So you probably don't know this about yours truly, but I love turn-based strategy games. Like REALLY love them. I've been playing a lot of them lately, with a ton more waiting in my backlog, so when I saw this interesting-looking example appear in the "Coming Soon" section of the Xbox store, I knew I had to review it.
And I'm glad I did!
Originally released on PC about 18 months ago, it's now the consoles that get a turn with Fort Triumph and we were lucky enough to get an Xbox code for this review. Developed by Cookie Byte Entertainment, it brings the overworld exploration and resource gathering of Heroes of Might and Magic, combines it with the mixed squad and turn-based combat of the X-Com series, and adds a physics puzzle mechanic. Wrap the whole thing up in a bright, colorful aesthetic, give it a humourous story that parodies the usual fantasy tropes, and you've got a solid and fun addition to an already packed genre, one that's different enough to interest those who've already played all the greats.
Starting off, you have 2 modes you can play through. There's a skirmish mode, where you can play against AI or other players, and play the game on random maps with 4 different classes to play as. This mode doesn't have a story though, for that you need to play the campaign mode, which is where the real meat and potatoes of the experience lie. It does feel like this story mode is where you're supposed to start, it's the only mode with a tutorial, and it teaches you the different mechanics and the ins and outs of each class. It focuses on the human faction exclusively and tells the story of how a group of adventurers decides to solve their money troubles by coming together as a new Guild. Things quickly go pear-shaped though as the group is drawn into what, initially at least, feels like the usual fantasy tale involving the invasion of a Goblin Horde and the infighting of rich noble houses. However you'll quickly find that the story isn't played straight and instead you'll find it filled with little jokes, twists on the expected tropes, and moments of tongue-in-cheek humor. To me, this writing was a fun diversion and I enjoyed the moments of levity, I can however see that it could be hit or miss for some. It has its charm in my opinion but I can also recognize that it never quite reaches the high level of something like Pratchett's Discworld or similar.
It does its job of moving the action along, but there is a strange quirk to the storytelling that feels rather strange when you first experience it.
As the game starts, you are given one of each character class (Paladin, Ranger, Mage, and Barbarian) who each have their unique role and lines they say during the story sections. If later on you're unlucky enough to lose one of these characters in combat though, their role is then filled by the next most powerful character of the same class.
Which can lead to some weird situations because even though they are a different character with different skills, they'll continue on in story parts as if they are the character they replaced.
Let me give you an example.
At one point in the story, it's revealed that the Ranger character was formerly the leader of a small town that's hidden deep underground. Just after this revelation, my Ranger was killed in combat and replaced with another Ranger (of a different gender I might add) and things continued. Upon reaching the next story mission, however, suddenly my new female Ranger was the leader of this hidden town and was continuing on the story from where the previous character had left off. She was saying the same lines as he would have, with other characters reacting exactly as they would have to the original Ranger. I get that this is to stop the story from going off track, while also allowing permadeath, but I couldn't help but find it jarring when a new character suddenly takes the story position and lines of a character you've just watched being ripped apart by Goblins in a previous combat section.
So while a little unusual, the story still chugs along with the gameplay remaining unaffected by it, and that's what we're really here for anyways.
The actual minute-to-minute game is split into 2 sections, the overworld exploration/city-building part and the turn-based combat sections. When the action starts proper, after the opening story scene and tutorial, you'll find your small team plonked down on the map and left to carry out the story as you see fit. Each time you play, the map will be randomly generated and the edges are obscured by a "fog of war" that surrounds you. Which obviously makes exploration a pressing concern that's top of the list. Your party can only walk a certain distance each in-game day, shown by the travel gauge at the top of the screen, so you need to think about where you're headed. There are many things to discover on your travels, each of which will make your party stronger in some way. Many points of interest, with their own little explanation of what they are, will grant a new item, new equipment, or a new trait and they'll sometimes be free or sometimes have a prerequisite like needing a certain level or skill. Powerful artifacts are also hidden out there in the darkness, waiting for your people to stumble upon them, and when equipped will grant stat boosts, new abilities, and more. Most common though, but also most useful, are the 3 different resources used to upgrade your homebase. Beetcoins (Gold basically), Magic (which is rare), and renown (earned through combat) are all used at your castle to purchase improvements and you can switch to this screen at any time.
The upgrades you can get are unfortunately pretty linear but all add powerful upgrades to your team. Need to walk further on the overworld map? Add a stable to your base. Need more health? Place an infirmary to the castle. There are even more useful buildings too, that require more resources but grant more effective skills. The Vengeance Camp will make all melee classes, the Paladins and Barbarians, do a counterattack when attacked for instance.
People familiar with more complex examples of overworld management in games might find this system a little simplistic though. There are only around 9 building types to choose from and only a few can be upgraded. It doesn't leave must room for different builds or strategies, however, each building adds an obvious and powerful bonus making it easy to know what they do and improving your team. In skirmish mode you'll also discover that each race has its own unique building types, with functions unique to them, so there is some variation there.
But there is one thing I haven't mentioned about the overworld map already. Remember when I mentioned those cool points of interest? Or the resources you can find and the powerful equipment? Yeah well, don't expect those to be unguarded. Almost every goodie waiting to be collected on the map will be defended by something and you'll have to overcome it to get your reward.
This is, of course, where combat comes into the equation. Definitely the highlight of the whole game, it'll be instantly familiar to veterans of the genre, with it using the action point system that Xcom (and a hundred other turn-based strategy games) have used. Battle will take place on a map, with a randomized layout each time, and it's your side against theirs in a battle to the death. You'll be up against a wide range of opponents, goblins, skeletons, spiders and more appear that all have their own skills, health, and classes and you'll need to use all your abilities and teamwork to win. Like you'd expect, each of your adventurers have a certain number of action points and these govern how much they can do in each round. Movement, attacks, overwatch, and skills all cost a different amount, and managing them to be effective, while also not taking damage, is part of where the strategy lies. There's also a cover system where you can reduce damage coming from certain directions by hiding behind objects in the environment, with large items providing more of a bonus than small items. Both sides use these rules to try to whittle down the health of the other side, with the victor being the side left standing.
And about now you're probably thinking "So it's like the usual system you'd see a million other places then, Jon?"
And you'd be right if it wasn't for one additional mechanic.
The "Physics" system.
A key mechanic, and one I've not seen elsewhere, is to make use of certain "physic" skills to manipulate the environment and gain an advantage in a fight. Each class has some move that allows them to do this, melee classes can kick objects while Rangers can pull things with a grappling hook and mages can summon gusts of wind to blow things around the battlefield. Rocks can be send flying, trees toppled, giant mushrooms launched, and more with almost every object around, including enemies, able to be affected. If you use these objects, or another opponent, to hit an enemy it will do minor damage (less than a straight hit would) so initially doesn't seem useful. Once you learn its nuances though, you realize how effective it can be. By setting up chain reactions, where a kicked object will bounce off multiple opponents or make one enemy hit multiple items, you can set up a multiplier to the damage done, draining more health points than a straight attack would do.
Not only can it potentially cause more damage, it also stuns any and every opponent hit with it, rendering them unable to attack in the next round. By setting up combos like this, hitting multiple opponents with or into multiple objects, you can dominate the battlefield and cause huge damage while also preventing your enemies from attacking. Puzzling out a way to best use the environment adds another element and strategy to a style of fighting that's become familiar from other games and can give veterans something new to get to grips with. It elevates the combat above the usual and was interesting to get to grips with.
I did find one small gripe though: the UI.
Originally designed for PC, I imagine you could hover your mouse on the many icons you'll see on screen and get a tooltip describing its effect. This doesn't happen on console though. There were many times when an enemy, item, or skill would have some effect on my character and you'd get the little icon appearing next to their portrait. I'd have no way to check what these icons meant though, or how long the effects would last and although it wasn't major, it was a little annoying. This UI problem would also apply to the battlefield sometimes too. When using physics skills you'll be shown a directional arrow indicating the direction it would go in. With plenty of enemies around, and the screen zoomed out, these were hard to see. Like I said though, minor niggles that were easily ignored and shouldn't take away from the overall enjoyment to be had.
So ultimately, I enjoyed my time with Fort Triumph. The bright colorful aesthetic was a nice change to the dark and brooding settings in others I've played recently. The humourous story worked for me but I do recognize it could be a miss for others but its gameplay is where it shines for me. The exploration is fun, searching out equipment gives a "what's up there?" feeling for every unexplored section of the map and while the base building isn't particularly deep, everything you do get provides a significant boost and its simplicity means it will be accessible to newbies. The combat initially seems like the usual but the addition of the physics system adds something new and should give veterans something unique to get to grips with. It's a fine addition to the turn-based strategy genre and both newbies and veterans will find something to enjoy. If you're looking for a replacement for Xcom, or want to get into the strategy genre, you could do a lot worse than picking up Fort Triumph.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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