There is a good deal to like about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, especially if you are a fan of the source material or like me, really enjoy RPG/tactics games. This title provided just about everything I expected, which I was grateful for – though it might not be as welcoming to those unfamiliar to this genre of video game.
To be perfectly honest, having grown up watching the Dark Crystal when I was younger (I’m 43), this is one franchise I never really would have expected to hear anything out of again. Leave it to streaming television and video games to prove me wrong as Netflix brought the property back to life as a prequel. It was well-done and by and large people enjoyed it. This opened the door for a video game adaptation as well. Do not expect much in the way of new content, but more or less a retelling of the Netflix series, which is perfectly fine by me.
The story is primarily covered through relatively static but well-drawn scenes that should help even those unfamiliar with the property follow along nicely. If you have not yet watched the series and have any interest, I would recommend doing so first, but since we’re talking about the same basic content regardless of the medium, feel free to learn about the characters and plot lines via the video game if that is your preference instead.
For those unfamiliar with the world of The Dark Crystal, it should be pointed out that while these are puppets, these are dark fantasy themes, not family-friendly Muppets. Characters suffer and die (one almost right off of the bat). Again, this is more of an adaptation of the Netflix series than anything, so while there is some narrative being told here, it is not very elaborate and mostly gets out of the way for the tactics portion of the game.
To that end, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics holds up rather nicely. If you are familiar with any number of grid-based tactics games, you pretty much know what to expect here. If you are new to the genre, the principle revolves around characters on the battlefield who take turns and occupy a square of it as they move around and use abilities to help your team or harm the opposing one. Similar to older Fire Emblem games, these units are named, non-generic characters that are handled on a more personal level than some of the more military-like strategy games out there.
Many of the genre’s standards are at play. You can make melee attacks, ranged attacks, heal, boost stats, use environments to help damage or boost a character during their exchanges and so on. One nice touch is an element of verticality not often seen in these games (though some like Disgaea do it really well), that some classes with flight c an really take advantage of. There is a bit of an old Star Wars joke here I think, but having the higher ground does make a difference.
The visuals and sound effects are good enough – they get the job done, but they never really blew me away either. Characters are distinctive enough to tell them apart from one another, and environments are never really confusing to look at, which are a couple of wins. Menus were pretty snappy once I got the hang of them. There is a heavy reliance on radial menus, which are not my favorite – though I grew up on more standard ones that are probably not quite as quick and snappy by comparison. The wheel never really gets reinvented here, and the pacing is a little on the slow side even when compared to other games in the same genre, but there are some nice quality of life options in there to help streamline things like speeding up enemy attack phases and such.
Where The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics really hooked me however, was its various progression systems. The most basic one is in equipment. There is a decent amount of gear to be found and bought, and they are the most simplistic way of improving your units, simply because they offer statistical boosts. The more interesting and involved system is the job one. It is not unlike those found in many other strategy/RPG games where you gain experience and unlock new skills and abilities in a chosen job or class. Some focus on ranged attacks, others on being tankier melee combatants while others have magical abilities to call upon. You can also branch out into secondary classes, and I will say that I found it quite helpful to have my more combat-centric characters taking on healing secondary classes. It never hurts to have a bit of extra mending available in the middle of a tough fight.
In that regard, while the combat itself is pretty straightforward, it is also challenging while fair. The game does a nice job of leveraging environments in creative ways. Early on, there is an encounter involving creatures with a thick, hard shell that you can still beat in actual combat – but you’ll find it far more effective to lure them into poisoned waters nearby and let them take environmental damage as well. The gameplay has a knack for building on what it shows you and leads to some impressive battles by the end of the game.
I have mentioned pacing a couple of times, and it is fair to call out why that could be a concern. This is not always the most inviting genre to those who have not played these types of games before (though they are a personal favorite of mine). There is a fair amount of waiting as enemies take their turns, especially in larger scale battles. Additionally, progress can be a little slow, which led me to a bit more grinding in zones repeatedly to earn experience and improve my money and experience. Now, I have always been a grinder in video games – old school JRPGs and these types of tactics games bring out the min/maxer in me and I rather enjoy it. However, grinding is clearly not for everyone and that could be a deterrent here for some gamers as some of the later content can be pretty challenging if you are not properly leveled and geared up.