Alder’s Blood — XCOM with more stealth

Alder’s Blood is a tasty proposition.

I often hear people use the term “…like chocolate and peanut butter” to describe two things they like that mix together well. I’m not a big fan of peanut butter and am only partial to chocolate on occasion, so that expression never really lands for me. I do like Bloodborne and XCOM though, so when I describe Alder’s Blood as being like Bloodborne and XCOM you should get a good idea of my feelings for it. That might seem somewhat laboured, but I’m really looking forward to what this game has to offer as it finishes its development over the coming months.

Oh, and I absolutely backed this on Kickstarter the moment I saw it.

Alder's Blood
Hunters love a good campfire with toasted marshmallows.

In Alder’s Blood you play as Chief, the leader of a group of Hunters who traverse the land, banishing demonic beasts as they go. Hunters are great warriors in this desolate Victorian-esque world, with near superhuman senses and combat abilities. They are pretty much the only protection that the average people have from the monsters that roam the wastelands. Where do these creatures come from, and what is their purpose? We don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ll find out.

The game begins with a tutorial mission with you controlling a Hunter named Duke as he scales a mountain. The mechanics are introduced one-by-one, but relatively quickly. You are told that stealth is important, as these monsters are incredibly strong. Melee attacks are silent, but require skill to get in close whilst ranged combat is safer in some regards, so long as you don’t mind making a lot of noise and drawing attention to yourself.

Sound plays a key part here. Alder’s Blood is a turn-based game a la XCOM, but with a greater stealth emphasis. You can use your louder attacks to draw enemies towards your current location, which you can then vacate to prepare for a follow-up strike next turn. You aren’t limited to a single move and attack per turn, rather you can do as much as your Hunter’s stamina allows. Stronger attacks use up more, whilst moving outside your movement limit uses just a little. Stamina recovers at the beginning of your next turn unless you run out entirely through overexertion or being attacked, in which case you lose your next turn, leaving your Hunter very vulnerable. It’s a great balancing act, and it really forces you to make difficult choices. Do you press now, or hold off and recover to follow-up later?

Alder's Blood Combat
Combat is turn-based and relies heavily on stealth.

Your opposition also has stamina which can be used to your advantage. Attacking will deplete theirs to the point that they are knocked down which opens them up for a banishment — an instant kill that requires a lot of your stamina. This is pretty much your best bet against stronger enemies that are resistant to a lot of your damage. You really have to plan your turns to separate enemies using sound and even your smell — yes, the beasts can track you by scent — before decimating them with concentrated attacks and banishments. I love that your Hunters are very powerful in that their attacks will never miss, but fragile should they be left exposed.

Between missions you can speak with characters, heal, scavenge, and craft to make expand the lore of the world and strengthen your team, although there is little of this on show at the moment. You can also equip your Hunters here, although this is more cumbersome than I’d like at the moment. Once you start changing weapons and items you are forced to change them whether you want to or not, with no way to cancel and leave things as they are. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s a bit irritating. There were also a lot of spelling errors in this part of the game. Plenty of time to fix that in the next few months though. Everything else seems to be very much ready to go.

The art and animation is wonderfully dark, evoking an almost Lovecraftian meets steampunk Wild West feeling. If you took the creature design from Bloodborne and put it into the world of Hard West then you might be heading in the right direction. The muted colour scheme works wonderfully to give this world a dirty, unpleasant feeling, whilst somehow remaining vibrant and exciting. There’s clearly been a lot of work done by the Alder’s Blood art team. The sound is less impressive right now with weapons sounding less than powerful and monsters not sounding all that intimidating. I was hoping for something more guttural from the beasts and rawer from the weapons. It’s not a deal-breaker though.

Alder's Blood
Conversations have multiple options. Will this mean multiple paths in the main game?

I’ve had a great time playing this preview build of Alder’s Blood, and it shows that there’s an excellent game ready to be delivered in early 2020. The XCOM style gameplay with its stealth leanings combined with those Bloodborne horror stylings is something that comes together very well. I’m interested to see what the story has to offer, as there’s a big map to explore with potential for some terrifying foes if the concept art is anything to go by. I’m very much looking forward to the final build of this one.

Alder’s Blood can be wishlisted on Steam.

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