The Iron Oath is a turn-based tactical RPG that has been in Early Access for over a year. Now it’s set to hit its 1.0 release on November 2nd. Let’s jump on in and see if it’s worth picking up on release day or if it needs a few more rounds of updates.
In this The Iron Oath Review I’m going to discuss:
- Final Impressions
You play as a band of mercenaries in the realm of Caelum. Traveling from town to town looking for jobs to make a profit. However, you quickly learn that the monsters and demons of this world are not the only threat. Maybe not even the worst of them. After a job goes terribly wrong, you must gather up your forces and hunt down those responsible. Don’t forget about keeping a close eye on the ever growing threat of voidspawn spreading throughout the realm though.
At the core of The Iron Oath is its combat system. Like many RPG’s, there are a wealth of other elements that keep the game interesting and some that just might help it stand out from others. Let’s dive into some of these other mechanics before we get into the combat itself.
The Living Realm
The world of Caelum truly feels alive. As you travel across the map, different events can happen that could dramatically change the realm. Cities can be lost in the blink of an eye. Rulers can fall from an opposing noble house. The Iron Oath is no short story. These events can span over the course of decades. Everything you do reflects that. From the cities you visit to the mercenaries you hire to join your party.
The varying cities throughout Caelum are always changing based on the events of the world around them. If there are a lot of bandits or monsters around that city when you visit, then the majority of the jobs posted will reflect that. The same can be seen in the market. If the city was recently under attack or fell ill to sickness, then they might be willing to pay significantly more for stone or medicine than a city safe from harm.
The layout of each city is the same. Across the top of the screen is where you will see the status of your reputation with the local house as well as the local population. That is also where all the potential jobs are listed. On the left of the screen you will find the Inn, Market and Infirmary.
At the Inn your soldier can rest to recover from fatigue. You can buy a round of ale to boost loyalty. As well as, recruit additional soldiers to join your party. The Market is where you can buy and sell wares. Which can be very profitable at times. Lastly, the Infirmary is where you would go if one of your mercenaries was severely injured during a job. They will rest here for a set number of days before joining back up with your party at whatever job you might be on at the time.
As previously mentioned, additional mercenaries can be added to your party from the Inn. These mercenaries have a selection of unique classes that are distinct to The Iron Oath. Some of the most unique classes are the Pyrolancer, the Stormcaller, and the Icebinder. Each class has six specialized abilities with branching upgrade paths. The upgrade paths for each ability can really differentiate the ability so no two characters play the same.
You will want to make sure to examine their stats and abilities, as well as their contract fees, before hiring them to make sure they will fit well with the rest of the group. Each character has preset abilities and traits. These will affect their attributes. Additional abilities will unlock at higher levels, but the traits are permanent. So make sure you aren’t hiring someone with traits that conflict with everyone else. Someone that is cowardly might not pair well in a group that is full of characters with brave or harsh traits. Attributes, such as health, evasion, and accuracy can be manipulated by the gear equipped or increased when leveling up.
Once the mercenary has been hired, there are a handful of things that you can review on the Roster screen. There are the customization options. We will touch on those in a minute. Then there is the availability status. This can affect some of their stats in battle. Well-rested is going to give them a boost to stats, whereas being fatigued is going to have some negative effects. Below that is where you can view the character’s age, loyalty and contract.
These all have important features in the game. As mentioned previously, The Iron Oath spans over decades. As a result, you characters age and could retire before the end of your story. When working with a group of sellswords, loyalty is one of the most important things to keep high.
You can view the character’s loyalty to you as well as to each of your other soldiers. Although, the latter seems hard to control and I haven’t really noticed any effect from having a positive or negative relationship amongst other members in the party. Lastly, is the terms of their contract. This has their salary and their length left before renewal. You can also terminate the contract early or even give them a bonus.
Let’s discuss the customization options next. There are quite a few customization options to personalize your characters. You can change things like their name, gender, portrait and how they look when in battle. You will also want to equip them with gear if you have any. Especially with armor to boost their defense attribute before taking them into a fight.
The last thing that you can modify is their job role when going on missions. Their role can give a boost to one of their stats as well as a skill to use in the dungeon. For example, the Scavenger role gives that character +3 to evasion and reveals all unlocked loot in the dungeon.
Taking a Job
Once you have a full party and everything the way you want it, it’s time to grab a job posting from the nearest city and head out for an adventure. Upon arrival at the destination, you will need to set up for the challenges ahead.
Preparing for Battle
Before each combat, a Select Party menu will appear. Here you will be able to see the recommended level, mission length, and location type. You can also review the objective, rewards, possible enemies and dungeon modifiers. Typically one positive and one negative to start. You will select five characters from your roster. These characters will ideally complement each other’s traits, not be fatigued, and have job roles to help during the exploration of the dungeon.
After creating a party from your available characters, you will want to purchase some provisions to take with you. Some provisions might be more useful than others depending on the character classes in the group. Provisions include items like bandages, tools, potions, and even an idol to use as an offering at a shrine. You can also choose how much money to have on hand when entering a dungeon.
Depending on the length of the cave, one of your provisions might be a campfire. These are good for using about halfway through the adventure if possible, or if your team is getting bloodied up and needs a break. Similar to other RPGs, the campfire action will give you some options to boost stats or heal characters. You do have a chance of being attacked while camping, so try to have someone on watch if you can.
Once you are happy with your provisions, it is time to venture forth.
Not every adventure has an exploration phase. Some have just a single battle with waves of reinforcements while others might have multiple back to back battles in different areas. A lot of jobs that involve a cave or a crypt will have an exploration phase though.
This phase has a few key elements to keep track of.
- Movement – each space cost 2 time units on the time meter
- Scouting – allows you to preview a point of interest
- Camp – gives your party a rest to prepare and heal up
The time meter is an important thing to keep track of. Each time it fills up, then an additional negative modifier will be added. Movement isn’t the only thing that fills the time meter though. Different events can fill it as well. Everything from picking a lock to reading a found journal to digging an opening after a cave in. Some are unavoidable, but some you have to decide whether it is worth the extra time or not on your way to the exit. While exploring, you will come across all sorts of different events, treasure and enemies. Now, let’s get into the combat system.
Unless you get ambushed, you will typically have a setup phase at the start of every fight. This is when you want to review the turn order at the top of the screen. You can also review each of the enemy’s abilities and attributes. There are set deployment areas on the battlefield to position your soldiers on. Once you are happy with their starting position, then you can start the fight.
The turn order is based on the speed stat of each character. This can be manipulated by some abilities, but the turn order typically stays the same throughout the battle. On each of your soldier’s turns they can move and use an ability, move twice, or just use an ability.
There are a few things to take note of in combat that make The Iron Oath stand out. There are elemental effects. Someone that is wet will take more damage from lighting attacks and someone that is frozen can be thawed by some fire abilities. There are environmental effects such as pitfalls to push enemies into or rocks falling from the ceiling in a cave.
As with any turn-based game, positioning is key. The Iron Oath also uses attack of opportunity and flanking in combat. These are features that quite a few RPGs leave out. I think they are a very important part of tactical combat. It is hard to stop a ranged unit from destroying your weaker units if you cannot lock them into melee combat. The use of these features really makes the combat stand out by allowing players to be more tactical in each fight.
At the end of each adventure there is always a battle report where you can see how much damage each character took and how much they dealt to the enemy.
Let’s talk visuals for a bit.
The Iron Oath is not a graphically intensive game. However, the pixel art style that they chose looks remarkable. It’s not the type of game that is overly pixelated just for the sake of being pixelated. Infact, things like the combat environments are all very high quality. The only time that you really notice pixels on are weapons or some animations. Other than that, it is a remarkably good looking game.
Some of the highlights to me are the attack animations and death animations. There is nothing more satisfying than taking out a boss with a wicked flaming sword attack that the character looks incredible while performing. Well, except for when that boss then gets sucked down into eternal darkness by some tendrils that come up from the void to grab him.
I thoroughly enjoyed the graphical art direction that the developers over at Curious Panda Games decided to go with. I think it fits the setting well and the style of game.
So we covered a lot. We talked a little bit about the story, about the different elements of the game, the character customization and about the combat system. So does it all come together as a complete package?
I would say it does. To me the game is very enjoyable. I really enjoyed the story and the writing. Like I said earlier, the animations are stunning. The attack of opportunity and flanking options in combat really fed that hunger for more strategic combat for me. But, The Iron Oath is by no means perfect.
I think it still has a few things to work on. Such as adding in some more variety. The additional dungeon modifiers for me, when taking too long in the dungeon, were always enemy reinforcements. It would be nice to see more outcomes there. The mission task was always to defeat all enemies. It would be nice to see other tasks such as escort or protect a person that is actually in the combat with you and being targeted by enemy units.
I also really liked the random events like your soldier coming up to you during travel and saying they need to sit out for the next couple of battles. There was no follow up though. Nothing to track how many battles he sat out or loyalty earned if I let him sit out. Things like that have potential to take The Iron Oath to the next level. It just isn’t there yet.
So, should that stop you from checking the game out? Heck no. Those are just things that I am sure will come in a future update. They don’t stop the game from being enjoyable and they definitely didn’t stop me from playing more. If you are a fan of turn-based games or any type of RPG, then go check this game out on their Steam page and Humble.
A code for this game was graciously provided by Curious Panda Games.