Alder’s Blood by Shockwork Games is an interesting mix of stealth, tactical, and roleplaying gameplay functions wrapped up in a comic book-esque design that is halfway between traditional horror and spaghetti western. Throughout the game I experienced some very Lovecraftian moments and atmospheres mixed with some Bram Stoker’s Dracula design. The best way to explain it is “Victorian, but pulled in two distinct directions;” fortunately, the absolutely amazing art style helps bring this mix of horror styles together. With the stunning voice work, tense music, and gorgeous design, Alder’s Blood could be great; the primary thing holding it back at time of this writing, are more technical in nature.
One of the most frustrating “givens” in gaming these days would be the fact that games tend to launch with problems and Alder’s Blood is no exception. However, one of the benefits of modern day gaming is that said issues can be addressed with later-day patches. It’s just a shame that we need to accept that as the norm. Mind you, Shockwork Games have been pumping out patches like clockwork and have been exceptionally receptive to community feedback.
With luck, when this review goes live we’ll see an update addressing some of the bigger issues; a few of those lie in the inability to complete events or missions, but worst of all? A crushing save system issue that had me seeing flashbacks of old Bethesda games. So frustrating. Word it, though, there will be some patching and improvements in the near future.
Minus the save system issue and occasion “Huh?” moment with these missions, Alder’s Blood has all the makings of an excellent example of how stealth and tactical RPG can meld so very well together. Throughout the course of the game your Victorian Cowboy badassery will have you slithering and lurking in this stunning 2D world. The art style really scratched an itch I didn’t realize I had and drove me to pull out my old Crimson comics by Cliffhanger from back in the early 2000’s. There’s just something about the atmosphere that is created that really stuck with me and has me wanting to go back for more. Interestingly enough, just by way of gameplay I felt very, very much like I was playing a digital version of the utterly phenomenal board game, Mansions of Madness, but with its own unique spin on things.
Combat, for one, is deep; from having to stay downwind from your various demons or werewolves to making sure you’re using the right type of damage (blunt or slashing) on the right enemy. Stand-up knock-down fights are strongly discouraged as you will get absolutely trounced if you do. The key is to use your environment to your advantage, move from bush, brush, or trees to stay out of the line of sight, sneak up on the beasties, and stab or smash them until they are knocked down, where you can then Banish them as needed. Rinse and repeat as a hunter performing various missions to push the evil out of their realm. While it sounds simple on the surface, combat is extremely tense and for as slow-paced as it is, there are some sweat-inducing moments.
The story itself is an awesome one; God is dead, killed by Humans and his decaying corpse is corrupting the world, thus the monsters. Enter you, a pseudo-human hunter on a quest to rid the world of the corruption and evil brought by humanity’s hubris. I will warn you up front … Alder’s Blood is relentlessly difficult game that is not only bleak in atmosphere, but at times, feels impossible. One of the more frustrating aspects is your hunter’s level of corruption or madness; it can be frustrating to have a well-built party of hunters only to have one of them succumb to the corruption and just … die. Boom, gone. Now, you can sacrifice them prior to that point to boost lower-level hunters, but you need to be on your toes constantly. Once you get through the steep difficulty levels and find yourself comfortable with the various game systems, Alder’s Blood can be extremely satisfying. You just need to get to that point.