The Great Whale Road accents my love/hate relationship with early access gaming. It is certainly an interesting concept. For those that have no clue what I am talking about, you can rest assured knowing that you probably don’t own any early access titles. These are typically for those interested in the indie gaming scene, where you pay a potentially lower price for access to an alpha/beta build of a game that is not quite ready for the mass market. There is a possibility of the game never fully coming out to retail and even the chance the project gets shut down and you lose out, similar to what can happen on Kickstarter. So why would anyone subject themselves to this chance? Well, frankly, the game market is facing an identity crisis not wholly unlike film. Publishers and distributors are wanting guaranteed commodities in the forms of sequels and easy sells instead of innovating and pushing the envelope like what was once the norm. Early access provides that chance for something different; for ideas that may never see the light of day without the help of their fellow gamers. With self funding studios utilizing forums like Kickstarter and Early Access we have seen some truly great games in the last few years.
I have had some great early access experiences and some that have left me with regrets. The Great Whale Road falls somewhere in the middle. When Sunburned Games sent us a review code for this, I read “story-driven turn-based strategy RPG,” and I jumped at the chance to play and review it. While it may sound like I totally dislike the game at first, I would encourage you to read on as I think there is some great potential for this to be an amazing adventure.
For early access, the only civilization and ruler role that is available for you to start, is that of being a Danish Viking. You have a choice of two characters to start, as you become the new leader of your village. It is up to you to lead them through the harsh, hostile winter by planning where to spend your resources. You can increase your farm production for food, your defenses to hold off other tribes, your trading ability, or even factors which control your population. The problem is, it isn’t exactly apparent whether you did a good job. Increasing and decreasing certain aspects doesn’t feel satisfying or that you have total control. Winter happens fast, and only then you can see the results of your strategy. During the spring and summer months you are able to travel, doing various quests and visiting other cities. You are able to bring different types of warriors with you, each able to equip weapons and armor in true RPG fashion. When you reach villages you can assign your party to various activities like resting, hitting the bar for info, or even a little hunting for food and supplies which can then be traded in the villages. At times you will have quests and choices pop up where your decisions can be matters of life and death, usually just for some poor insignificant peon though. This is the Dark Ages after all; you should be prepared for death everywhere.
The other part of your summer beach time fun is of course the combat. Your character squares off against the enemy leader; the battle ends when a leader loses all their hit points. The battle is played on a field or boat with hexagonal tiles where you can move your character. You are given cards with featuring your warriors, each of which can be different classes, or actions cards which provide various buffs. What should have been my favorite part of the game due to loving turn-based combat became it’s ultimate hindrance for me. It was hard at times to click your character and move them where you wanted. Often the card battling system depended on luck as much as it did strategy. You can go quite a ways into battle without getting your warriors to help while quickly being overwhelmed by the enemy. There is a silver lining however, many changes are coming which I will talk of more in depth at the end. After your questing and battle, you return home to your village to assign your priorities again and prepare for winter.
The lore and the history aspects of the game are phenomenal. In an interview with indiegames.com, CEO Joachim Sammer discussed his research for the game and how he studied history at the University of Vienna. He says he spent almost a year researching the different cultures of the time and area. You can certainly see all his hard work throughout play, as the details are all nicely done and you can feel what that time period held. Also of note, I really enjoyed the cartoonish art style. It really seems to play off the setting well. The game handles fine, and I found no bugs other than having some trouble clicking certain characters during combat.
I started off this post talking about Early Access games in general because I feel that may be the decider for your enjoyment. This game has loads of potential and can seemingly be amazing. They have already updated the game a couple times with new quests, maps, and locations. The biggest news for me is that their “Road-Map” includes a ton of new features, including an enhanced combat system and AI in October. Sunburned Games has a lot planned for The Great Whale Road and it is great to see some of that already coming to fruition. Now if you are one to not mind a somewhat anemic game to start, but love to support the indie scene when a game can become something top-tier, then hop on board and support these developers. If you are more of a gamer that wants a complete game that will wow you from start to finish then I would suggest waiting on this, even if it becomes higher priced later on. Personally, I am going to keep a sharp eye on this game and follow along, especially when the next two revisions hit. Until then however, I probably won’t be plundering or pirating anymore just yet. For those wanting to take the plunge you can purchase from Steam for $14.99.
Note: This game was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.