The Kingdom is burning, the people run for the hills as the guards do their best to fight the overwhelming enemy force with very little success. Now, in their darkest hour, only the princess and her mysterious powers can save them. This is Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire.
Genre(s): Tactics | Strategy
Developer: Whale Hammer Games
Publisher: Whale Hammer Games
Release Date: Aug 2016
Played: Single player campaign.
Purchase At: Steam
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
When you launch Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire, the visual style and base mechanics will immediately make you think of The Banner Saga (which the development team states was one of their inspirations) but with middle eastern aesthetics, which I think are pretty cool.
At the game’s opening, you find Tahira camping out in the wilderness with her faithful—and quite intelligent—horse, when suddenly her father, The King, appears before her shrouded in white light. He tells her the Astral Empire, once banished from the world, is back and on a quest to rid the world of Tahira’s people. As enemies pop up in this vision of her father, he begs her to return and lead their people and reclaim the destiny she once abandoned.
As far as character motivations go, Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire nails them down perfectly for the entire cast, including the villains. The Astral Empire has a personal vendetta against the people of this country, believing them responsible for their banishing. The people follow Tahira out of respect for her position, awe at her magical abilities and in the case of the mercenaries Claw and Hammer, their debt and friendship to her father.
As for our protagonist, what begins as reluctant acceptance turns into a burning desire when some of her close friends fall to the blades of these invaders and that determination strengthens when she sees her home burn. On accepting the burden of leadership, the captain of the guard, Baruti, hands over her father’s staff, an artefact that will allow her to channel the light powers of the royal family.
I liked the characters, and though the conversations between Tahira and the two mercenaries, Claw and Hammer, sometimes made me cringe from sheer awkwardness, I liked the banter between them. You have a few moments where you can choose your replies, but they amount to very little, as they don’t change the outcome of the story, which is something I definitely dislike, not just in this game but overall.
There are two or three moments between levels where you can talk to NPCs and learn their thoughts. I like these segments and I found myself invested much more in the stories of the rank-and-file soldiers and average mercenaries. There were moments of soldiers giving each other grief, a bit of flirting and maybe future romance between a soldier and a mercenary and I just wanted to know more.
Sadly, knowing more is where Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire falls on its face. The story cuts out abruptly after the last battle, with a simple cutscene showing you Tahira causing a rock slide that takes out enemy reinforcements. You don’t know what’s going on, what the Astral Empire’s endgame is all about, whom their leaders are or if there’s even a way to defeat them and restore peace. Unlike The Banner Saga, where the game’s ending is clearly the end of “Chapter I,” Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire feels like it’s merely the prologue to a larger story.
Combat mechanics feel, for the most part, like a simplified version of those found Banner Saga. Whereas in that game you would have both health and armour breaking attacks and you have to combine them for success, in Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire, you always have to break the opponent’s armour before dealing damage to them, so attacks just deal raw damage. Characters have willpower, which they use to power special attacks, but you can’t spend extra for other effects.
Tahira is a badass, with powers that develop over the course of the admittedly short story but that make her capable of taking out multiple enemies at once. The other ‘heroes’ if we can call them that, have only a smidgen more power than the normal units—which are all clones of these heroes by the way: soldiers, Claw mercenaries and Hammer mercenaries—and well below Tahira’s power level.
You never feel this disparity in battle strength more than when using Ambushes, which might be the best and most fun mechanic in the entire game. Some stages have ambush points, where you can hide units away and then pull them out in special “stealth” turns where they can move freely without provoking D&D style attacks of opportunity and, at least in theory, wreck enemies attacking them from behind.
The Claw can actually tear enemies apart during these ambushes, but his mercenaries simply can’t. One of the issues is that while the stealth lets you avoid enemy attacks when you move through their spaces, it does nothing for their defence, least of all the bonuses units give each other when adjacent, which is another really cool mechanic and with which you can really bolster your defences.
Combat levels in the game start out pretty fun, but soon become so long they outstay their welcome, and this is primarily due to constant reinforcements as you clear the current wave of enemies.
One of the longest levels in the game has three different and increasingly annoying battles, where the enemies get progressively stronger but your units don’t refresh between battles. They give you caches to replenish unit resources, but they only recharge their armour, with no healing or even willpower points, leaving your unit in pretty much the same situation as before. And while you can see, at the beginning of the battle, the enemy positions in the map, many more will spawn out of nowhere and join the fray.
Oh and have I mentioned you have no ranged warriors and your enemies do? I call shenanigans!
The levels after this one only get more annoying in terms of length and the way new unit squads just spawn and run into the fray feels cheap and unfair. And this was playing on normal.
I really dug the visuals, the beautiful and very fluid rotoscoped animations and the pretty cool character designs. I would have liked to see a larger variety of environments, but the game isn’t long enough for that to happen.
Music is hit-and-miss for me. The music you hear during conversations and those moments when you’re talking to NPCs is great. But the ones you hear during battles are often single or double note pieces that fail to deliver any emotional impact and in fact become grating. During the long battle level I mentioned above, I had to turn off the music as it was giving me a headache.
I want to like Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire a lot more than I do. The combat is at its core extremely fun and the ambushes make battles even more so. The characters have a lot going on and the premise is great with clearly defined motivations. But the abrupt ending and the challenge-inflated fights in the 2nd half of the game draw my ire, as does the combat music.
3.5/5 – Good!