Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Disciples: Liberation is the latest entry in the long-running series and has thankfully made its way onto consoles as well as PC (check out Pierre-Yves’ preview). It is the type of strategy / RPG hybrid that I find it incredibly easy to sink oodles of hours into, and thankfully Disciples: Liberation makes that an enjoyable experience for multiple reasons.
The story starts off in rather typical fashion, following our heroine Avyanna from her relatively nondescript beginnings to becoming the focal character in a dark fantasy story that touches on a variety of different themes. Those familiar with the prior Disciples games will recognize some names mentioned here and there, but this is a standalone title simply set in that world. However, the beginning was a little rough for me, as I’m not a seasoned veteran of the series and the early focus was on the characters and less the world building. There’s always that fine line to straddle between too much exposition and helping new players not to be confused, and admittedly during the first few hours I fell mostly into the latter category.
It helps however, that the characters are interesting and I like that this is not a linear game. Your choices do have an impact on the story and your related characters, and that greatly helps the replay value here. Interacting with your companions can impact romantic storylines as well as unlocking new abilities. It makes investing in the characters worthwhile both form a narrative standpoint as well as a gameplay one.
Speaking of the gameplay, it’s an interesting mix of elements. Exploration is handled in real-time, where you come across some light puzzle elements here and there (throw this switch to open that gate, those kinds of things), encountering roaming patrols and so on as you seek out your quest endpoint. Combat is a turn-based affair, on a hex grid where you have to spend action points to move around and issue attack commands.
Sometimes there are elements on the battlefield that do things like heal characters, but mostly the focus is on baiting enemies into terrible positioning. Avyanna’s best friend Orion is key to this during the early stages as she assumes the role of tank to draw people in, while he is a rogue who can go invisible and get behind an unsuspecting opponent. Once you have an enemy pinched, you can deal much more effective damage.
Early on these battles are pretty challenging, and as you get new characters with different abilities than you’re used to, there is a bit of a learning curve to be had there as well. Given the turn-based nature of the tactical combat, the pacing of the game can be quite slow. Thankfully as your group becomes stronger, if you encounter easier battles there is an insta-win Conquer option that I was grateful for. As you gain more characters and once Avyanna starts to grow in power (except for her, each character only uses one piece of equipment. She can be fully decked out though as well as learning spells), the battles become more manageable. One of the areas of focus with Avyanna is her skill trees, which there are three flavors of. That leads to trying to decide between heavily specializing or being a jack of all trades.
One of the other aspects of progression that I really enjoyed is the city of Ylliana. You discover blueprints along the way and start to harvest from several different types of resources. Just like the storyline and developing Avyanna, Ylliana can also be grown in a variety of different ways. These will impact the types of troops you can recruit and your ranking within different factions can impact their efficacy. The four legions are the undead, the damned, the empire and the elves. Similar to Avyanna, you can choose to be specialized or broad, leaving you to decide between stronger units of one type or more variety to handle a wider range of challenges.
In terms of the presentation, the visuals are solid if not always spectacular. In typical fantasy fashion, you have some attractive character portraits and some notable landscapes along the way. The musical score is fitting if not the most memorable I have ever heard, but the songs compliment the sound effects and visual nicely and create a convincing package. I often found the characters more interesting than the world. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the writing – which was adequate but seldom struck me as great – or just my inexperience with the series.
Disciples: Liberation is a very enjoyable fantasy game that mixes turn-based combat with real-time exploration and a smidge of simulation / city-building. It can be a risk trying to balance these different elements, but kudos to the development team for striking a satisfactory balance. I really enjoyed my time with this game and it is pretty easy to sink a few dozen or so hours into it. Fans of strategy / RPG titles will find a lot to like here and should definitely give Disciples: Liberation a look.Score: 8 / 10