Whale Hammer Games, an indie company based out of Australia, are bringing us their first title Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire. Being released on Steam and GOG for PC, Linux and Mac, Tahira is a Tactical Turn-Based RPG game mostly based on close quarter guerrilla warfare featuring an immersive and somewhat dark story and challenging gameplay.
In Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire, you take follow the story of Tahira, the young Princess of Avestan through the ordeals she must face as the Astral Empire lay waste to her kingdom, murdering any Avestan they may run upon. Gathering all the allies she can have by her sides, Tahira is determined to save her people and stop the gruesome genocide happening on her land.
The game progress through 3 different kind of scenes. There is the traditional cutscenes in which you must make decisions every so often which can alter the outcome of future event, the combat sequences, pretty straightforward and self-explanatory and the “gather information” time where you get to walk around and talk to the various people around the camp, learn about the world, the events and about the characters themselves.
At the start, the missions progressively introduce new elements like the ambush feature, explaining how to use the skills to the best of their use and describing the abilities of the different type of units that join your group. For some of the combat element, I did get a Dungeons and Dragon feeling from how moving out of a threatened area will provoke attacks of opportunity and how you can delay the initiative of faster characters so they may act in tandem with slower ones during the same turn.
Thinking strategically is an important part of the combat scenarios of this game. Some parts of the story are separated in multiple segments in which your units do not have time to heal, meaning they will start the battle just as wounded as they were previously. Not only is survival key but different class of units offer different abilities, some for example can push units back making them quite valuable as if you push an enemy off the ledge of a cliff or from the top of a building, it is an insta-kill.
One of the key element to the combat is the Ambush feature which lets you deploy units hidden on the map at any given time. For example, if the shielded units move up ahead past the ambush point, leaving the archers exposed, you can strike an ambush, moving in and killing the defenceless archers before the soldiers even have time to finish their actions. Ambushing units provoke no attacks of opportunity either and have a higher damage output from the surprise factor. The ambush spots can be re-used throughout the combat as well as long as no enemy units are within 6 tile of the entrance.
The game controls using mouse and WASD optionally, but using WASD greatly improves the experience and speed of the game. My biggest complaint about the interface is that to select a unit, you must click near the bottom of the unit, in its box, instead of on the unit itself. I found myself wondering why the unit was not selected many times over unfortunately. In combat, the WASD keys are bound to the respective position on the unit action menu, W being up, A left, S down and D right. This changes during the scenes where you can walk freely as WASD now controls the movement. You can use shift to toggle Run which allows you to move in 8 directions instead of the 4 while Walking.
The animation used for the characters is quite gorgeous and looks fluid. To my surprise, rotoscoping was used to create the movements and it really paid out, Whale Hammer Games even has some example of how they did it on their YouTube Channel. The game’s artistic style is gritty and isn’t overly flashy which suits the theme and locations. This makes the astral skills only stand out more when they are used as they shine brightly, like stars.
Overall, Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire offers an interesting story packaged with a solid control scheme that will please Strategy RPG users. The small downside I can see is that the difficulty does ramp up quite quickly to the point I had to go to the easiest level of difficulty to keep progressing. This may be partially my fault as I’m not the most tactical and this game relies heavily on being wise and try to play around enemy movement over charging head on.