When a young Gelfling Soldier, Rian, witnesses the ultimate betrayal by the masters he is sworn to serve, he starts a resistance movement to spread the truth of their actions, unite the Gelfling, save the planet Thra and defeat the evil Skeksis in BonusXP‘s turn-based tactical RPG — The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics.
In 1982, Jim Henson and Frank Oz brought The Dark Crystal to the cinema, an epic tale of the final battles between the peaceful Gelfling, the Evil Skeksis and the mysterious uRu over the Skeksis subversion of a planet healing magical crystal. Considerably darker than their previous work it also left a lot of unanswered questions as to how the thirty-second introduction came about and why it all happened. Jump to late 2019 and Netflix revived the franchise with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance which updates the mythos surrounding the original film in addition to expanding massively on the characters and backstory.
It was only a matter of time, given the success of the series, that it would likely translate into the gaming medium but the question was in what form? BonusXP, along with Netflix and EnMasse Entertainment have answered that in the form of a tactical turn-based RPG where you control each and every action of your group of resistance fighters across multiple story-driven scenarios and encounters which track closely the first series from the streaming giant.
As per many turn-based games, player and enemy characters in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics traverse the world via a grid where movement skill determines the maximum distance you can travel with a specific character upon their turn. That movement stat also determines their turn in the overall queue so you can expect lighter scout type classes to move before heavier more armour laden soldiers. Once movement is completed players have access to a range of class-specific actions and abilities which may be deployed in either an offensive or defensive style to impact the enemy or their own companions. Most levels have a singular objective of defeating the enemy or reaching a particular item or location although many also have secondary success criteria which relate to the story (such as Rian must survive).
Levels are split into scenarios which follow the story and encounters. Scenarios progress the main story and reward players with cutscenes, new equipment, money, experience points and sometimes new characters to add to your resistance. Encounters can be replayed and take place adjacent to the campaign. Encounters have similar rewards with the exception of characters but can be replayed multiple times with increasing difficulty to allow you to level up under-utilised characters or just for extending playtime.
All of the characters in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics have access to all the base classes although start with a preferred one selected. Rian, for example, is a soldier who excels in physical damage. Three base classes are offered to begin with and players can choose between Soldier, Scout and Mender following the classic RPG stats tropes of Strength, Dexterity and Magic
As characters obtain XP they level up at the end of each battle. Reaching a new level upgrades the characters base statistics but also levels the current class unlocking new skills. Characters equip up to three abilities from their class but may also equip a second class to obtain a further two abilities to allow strategic job switching depending upon the scenarios faced within The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics main campaign.
As characters obtain ten levels in a specific class, a more advanced class in that profession is unlocked offering increased damage of the same type in addition to more skills to unlock. Overall there are 12 classes which each have a level cap at twenty although you do not need to maximise all classes to finish the main campaign and concentrating on a single path is advised.
Equipment earned completing battles may be equipped outside of and in between battles on the world map and much of this is class-specific (denoted by specific icons). Money earned through completion of each event can also be spent at the equipment shop on the world map and offers a selection of weapons, armour and trinkets which may be equipped. Grinding out money by repeatedly playing encounters is a good way to level up and strengthen your equipment but these also increase in difficulty so mastering the game mechanics eventually becomes a necessity.
The world of The Dark Crystal is well portrayed within each map and is represented by the locales visited throughout the series from the Podling village to the Skeksis castle. Foreign plants and vegetation are strewn across the landscapes with an almost alien feel to them although somewhat familiarity gave the shooting locations which set the premise for the original film (Scotland & England — North Yorkshire). Characters (and enemies) are represented as full 3D models on the grid and each has customer animations for abilities, movement and actions keeping battle interesting.
It’s somewhat disappointing that with everything else being well delivered and with some good balance and an acceptable difficulty curve that the game hasn’t capitalised fully on the licence it’s based on. The new series has some excellent voice talent and the exclusion of that in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics both in the main gameplay, as well as the cutscenes, takes some of the life away from the game. Apart from a few grunts, there’s nothing adding any further attachment to the characters and if it wasn’t for the 3D models you could have created a complete side adventure to the television storyline as nothing ties it specifically to it.
A solid turn-based RPG which delivers in short and long stints but without the shine (and budget) associated with its triple-A licence.