Yaengard, by Planeshift Interactive, is a tactical turn-based RPG, where you lead three future heroes in their attempt to overthrow a tyrannical empire. It features run-based gameplay, with a character’s personality and gear combinations leading to a variety of builds and play styles.
Yaengard starts you off with the three characters and a choice of three weapons. Each party member also has a perk, providing a small bonus to their three stats. Then the game throws you into a battle against imperial agents. This, plus some quest information it gives you, provides the focus for your adventure. From there on, you continue through the three acts – consisting of random story events and a concluding boss battle.
With the story events, you have up to three options: encounters, combat and skill challenges. Each provides unique risks and opportunities and requires you to choose a single party member. This character temporarily loses a point of stamina in exchange for encounter or character-specific modifiers.
Skill Challenges always require a skill check based on the ability score and personality traits. Success gives a reward: bonus perks, personality traits, or gear.
Encounters involve interacting with the inhabitants of the world of Yaengard. They always improve your personality traits and often require a skill check based on the ability score. There’s also a chance of combat, in case of failure – or you can trigger it yourself.
Certain skill checks and encounters require spending one of four resources: Artifacts, Organics, Supplies, or Valuables. You can get those from combat, encounters, or skill checks. Lacking them removes some options.
Combat encounters are the most complex of the three events – and where you’ll spend most of your time. Each character has a personal initiative stat (Base 30 with Power/Toughness as a modifier). It determines turn order, and never changes during combat.
Once combat starts, your characters can choose between movement or action – which can also work as movement. What actions are available depends on your class or gear. They deal damage, activate effects, or both. Movement is tile-by-tile, with characters moving one tile per one move. Multiple characters can occupy a single tile. When you don’t move or do a single move, you gain Focus status. It gives a bonus to damage as long as you don’t move and don’t suffer damage. Each character also has up to three destiny points. Those you can use to get a bonus action.
In addition to simple movement and damage-based abilities, there are character and battlefield effects. Six of those are negative. Then there are countless personal buffs, providing all sorts of bonuses and stat modifiers. The most noteworthy is Control Ground. It gives you a free attack on anyone who enters or leaves your tile. I won’t cover every action – but there are enough to make combat reasonably complex. When a battle is over, all your knocked-out characters revive, and everyone recovers some hit points.
Before any encounter, you can choose to “Find Inn”. If you do so, then after the event you’ll stop at the inn. This refreshes your stamina, restores some hit points, and refills your destiny points. It also moves the “Enemy Might” meter up a pip, which causes global buffs to enemy power. Another way to get stamina is to just keep choosing each of the three map options. When you start one of these events with zero stamina, someone gets one stamina point – to do the challenge. However, Encounters and Skill Challenges won’t always be assigned to the most fitting character. The Combat, too, is really restricted, with but one action per turn.
Character customization in Yaengard is based on three axes. The first axis is equipment. There are three armor types. Each adds armor – which reduces damage; dodge – a chance to avoid an attack; hp – how much damage a character can take before being knocked out; and critical chance – a chance to get a critical hit. Armor also modifies one or two ability scores. Then there are two weapon slots which determine your active skills; while your weapons’ combination defines your class and adds an active ability.
The second axis is your ability scores. You get two ability score points per level, plus some from gear. Going high enough on the personality axis also gives a trait with an ability score bonus – as long as you maintain that personality. Ability scores impact the game’s derived stats. With only two points per level and limited bonuses, it seems like there isn’t much flexibility in characters’ builds. However, most derived ability scores are widely applicable. Focusing on different ability scores will result in different builds; and most aren’t so narrow as to prevent you from dipping into other ability scores or change gear.
The third axis is personality traits. Each trait is on a scale with its opposite, plus there are six spots indicating when you get a perk. The latter impact parts of the game related to a personality trait. Two of them give you a bonus to skill rolls; two give bonuses to ability scores; and two give you a combat passive. The skill roll bonuses and the ability scores are generally useful. The combat passives are a bit narrow, but more powerful. They help choose gear and assign ability scores.
Achievements and Triumphs
I admit – I’m quite tired of Faster Than Light/Slay the Spire gameplay loop, with map nodes, multiple zones, bosses at their end, etc. As such, I initially rejected Yaengard when I tried its demo many months ago. However, the developments since then convinced me to give it another chance – and I am glad I did.
Planeshift Interactive were able to innovate the core tenants of the subgenre. They’ve changed how the zones work and threw out deck building, focusing instead on tactical turn-based combat. The game, however, still takes advantage of one of the best features of the style. It maintains the constant pressure to react and adapt to challenges and opportunities, while subsisting on limited resources. The way it rewards you with equipment and personality progression – and how these change the gameplay, requires fascinating decision-making. This really helps keep the game entertaining.
Those decisions would be irrelevant if combat wasn’t fun – but thankfully it is. Combinations of battle sizes and unit arrangements result in everything from a knife fight in a phone booth to way more nuanced affairs. None of them are particularly involved, though, until you get to the main story battles. Those are capstones to the acts, big and dangerous. They can be quite a shock the first time, requiring smart use of skills and abilities.
Failures and Limitations
Yaengard is a bit rough around the edges. There are periodic graphics’ glitches – but they are of the weird variety, and aren’t really detrimental to play. Some are pretty funny – like enemies’ bodies flying off the screen. The UI is… fine. It gives you a lot of the information you need, and helps make sense of the statistical interactions. However, some, more complicated items might get a single tutorial pop-up, with no way to look them up afterwards.
I’m less certain about ability balance. Some things (like electricity-themed attacks with the storm modifier) seem like a bad idea; others seem borderline useless, or so narrow that you’ll almost never be able to take advantage of them. Now, this might be because I’m new to the game, or misjudge their effectiveness. But this doesn’t disperse the overall feeling that the game’s balance is a precarious thing that could easily careen off a cliff at any moment.
Equipment access can be a bit streaky. Ideally, you’d have all your gear caught up with your current challenges. However, there are situations when the equipment choices give you only marginal bonuses in some areas, and almost none in others. It rarely gets bad enough to end an entire run, though. Still, finding nothing but chest piece upgrades can be irritating.
Thankfully, the developers seem to be actively involved and invested in the development. This gives hope that the issues will be solved. And, as this game reaches a wider audience, the additional feedback could certainly help.
While Yaengard is still a bit rough, its core gameplay loop is fun and engaging. It effectively innovates roguelite mechanics, being enjoyable even if you are tired of the genre. I enjoyed it, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched its surface.