Only recently was release info on Alder’s Blood, coming to the Nintendo Switch. Gearing myself up to have a fumble with the demo, I was able to get a review code from Shockwork Games. While they kindly supplied the game, I did not accept any bribes, and there weren’t any blood transactions. The following is my self-censored opinion.
Playing as Chief of the hunters, you take a party of up to four characters onto missions to eradicate evil, but in reality, you avoid it most of the time. In a prologue, you play Duke hunting for a body he is told is located in the wilderness. After his disappearance, Chief and crew head out to find him. Without giving any spoilers, they find him in the opening missions.
They discover that he’s no longer the hunter they once remembered, having lost his sight and engulfed in the hunter’s lineage and religion. You see, hunters are different from humans. They appear to be the same, but they have certain perks that make them stronger and more agile than their counterparts, but they sit in the middle of good and evil and can be easily corrupted.
In fact, the more you play the game with certain characters, you’ll note that their well-being deteriorates to the point of snapping. When your hunter snaps, they injure your remaining party and subsequently die, and you’re unable to play them any more.
So, Alder’s Blood has permadeath features, that’s for sure. When your hunter dies on a mission, or if they snap, they’re lost for good, but you do retain any equipment they had. This mechanic ensures that you play your best characters with caution – much like a revitalised Cannon Fodder, only set in a Victorian/Western scenario. Individual hunters can be customised in appearance, the equipment they use, charms and items.
By default, they will have a primary weapon, such as a shotgun and a sidearm, for example, a pistol or knife. Charms are special perks that the hunter can wear to increase their movement speed, health and a manner of other abilities. When it comes to items, you have the usual health goodies, but there are traps too, which help with slowing down or taking out a creature.
When out in the wild, as tempting as it is to storm the level and kill everything, it’s not advised. Often the beasts will overpower you and swarm you too. As a turn-based strategy game, you can set up a decent attack, but if you haven’t thought it through, you’ll end up with banshee-like enemies alerting those in the area and this will fast-track your death. Movement in Alder’s Blood isn’t exactly grid-based, but you have a series of dots on the screen that you can move to.
If within the white border of your character, you can move without losing any stamina, but in places where you want to get a bit ahead of yourself or out of danger, you can move out of the area, but it will cost points. The highest risk is not having an action point available should an enemy find you. In summary, most levels require that you sneak your way through, avoiding the eye line of the enemy and also that you’re in a position where your scent doesn’t catch their attention. That’s right: the creates can pick up your scent, a visible green line that changes with the wind. While they might not see you, they sure as hell can smell you. I wouldn’t last five minutes.
Navigating around the world of Alder’s Blood can be done via the world map. There are markers that you can fast travel to at the cost of food. Each time you stay in a camp or travel to a new area, it uses up food; have none remaining, and your character health starts depleting.
You can earn more food by scavenging from the camps, as well as purchasing from merchants – a place where you can buy new items and sell those you no longer need. When at camp you can also craft new weapons (by locating blueprints) and various hunter tools.
Each hunter can be assigned a job such as crafting, scavenging, guarding and resting (to restore health). I’d recommended two guards at a time as a couple of times I got ambushed, and it wasn’t fun. Another option at the camp is a sacrifice – an opportunity to kill off an existing hunter and allocate their perks to another hunter. This can be a quick way of getting rid of dead weight if said character is on the verge of snapping or their level is so low it costs the team.
The journey you take on Alder’s Blood is excellent. Between embarking on your next trip to setting up camp, loading screens are intercut with comic book panels telling a brief story. This worked really well, and the artwork was superb. It felt like playing an Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons collaboration as the storytelling is spot-on.
Even the visual novel style of the narrative tells the story well as you and your group of hunters seek out Duke, slowly watching him descend into madness. All the extra characters you encounter also have a charm to them, and the writing is brilliant and entirely engaging. I ultimately bought into the world of Alder’s Blood on that basis, and if this evolved into a graphic novel or animation spin-off, I wouldn’t be surprised.
When it comes to the visuals for the gameplay, it was a little miss-match at times. Playing in handheld, which appears to be my preference these days, wasn’t unplayable, but a few maps were tricky at first as you do need to zoom in to see the enemies. Some of these characters blend into the background too well, and it isn’t until their turn that you notice them. For a while, I didn’t realise you could zoom in. Once I could zoom, I was in and out like a premature rabbit convention as Alder’s Blood is one of the few games that you need to alternate with the map size to plan your path and also to see that action close up.
There’s something 70s about the art style, and I loved it. If you’re familiar with the Ralph Bakshi style of animation; the original The Lord of the Rings animation and similar styles seen in the Heavy Metal movie, based on the comics, you’re likely to enjoy the visuals. They didn’t feel cutting edge, but for the general mood of the game, it worked perfectly. My only criticism on that part would be for a broader colour palette as it was hard to see at times.
Additionally, the music has a consistently menacing, enigmatic vibe to it, and I loved it. It was never overpowering, but this underlying tone that made me feel like I was out of my depth. There was an issue in-game, however, as I was unable to start a mission on occasions. As my crew were seemingly on the brink of madness, it appeared you couldn’t initiate a mission with any unstable team members.
On this basis, I went on the grind a little – not the conventional ‘kill lower level enemies’ routine, or even a bit of twerking, but setting up a camp and then sending out my strongest members to scavenge goods, then flog them. After a few game days, I recruited two new hunters and sent my mainstays back to camp. Heading back to the mission once more, yet again I couldn’t start it, and there didn’t appear to be any stipulations. In frustration, I saved the game, exited out and started again. Voila – it worked.
With that said, these were minor issues which will no doubt be ironed out with a patch or two. Despite rebooting for the mission issue, it didn’t put me off remotely as the grinding I was doing in between was to my benefit. What I will say is Alder’s Blood is a hard game. There aren’t any difficulty settings at first (though later an Ironman option), and while you can level up each hunter, there isn’t much scope for overpowering the enemy. The key ingredient here is stealth and often that is the solution to success in the game, except for a handful of missions and ambushes where you have to kill three of four attackers.