Additionally, when constructing building used to summon units, it's unclear one is best. Lastly, the addition of a minimap is imperative. It's a head-scratching wonder why one isn't in the game. Without it, assessing which bases or outlying structures are under attack is difficult, though there are direction arrows that change color when one is engaged in battle.
Voice acting and story could use a bit of work as well. While the overarching storyline is well considered, the smaller dialogs are simply rough and sometimes glaringly goofy. "What if I die?" the hero asks. Like...what? You're a soldier and while I understand that the system needs to be "taught" to the player, it could be done in a way that teaches the concept without being so childlike. Voice acting isn't bad exactly, but it feels more like people who are simply reading, not acting, if that makes sense. Whether or not this is something that can actually be improved remains to be seen, but I often felt as if I'd rather have just read it than listen to the uninspired VO.
While it may seem that Lornsword has more going against it than for it, I believe that it is a seed that simply needs more time to sprout into the game it has the potential to be. For those who love RTS and / or ARPGs, it's definitely worth a look. Being part of a community that is working cooperatively with the developers to help the game improve could be a lot of fun. You can buy into Lornsword for $20 and you'll absolutely get your money's worth, particularly if you provide helpful and useful feedback to the dev team.
A Steam preview key was provided by the team.