In a magical land called the Lorn Empire, lie many foes just waiting for you to come and end their lives. The reason for this may vary, sometimes it’s to protect a peace-loving group from those who wish to burn their homes, sometimes it’s to conquer those who, just a few moments ago, seemed to be allies. Sometimes you defend some ungrateful arse who is so set on being strong and independent that they’ll attack your soldiers when they show up to provide much needed support. Such is the happenings in Tower Five’s Lornsword Winter Chronicle.
The story in Lornsword Winter Chronicle has been a gut-wrenching rollercoaster of twists and loops. The stunning art style combined with some of the best writing I’ve seen in a video game had me engulfed from the very start. I was not so convinced about the game mechanics though, which feature a mixture of RTS and RPG elements while not utilizing the best aspects of either. Despite my initial hesitation, I found myself excitedly relaunching this game every day for the past week and I now gladly give you an overview of what I experienced.
Keep in mind that I tested an early access version of Lornsword Winter Chronicle. Any problems or bugs mentioned might be fixed at launch.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle was released in early access on May 29 on Steam.
The basis for the story in Lornsword Winter Chronicle is very familiar. You are a commander in an army who is called to do your duty and defend the realm. You are forced to leave your family behind to fulfill your duties and your character’s humanity is immediately apparent when you see just how much leaving his family pains him. As a family man myself, I can relate to the internal struggles he goes through, which makes for a highly likable and intriguing protagonist.
The story immediately sows the seeds of uncertainty when your commanding General appoints you to fight the most pressing battles, while he cowers away in his tent, a trait that is completely out of character for a man you’ve known and respected for so many years. Your suspicions of foul play grow more intense as things progress and your orders start coming from the countries nobles, and not directly from the king. I did not have the entire storyline available while testing but if I did, I wouldn’t want to reveal any more because this game truly includes some of the best writing I’ve come across and I’ve got great hopes for where this story will take you. Most of the characters I met came with heaps of personality which resulted in some fantastic back and forth interactions.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle is a mixture of real-time strategy, and role-playing game. What that translates to is an RTS type interface, but with you controlling a single unit, like you would in an RPG, and issuing build orders and troop commands from your avatar instead of behaving like an all-seeing entity. The strategy elements are more focused on base building in that you can erect structures that spawn troops anywhere you like while your amount of control over said troops is very limited.
There are 3 types of buildings, defensive towers, altars, and troop spawners. The former, and latter of these are rather self-explanatory and the alters introduce a magical element to the game by allowing you to spawn magical creatures to assist in the heat of battle. There are 4 types of altars, each providing a different magical being. The stone altar, for example, lets you summon stone giants which are slow but strong, and very effective at bringing down structures. The water temple, however, gives you access to water spirits which do very little damage but provide healing support to the rest of your troops. Additionally, there are also 3 different troops to be led into battle, the usual melee soldiers, deadly archers, and magic wielding mages. You select which type of soldiers to spawn by the type of building you construct and from there every one of the structures in your base has a series of upgrades available which either strengthens the building, increases one of your own stats, or evolves your troops into a stronger, more specialized version of themselves.
For the RPG side of things, you only have a few simple abilities at your disposal. You can teleport short distances which lets you quickly traverse the, sometimes vast, battlefield. You are able to summon the various elemental creatures provided by the altars wherever needed, and you can also call down a fiery rainstorm on your enemies. You also possess a sword which can be used to slice some throats, but your character is rather frail and can quickly be overwhelmed so this is only advised in the direst of circumstances. Your troops usually follow a set path toward the nearest enemy base and will dispatch as soon as a certain number of them have spawned together but it is possible for you to gather them up and have them follow you should you need their skills elsewhere. One last ability you have is to leave your hero behind and fly the camera around to see what’s happening elsewhere on the field of battle. Anywhere you have a structure or soldier, you can share in their vision to see where your assistance is most needed. Finally, there’s the odd artifact for your hero to carry which provides some minor bonuses like increasing the number of elementals you summon or providing some passive healing. The most effective artifact I found made me invisible when out of battle which allowed me to scout the entire map without having to worry about getting killed. You can only carry one artifact at a time though and sadly they don’t carry across to future battles.
As with all RTS games, you also need to pay some attention to your economy which in this case has you constructing farms and mines which can only be built on certain lots and are usually right in the middle of the enemy’s marching path, thus requiring protection. Farms increase your production limit which dictates how many buildings you can build or how far those buildings can be upgraded while gold is needed to fund each structure or upgrade. Logically, this makes little sense when you keep in mind that you need a farm’s produce to build and upgrade a defensive tower, but the economy is kept simple enough as to not interfere with the action, which I’m sure many will appreciate.
With the steady decline in popularity of RTS games, I understand the need to sway from the norm, but I’ll admit that I was not completely sold on the interface Lornsword Winter Chronicle provides. Utilizing an RPG style means that the strategy elements can’t be too complicated because it’ll just be too difficult to jump around the map quickly enough to effectively command your troops. Similarly, the RPG elements are just too simple and don’t allow you to be particularly significant in a fight. To make matters worse, your magic abilities, as with all role-playing games, is fueled by your mana which runs out frustratingly quickly. Mana can only be recharged by collecting orbs and these are very inconveniently located at your altars, in the middle of your base. The end result of this is that you run out to aid your dying troops in their hour of need, spend half your mana summoning a few wind spirits, rain some fire down on the enemy, then teleport back to your base to recharge, just so you can rush back and repeat the process. After doing some strategic base building at the start of a mission, this becomes your routine until you manage to break through the enemy’s defenses and complete your goal. It would also be helpful if you could change the marching direction of your troops since they’ll keep going down the same path even when all enemies have been defeated. The only way to move them is to demolish their origin buildings and reconstruct them near another path, which loses you valuable gold.
Another minor complaint I have is with the structure upgrade system. This is diverse enough to keep things interesting but the descriptions of each upgrade can be rather vague leaving you unsure which option to take. When upgrading my fort, do I want to and train Marked Lornknights, Stoneknights, or Flameknights? I have no idea, and neither of these different soldiers seemed to swing the battle one way or the other. I just kept with the idea that upgraded troops are stronger and that’s better for me.
One last item to mention is the inclusion of split-screen multiplayer which allows you to connect a second controller, or if you’re a bad friend you can let your companion use a keyboard. The button layout for this game quite literally covers the entire keyboard and feels very unnatural so please, just connect a controller and save yourself a lot of frustration. While I’m grateful for the ability to include your friends, I don’t really see the need since I never had so much to do that I thought a second player was necessary to turn the tides in my favor.
Like with the story, I was swept off my feet by the visuals in Lornsword Winder Chronicle. The designers used an interesting abstract, almost stain glass design that initially felt out of place but as things progressed I found myself falling more in love with it. The maps were equally striking, and even the unit designs, despite the limitations of a top-down view, were impressive. I especially liked the trail the units left in their wake when treading through sand or snow.
The same cannot be said for the audio, however. The voice acting was missing when I started my review but was added a few days in. While I greatly appreciate voice acting in an indie game, since this is generally one of the more expensive parts of production, it was everything but impressive. It doesn’t feel like a conversation taking place, instead, it sounds like the lines are being read from a script and the other person involved is simply waiting for their turn in a completely mechanical way. The flow doesn’t feel natural which is a crying shame as all it does is dampen an otherwise fantastic storyline. As for the rest of the audio, well there isn’t much there. Sure there are the traditional soundtracks that set the tone of each scenario and admittedly they were rather good, but there was very little available in terms of effects apart from the swoosh and thud whenever swords cut through the air. Perhaps the lacking audio is due to the early-access state, but I can only speculate at this point.
As far as gameplay design goes, I’ve already voiced my concerns regarding the hybrid genre and the limitations that poses. I’ve also mentioned that this game is definitely meant to be played with a controller. Sure, a keyboard can be used, but for the love of all things holy, please don’t, using a controller won’t have you constantly pressing random buttons to try and remember which one teleports you to safety. I did experience some weird issues with the controller when walking in certain directions though. By holding the teleport button, you allow your character to run but for some reason this gets disabled when moving diagonally.
The last thing I need to complain about is the missing mini-map and health bars. Truthfully, you can’t design an RTS in this day and age, and not include those 2 elements. That may have been acceptable in the ’90s, but that time is long passed. A good thing cause I don’t think I can survive another era of boy-bands.
Despite its numerous flaws, Lornsword Winter Chronicle was more fun than expected. The gameplay mechanics are flawed but not to the point where the game was unenjoyable, and it could be massively improved with some minor tweaks and additions. I also have to emphasize, considering how rare a proper single player campaign is nowadays, I was blown away by the amount of content available here.
The visuals and story were fantastic and easily the best aspects of the game. Even when finding myself annoyed with the tasks I had to perform, I soldiered on just so I could see what happened next. The characters were given enough depth to be distinct in their own right and each one of them plays a vital role in the story being told. There was also an impressive amount of lore revealed with every cutscene.
The biggest let down was the audio, or lack thereof, especially the voice acting which felt forced and mechanical. It’s a shame that such an immersive story should be told so blandly.
If the hero was given a few more abilities, and a mana capacity that didn’t run out 10 seconds into every battle, this would be a fantastic action game. I could even see this working well in a PvP sort of setup to compliment that extensive single-player campaign. Regardless, at the current price, Lornsword Winter Chronicle is definitely worth it and if any of my suggested changes are to be added in future, you would have gotten yourself a bargain.