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Great Whale Road Preview: Whale hunters not allowed

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I had the chance to get my hands on a very early build of Great Whale Road, a text story-driven, card-based tactical RPG that is coming into early access on July 28th. This build is not the Early Access build that is coming out on the 28th, but an earlier one. Created by Sunburned Games, this build only had the first three years of the game, so this little preview is going to be of basically 2 hours of gameplay.

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I want to like this game, I really do. It has everything I love in a game, beautiful art, a Viking based story, and turn-based tactical combat. Unfortunately, in this build anyway, there’s just not enough done right for me to like it.

First things first I’ll talk about the good. You can choose to play either a male or female character, which is very nice. The art style is fantastic and very reminiscent of The Banner Saga, something that may have been intentional on their part. The story is fairly well done, nothing spectacular but it may get better much later on as what I was able to play was essentially a prologue.

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The game itself is split into two seasons, summer and winter. During one season you get to split up resources for your village. You get to choose how many people devote their time to hunting, farming, carpentry, etc. Then you’ll hit continue and the game will update things as well as give you a few events with choices. Depending on these choices you will either gain or lose villagers and resources.

Then when the next season rolls around, you get to go exploring. First, you have to load up your longship with food and supplies (especially if you want to trade for money) and then you’re given a few quests. It works well enough and I do love resource management in these types of games.

However, where it starts to crumble a little bit is when you aren’t told exactly how many days your food will last or how many days of food you need to get to your destination. This is a pretty small thing to miss and hopefully they will fix it when they are in early access.

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Combat in this game is fairly simple, you’ll have a Warband that you choose and when you get in combat you get to use them. You start off with a hand of three cards, these cards are used to both summon your Warband on to the map and give them little boosts like extra defense or attack. These boosts have a number on them which indicates what turn you have to be on in order to use it. So a number 1 will be able to be used on the first turn while a number 5 needs to wait for the fifth, simple enough.

This is where my biggest issue with the game comes in. It’s all luck based. You have three cards that you draw up to every turn, and you can use as many as you want and get rid of the ones you don’t, then on the next turn you get up to 3 cards more. The enemy (in theory) have the same limitations. However, in my absolute first fight of the game, I didn’t get any extra characters to place on the board on my first turn. So I got rid of the cards and ended my turn. The enemy put down two and moved closer. Second turn I still didn’t get any people, so I got rid of them and ended my turn. The enemy put down two more and moved closer. On the third turn I finally got 1 character, but by that point the enemy already had five men on the map and three of them were within hitting range of my hero, which they did, and I lost.

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Losing a battle does not mean you lose the game, but your main hero loses some health and stats and you might lose some trading goods, I’m not sure about that.

My second battle went a bit better, three turns in and I had 4 people on the board, so I went in with them and starting fighting. I took out two of the enemy’s minions and thought I was in a good position. Then they used three attack boosts on their minions and killed my hero from full health in one turn.

This seems to be a common thing in this combat, the enemy will hit your hero any time they can, and you can have an entire match without any heroes placed on the board. Add that with the fact that the moment your hero gets knocked out of combat you lose, and this combat is one of the most frustrating things I have ever played.

Let me reiterate, I want to like this game, I really do, but at this point I simply can’t. The combat just ruins it for me.

The publishers have stated that upon the release to early access they will be putting out a massive update, so I’ll give it a try then and hopefully it will fix some of the issues I have with this game. I will be writing a new review once I’ve had some more time to play the updated build.

Great Whale Road will be released in early access on July 28th on Steam.

Yves Hacault is a Norseman at heart and spends his winters reviewing games and pillaging monasteries along the British coastline. His opinions are his own.

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