I should probably begin with a disclaimer: the strategy/tactical, turn-based RPG is one of my favorite genres of all time. From my first encounter with the formula back in the Genesis era, in the form of 16-bit classic #Warsong, I’ve been madly in love, and have followed the genre to far flung eastern shores and back to wildly divergent western interpretations.
A game like Graywalkers: Purgatory is therefore obviously right in my wheelhouse, with its loyal adherence to the tropes of the genre and its bold proclamation that it’s following in the footsteps of some of the titans that came before it, games like #XCOM, #Fallout and #JaggedAlliance.
But while Graywalkers is happy to acknowledge the pathfinders that came before it, it’s not just biting off the old, stale conventions of the genre, slapping a new coat of paint on them, and submitting them as a new product. What’s most exciting about Graywalkers is the way it innovates, the new directions it promises to drive the genre, while working from a solid foundation of several decades of design and development lessons the aforementioned games have established.
If it ain't broke
Let’s begin with the ways that Graywalkers works within the established strategy role-playing game framework. The first and most evident is its perspective — a top down, isometric camera angle that immediately put me in mind of the #SilentStorm and the early Jagged Alliance games. It's also reminiscent of the recent #Wastelands2, another game that leans heavily into established concepts but also pushes out the boundaries of the genre.
And it’s not just the camera; the art design also echoes those older games, with a lot of shattered buildings and dusty landscapes. The characters, on the other hand, are wholly original, ranging from militant priests and nun-ish diviners, to spunky techs and gothy-looking agents.
Combat feels instantly familiar in the demo that’s currently available from their website, with movement measured in square tiles and percentiles indicating your chance to hit.
Damage is measured in ranges like a dice based RPG, and can be influenced by buffs and debuffs delivered in the form of character’s abilities. Anyone familiar with the legacy of modern military or post-apocalyptic tactical RPGs will feel immediately at home with Graywalker’s combat, and that’s not a bad thing.
It’s a case of not meddling with elements that have proven successful, and that are the industry standard for a reason.
Thinking outside the hex
On the other hand, Graywalkers diverges from the baseline in some curious and fascinating ways. The most interesting for my money is the promise of emergent gameplay, a first for this genre, and something I’ve very curious to see implemented.
The creators at #DreamlordsDigital promise a game world that reacts to player choices dynamically, adding a sense of importance and consequence to player decisions. This is tied to some extent to the way the world of Graywalkers is procedurally generated on the fly rather than pre-constructed. This is especially true in the fascinating “Freeform Mode,” which sounds like a sandbox where player success is determined by resources, influence and personal power.
Which isn’t to say that the entire game is procedural or that there aren’t carefully crafted bespoke elements. Those you’ll find in the campaign mode, a single-player experience supported by rich lore and mythos and a sprawling storyline that will see players exploring a vast, island sized nation and reclaiming old technology and ancient, arcane relics. The world of Graywalkers also features a number of playable non-human races with evocative names like Wolfkin or Faechilde. It’s a broad, inviting tapestry with tremendous potential that I can’t wait to plunge into.