“Worth The Second Look!”
An XboxHornet Review By WDesm.
Let’s be honest, when Dark Seal came out, most people probably looked right past it. Sure, it might have been neat at first glance, but within seconds of playing it, you could tell that it was unfinished. The game failed to properly instruct you, some mechanics seemed arbitrary (or worse, invisible), and you weren’t quite sure why you won or lost at the end of the day. We felt the same way, and when the game was released on March 17th, we instantly started chatting with Andreil’s Game about how the game could have been made so much better. Surprisingly , they took some of our suggestions to heart, and as of three nights ago, an update silently rolled out for Dark Seal that seriously amps up the quality of this boardgame-like. The end result? A game that is worth a second look.
In Dark Seal, the Lord of All Evil has been destroyed. His remaining six generals each fight to take his throne, but before they can claim the title, they need to work together to defend themselves from the approaching heroic army. You start with a small collection of minions, and your army is supplemented by magical spells, represented by “cards” that are randomly drawn each turn. As enemy heroes spawn, all of the remaining generals work together to kill the growing army of heroes and expand their territory; minions can move one square per turn, and one minion can kill one hero, so to conquer an occupied land, you must have at least one more minion than the enemy. The tricky part is that the generals are forced to work together: At no point in the game can you invade another general’s land.
At the beginning of each turn, you are given a small collection of magical cards, and your old ones are lost (so don’t hold onto them!), and all your minions are able to move again. Minion movement is a simple “one square per turn,” and should you move into an enemy square, combat instantly resolves itself. The cards can have a variety of effects, including “Kill 1-5 Enemies,” “Steal Land,” “Teleport 1-5 Enemies,” “Spawn 1-5 New Minions”, or even combinations of the above (ie: “Kill 1-5 enemies and steal the land”). Magical cards are also the only way to actually screw with the other generals: While the tutorial screen says that “magic is unpredictable”, this is really just a flimsy excuse for you being able to cast spells anywhere you want, including other upon generals. Personally, I would have much rather seen a randomized aspect of the magic system, so that spells could actually misfire.
For the first ten turns of the game, your goal is to keep the ever-spawning heroes from gaining a hex adjacent to the Dark Seal in the center of the map. Should they earn a hex beside the Seal, and hold it for a full turn, it is game over. After ten turns of defense, the heroes stop spawning, and it becomes a clean-up mission. After the last hero is dead, the winner is determined based on who has the the most hexes owned (shown by the colour of the Dark Seal in the center of the map).
Dark Seal is a fantastic approach to XBLIG boardgames, but it has a lot missing. With zero options to the game, you’ll certainly enjoy the first play through, but you might have trouble coming back for more. The lack of different maps, no option to change game length, and lack of online play removes a lot of replayability. On the gameplay side of things, after playing a few matches, it becomes trivial to best the AI, so you’ll need human opposition to provide an engrossing challenge.
Honestly, I like Dark Seal, and I want it to be a better game than it is: Much like Andreil’s Game’s previous offering, Pioneer, the core game is fantastic, but a lack of bug testing, community feedback, and limited art assets / features cripple it. This is especially obvious in Dark Seal, as it reuses some of Pioneer’s assets (including music and some sprites), and fails to be unique enough to warrant more than the rare playthrough. While I am as enamoured with Dark Seal as I am with Pioneer, I’m certainly not as forgiving when you see the same mistakes being made again. I’m looking forward to Andreil’s Game’s upcoming features, the first of which should be Easy Racing. and hope that they’ve learnt to polish their games a bit more for their audience.
If you, like me, want to see good game ideas get the polish and love that they deserve, be sure to try this one out, but also be sure to contact Andreil’s Game and let them know what you think: Supposedly another Dark Seal patch could be in the works, and I would love to see this fledgling company really get a feel for what gamers want to see.
Game Score 4.5/10. (Unpatched version)
Game Score 6.5/10. (Patched version)
Download a free demo of the game here.
All of Andreil’s Game’s upcoming projects can be found through their photo album here.