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Oaken – Preview

There are many terrifying monsters in the world of games, aren’t there? Whether demons or Lovecraftian abominations, we certainly have to deal with plenty of terrifying creatures. So it’s a welcome change of pace playing Oaken, which just came out in Early Access. Instead of scary monsters, as we voyage deep into the Great Oak’s branches, we’ll meet spirits and plants.

DID SOMEONE SAY… SLAY THE SPIRE?

Oaken is a turn-based deckbuilder. Its basic mechanics should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a similar title. Collect as many cards as possible, discard the ones you don’t need; upgrade and improve the deck. With levels, Oaken too sticks to the tried and true formula: choose a path on the map and move from one event to another; battle your way through encounters to, hopefully, reach and defeat the boss, accessing the next chapter. If any of this reminded you of Slay The Spire, well, you’re on the right track. Laki Studios don’t seem to hide their inspiration.

Battling against the evil.

In our journey across the Great Oak, we follow a hero whose task is saving the tree from nefarious forces. The game opens with a detailed and useful tutorial which, however, does drag sometimes. Regardless, there are some important things to keep in mind here. First, units’ position and facing direction are essential. They can only attack – or counterattack – what’s in front of them. Therefore, changing direction is a must. Secondly, as opposed to other deckbuilders, enemies come in continuous waves. As such, the beginning is usually the decisive part of a battle. Finally, it’s a good idea to keep attention to the UI. It does a good job communicating each attack’s consequences – like, with little skulls indicating that the unit will die after a hit.

Some encounters on the map will have different consequences depending on our choices.

PICK UP SOME DUST

Dust is indeed necessary to use cards and powers. It replenishes at the end of each turn. The cards, however, eventually become “fatigued”. This means that they’ll only have one more use for the rest of the chapter. In addition, our hero, along with units, has several powers. Those include attacking, healing, and transforming map hexes. The latter become “poisoned” when the enemy steps on them. But, if we cure them, they could benefit our units and harm the enemies. With all these mechanics, each turn won’t just be a quick “attack and move”. With dust, we can use powers, deploy units, and move those already on the map. Winning a battle too doesn’t just give cards. It’ll also provide our hero with XP, to level up – and the levels do stay between runs.

The map is indeed very similar to that in Slay the Spire.

There’s a lot of strategy at play in each battle. Definitely more so than it may seem at first. Oaken does quite a good job combining classic deckbuilder rules with those of turn-based hex-map strategies. Therefore, it’ll take quite some time to master the overall gameplay’s more advanced rules. Despite the first impression, this doesn’t feel like a “pick up and play” title. Instead, it should interest those players looking for a more in-depth experience than with their average deckbuilder.

Always mind the way you are positioned.

NOOKS AND CRANNIES

Graphically, Oaken looks pretty alright with its mix of natural creatures, trees and plants. All cards feature nice art – of different styles, too. For example, those used to upgrade our units seem almost pencil-drawn. Still, there are some tiny details here and there that make it feel a tad too much like a mobile game (like the hamburger menu icon). Hopefully, those will be adjusted while the game is in EA. Also, the music is definitely repetitive. At the moment, there are only a handful of generic ambient tracks – so I tuned it off and put on my collection of Chrono Trigger songs (…sorry).

In-between battles, you get to upgrade your deck and units.

At the time of this preview, Oaken only features three chapters. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t quite a lot of gameplay to chew on. So, it’ll definitely take a while to complete. Laki Studios seem to have many interesting ideas on their plate, and it will be our pleasure to see where they’ll take their game, on the long, winding road to release.