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Dark Deity

Dark Deity

Build an army of memorable characters in this new indie strategy RPG.

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Sword & Axe LLC's Dark Deity is a grid-based strategy RPG in the same vein as the Fire Emblem series. Whilst Fire Emblem has recently become close to AAA status with the release and success of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Dark Deity is an indie game with a far smaller budget and team, taking more from Fire Emblem games released on the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s. As the game is so closely inspired by the series, making some comparisons to it is unavoidable, but I'll try to rein myself in.

Before going into the game in-depth, it's worth noting some context surrounding its release. Dark Deity was surprise-released onto Steam following a trailer at E3, with the initial release on June 15 having issues with crashing, and various bugs. Though this initial release was a little rough around the edges, the developers have been very responsive, releasing patches almost every day since release to remedy issues. This review reflects my experience with the game, playing since the day after release.

I played Dark Deity on PC via Steam - it's currently a PC-exclusive - and I switched between controller, and mouse and keyboard, to test out different control schemes. Both setups felt quite natural, though mouse and keyboard was certainly more intuitive in terms of moving units and navigating menus. Switching controls mid-game seemed a bit broken and required a restart.

Shortly after the game's beginning, King Varic of the Kingdom of Delia forces the graduation of all students at the Brookstead Military Academy and breaks a thousand-year promise. Of these students are four of the main characters who serve as your first four units - the fighter Irving, the cleric Maren, the ranger Garrick, and the mage Alden. Irving is the story's protagonist, and he acts as somewhat of a leader for the group, though often he is propelled forward by his superiors or just by the events happening around him.

During the game's 28 chapters, you meet 30 different playable characters, all with distinct personalities and quirks, which shine through best in bond conversations akin to Fire Emblem's supports. These characters are also distinct gameplay-wise as well, as although some share a class, the branching class system means that each unit can fit a different niche, and each character also has a unique personal skill. As an example, Alden's personal skill is that he will always gain at least four stat points on levelling up - the game uses percentage-based growth rates for each level, similar to Fire Emblem but generally being higher - preventing him from being 'stat-screwed'.

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Character progression is quite fast as you level up often, promoting your characters to a new class for the first time at level ten. Enemy density in the game is very high as well, and you're often attacked from multiple angles, meaning there is a lot of experience to go around, though similar to Fire Emblem, 'low-manning' is often an effective strategy - that is, focusing your resources on a smaller group of units, allowing them to steamroll through enemies with relative ease. This is viable on higher difficulties as well, where the average enemy quality is much higher.

Dark Deity

Though map designs are varied, they tend to play out similarly due to the aforementioned high enemy density and lack of defensive terrain, becoming quite repetitive, and at worst, a slog. Interestingly, however, the presence of campaign customisation options exist to fine-tune the experience, allowing the player to randomise weapons, enemy classes, and more.

Perhaps the two biggest differences between Dark Deity and the Fire Emblem series are the weapon system, and the armour system, both of which act to replace the weapon triangle. Firstly, the weapon system. In Dark Deity, every character carries four weapons at a time, each fitting into the categories of power, finesse, focus, and balance. Power is self-explanatory - these weapons are very strong and heavy - whilst finesse centers on critical hits, focus weapons are more accurate, and balance covers a little of everything as well as being the lightest. They are upgraded via tokens which you can buy via the preparations screen or obtain through progressing through chapters. Generally, you'll want to focus on a couple of weapons per unit, as spreading your resources too thinly results in them being weaker overall. As critical hits are mostly luck-based, I mostly didn't bother with finesse weapons, preferring to go with power and balance.

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The armour system was also a little confusing due to the game's lack of tutorial in earlier patches. Essentially, every weapon does slightly better or slightly worse against different armour types. As an example, piercing damage from spears and daggers does -10% and -5% damage versus plate and leather respectively, but +40% and +10% versus chain and rune cloak respectively. Remembering these exact numbers isn't necessary, as the game gives you visual indicators on the map telling you which character does additional damage to who, which is very useful.

Visually, Dark Deity is well-crafted, with unique and memorable art for each character. Backgrounds are also varied, and map sprites are cute in their pixel art. Combat animations are sadly a little stiff, lacking the fluidity of the Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem titles they closely resemble but are still pleasant overall. Disappointingly, the game's music can be a little generic at times, though it's still fitting in most situations.

Overall, Dark Deity is a title certainly worth playing. It scratches an itch SRPG fans miss without Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem on the horizon, whilst distinctly rehashing the formula set out in those games. An impressive indie effort.

Dark DeityDark Deity
Dark Deity
07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
Great variety of characters. Colourful and crisp art style. Campaign customisation for replayability.
Gameplay can get repetitive. Music is a little generic. Lack of tutorial integrated into gameplay.
overall score
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REVIEW. Written by Jack Oxford

Build an army of memorable characters in this new indie strategy RPG.

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