While we wait (and wait … and wait) for a Season 2 announcement for Netflix’s incredible 2019 event series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, we now have another awesome reason to revisit the Jim Henson franchise. En Masse Entertainment has delivered an epic and addicting game in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, a turn-based tactical strategy game developed by BonusXP and based on the Netflix Original Series. The title is now available (!) for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC/Mac players. But is it worth your $20? (Here’s where I mention that I received a free review copy from En Masse, FYI.)
In a word: Absolutely! While my review of the game will undoubtedly be biased by how big a fan I am of TDC:AoR (and it’s a much easier sell if you are, too), even without the lure of lore, Tactics is still a solid, grid-based, turn-by-turn strategy game that lives up to its title. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics invites players to lead the Gelfling resistance by using guile, planning, and cunning to outwit their foes: Skeksis, arathim, darkened creatures, fellow Gelfling, and Ascendancy alike. Units can be customized with gear, abilities, and an expansive job system (ie skill tree) to tackle more than 50 unique missions in the game. During battles, dynamic events and environmental effects create tactical opportunities or put the Gelfling forces at risk, necessitating rapid changes in strategy to keep players on their toes. These variables, alongside a wide range of different characters and party compositions, make for battles that are highly replayable.
Missions are wrapped in a narrative that will see players re-live key moments from the Netflix Original Series, while also experiencing never-before-seen events that reveal more about the world of Thra and its inhabitants. And for fans of the series, like yours truly, that’s a big part of the draw of this title. Yes, you will experience plot points from the prequel series that play out almost word for word, beat for beat, but it’s fun to get to control the action instead of just being a passive viewer. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tactics unveils more of the world of The Dark Crystal as you get to explore the clans–especially the Sifan, Dousan, and Spriton–more thoroughly and meet new Gelflings, Podlings, and Fizzgigs in the process, each with their own specific talents and abilities. That’s worth the price alone for fans who just want to see more of this story.
But the story is much more expansive than I expected. For $20, I would have been more than happy with a solid strategy game that simply retold the story of Age of Resistance. But this game fills in some gaps in the storytelling, reveals new side adventures in the Grottan caves, the pirate-infested Sifan coasts, and among the temperamental Spritons. The narrative plays out through a combination of battles which you must strategize your way through and more “cinematic” sequences in which allies and enemies progress the story. And if you want to take a break from all that and just focus on fighting, there are waypoints that are specifically marked as grind zones where you can level up the characters of your choosing. (Be sure to ready your party before entering one of these zones; if you back out because you forgot to assign an ability or buy gear, the game marks it as “Complete” and you’ll temporarily lose an opportunity to level up.)
You’ll probably need to use these locations a time or two, depending on your play style. Tactics has three difficulty settings–Story, Normal, Hard–to better shape your experience, but you can also refine just how hard the challenge is by how much you level your characters and how often you upgrade their gear. One slight knock against the game design here is that there’s no selling option; once you’ve purchased gear (using the in-game currency Pearls, which you earn from battles and successful missions), that’s it, you’re stuck with it until you gift it to another character and/or inevitably replace it with stronger gear. Like most RPGs, I’d advise holding off on purchases until you absolutely need them (unless you just want them for fun); you’ll get named and upgraded equipment as quest rewards so better to save your Pearls for necessary purchases later on. (Also, there’s no crafting or upgrading of individual items, just purchasing them, which both streamlines the process and limits it a bit.)
Another important point to note when it comes to leveling up your characters: The Gelfling skill trees, called “Jobs” here, are interconnected branches rooted in Soldier (Warrior), Scout (Rogue), and Mender (Healer/Mage); once you hit a certain level, you’ll be able to assign a Secondary Job in addition to your Primary one, allowing you to have a warrior with healing abilities or an offensive mage with some heavy hitting strikes, etc. But each root also has both secondary and tertiary specialties; for example, once your Scout is Level 10, they can opt for a Thief or Tracker specialty, opening up new skills and strategies. The major tip here is to set those secondary and tertiary Jobs to your character’s Primary slot ASAP, otherwise they won’t level; only the Primary job levels up! So that’s why I ended up with my characters being around Level 20 for their starting Jobs (which open up new abilities as you progress) and only Level 1 for their Secondary Jobs (which, obviously, won’t grant new abilities if you don’t level).
Those particulars aside, there’s a ton of customization options within the skill tree for each character. (A note that Podlings and Fizzgigs have separate Jobs/skill trees which are simultaneously more simplified but also more diverse than that of the Gelflings. Podlings can specialize as Bards, Paladins, and the like, while Fizzgigs–the surprising MVP here–have a variety of offensive and defensive abilities at their disposal, which are literal lifesavers.) The best part about the interconnected skill tree is that you can change it on the fly between missions; once you start a battle, you’re locked-in, but even a failed mission will teach you which strategies are best to employ this round. Need some tanky warriors with a bit of healing thrown in for safety? You can do a combo of Soldiers and Menders, or throw a bunch of Paladins in instead. Need some range to account for elevation changes? Go heavy on Scouts and ranged offensive-spell Menders. And you can never go wrong with a Fizzgig in your lineup. (Also, some abilities are redundant, even within a character’s own Job, so pay attention to the costs, effects, and range of similar abilities to get the best bang for your buck.)
As for the combat itself, it’s a ton of fun if you like XCOM-like turn-based strategy games and/or if you like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, doubly so if you like both. (I absolutely love the design of the characters throughout, too. It’s fun to see the little sprites come to life as they carry out your orders. And I will never stop calling Breg the Scout “Ol’ Breg.”) Tactics is a great introductory game of its type for both younger players and novices alike, though the difficulty quickly ticks up after the introductory round. The game keeps throwing new dynamics and mechanics at you–sandstorms that will knock your entire party back, poisonous swamp waters that deal damage unless you happen to be resistant, and rising tides that will drown any characters caught in their depths–which absolutely keeps you on your toes as you track multiple objectives and figure out the best plan of attack (or defense, or speedy run to the exit). The variety of missions is rewarding, too. Some are all-out battles where you must wipe out all enemy forces, while others are escort/protection focused, collection-based, or require a specific objective to be fulfilled. (A note on save states here: The game seems to have just one active campaign at a time with no options to save separate files, only to either continue or start over; that’s a bit of a bummer.) The Boss Battles–against Skeksis standouts like the Chamberlain and the Hunter–are satisfyingly difficult even as the Skeksis themselves feel justifiably OP; the Chamberlain’s abilities are particularly frustrating to battle against, which makes for a satisfying victory if and when you manage to pull it off. (Another technical note: Despite playing on a PS4 Pro, the game hitches just a bit every single time a character is about to attack; not sure what’s up with that, but no crashes or soft-locks so far.)
So is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics worth it in the end? From my experience playing it so far, absolutely, but I also haven’t finished it yet. The game is surprisingly long and wonderfully more complex than I expected for a tie-in title, which means I’m enjoying both leveling my characters (up to a max of 99!) and experiencing the story as it unfolds. I have no idea how much time is left in Tactics but I have 20-odd hours into it so far and have yet to even unite the clans; we’re nowhere near a final fight. After completing the game, players can take on a New Game+ mode that offers even more challenge, so there’s even more to look forward to once it’s all said and done.
Whether you want more from the world of Thra and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance or a fun fantasy strategy game, Tactics is well worth your time, attention, and money.