SEATTLE – Full disclosure: I have never seen The Dark Crystal or its new prequel series, Age of Resistance, on Netflix. I have nothing against it; the movie was just before my time, and I never got around to it. But thanks to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, I may have to sit down and finally watch the franchise. The game looks almost just like the Jim Henson creation that inspired it, and plays like a deep strategy/RPG. It’s a lot more than I expected from a TV tie-in.
I went hands-on with Age of Resistance Tactics at PAX West 2019, and it didn’t take long for the game to win me over. I started with a quick tutorial level as Deet (whom I’m told is an important character from the show), wherein she wandered across a grid-based map, stopping to whack allies who had been imprisoned by spiderwebs. It was pretty standard tactical RPG stuff: move, attack, use a special skill once in a while, repeat.
It wasn’t until I played the full demo mission that I started to understand just how much effort the developers at Bonus XP had put into the game. Before I started my quest, I got to choose three characters from a cast of five, each of whom had a different class and subclass. In the full game, there will be more than 20 playable characters and more than 15 selectable jobs.
Fans of Final Fantasy Tactics will be familiar with jobs: high-fantasy classes that impart certain skills and stats upon your characters. You can turn your fighters into sword-and-shield warriors, fast-moving scouts sturdy healers and so forth. By itself, that’s not that interesting – but each character can also pick a sub-job, which affects his or her abilities and stats even further.
A warrior who can heal himself mid-battle or a mage who can equip heavy armor present a whole new suite of tactical options, and it will be exciting to mix and match job classes among the large cast. As the game progresses, you can also decide how to invest the job points you earn. You can either specialize in jobs that are similar to your characters’ staring classes, or branch out and be a jack-of-all trades. Either method is viable, provided you have a strategy to back it.
From there, the battle was considerably more difficult than I anticipated from a game with such adorable character design. An evil, reptilian Skeksis led a team of corrupted warriors and mages, and I had to fight against superior numerical odds.
The combat system has two interesting wrinkles. First, most special abilities have an unusual area-of-effect, such as a straight line or a cross, and they will hit friends and foes alike. Casting a fireball or a healing spell becomes much trickier when there’s an unwanted target in the way, and forces players to think on their feet about optimal positioning.
Another twist is that each character has a special ability that’s reliant on using other abilities first. For example, my warrior could deal increased damage, but only if he Silenced a target first. My scout could strike an enemy twice, but she had to Mark him as a threat from a distance. Age of Resistance Tactics is very much a game of delayed gratification, but the gratification is very much there, especially toward the end of long battles.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics will be out later this year on PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One and Switch, with no price announced just yet. That’s plenty of time to catch up with the movies and TV show, which seems like it might be a worthwhile endeavor for fans of strategy/RPGs.
Be sure to follow our Pax West 2019 hub for the latest news and impressions out of Seattle.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.