[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is an action RPG based on a popular but relatively short-lived comic series that launched in 1998 and ended fairly abruptly in 2001 with the release of issue number nine. Now, sixteen years later and following a successful Kickstarter, Battle Chasers creator (and videogame developer) Joe Madureira has released Nightwar and stated his intent to produce a trio of companion comics. Battle Chasers is written around a young girl named Gully (and the disappearance of her father Aramus) along with the companions that guide, protect and follow her on various adventures throughout a fantasy, arcane-punk world.
In Nightwar, the events of the original comic books have already taken place and Gully, Calibretto, Red, Garrison and Knolan find themselves traveling on an airship that comes under attack. Despite their efforts, the ship is shot down and Gully awakens alone in a lush and beautifully drawn forest, allowing players their first access to one of the three modes of play; the adventure view. This mode is used primarily for exploring the randomised dungeons and a handful of other key locations and whilst another mode is used for the actual fighting, the adventure view enables players to make tactical decisions based on split-second thinking, such as by using Gully’s stun ability, or Garrison’s dash.
On that note, it isn’t long before Gully finds Calibretto and Garrison and the three characters set out to track down any other survivors from the crash. At this point, the game introduces another view – the world map. Whilst the graphics in adventure mode are soft and painterly, the world map is scratched in heavy pen and ink, with stylish, deliberate outlines drawn on a rich and colourful backdrop. Characters run from dot to dot, occasionally encountering points of interest and places to visit that might lead to either closer inspection in the adventure view, or to a conversation or shop screen.
Enemies are clearly indicated on the world map as highlighted bubbles that show the enemy type, whilst in the adventure view they simply occupy the world alongside the player party, and will actively pursue players. Once a battle is joined, it always plays out in the same way, reverting to a turn based tactical battle system. Each side consists of up to three combatants, with the enemy having access to multiple waves on some occasions. Whilst there is nothing much new in Nightwar from a combat perspective, fighting is pleasingly strategic and can be quite challenging.
Each character has several basic attacks that generate energy as well as a set of abilities that use it up. Energy includes both mana and overcharge, with overcharge being a resource that can enhance both standard attacks and abilities as it increases. There are several moves that inflict status damage such as poison, bleeding or sundering and then several others that are enhanced by weakened enemies. For example, Calibretto’s standard “Gut Punch” attack sunders enemies, and an ability that he acquires later then deals double damage to sundered enemies. The party also has access to a burst meter and each character has burst moves that heal the whole party, damage all enemies and do other, similarly powerful things.
Graphics within the battle view look superb, with fabulous animation and beautifully detailed characters. In quite a few other reviews, I’ve had to tell readers that certain games look much better in stills than they do in motion, but in Nightwar, the opposite is true. In motion, characters in Nightwar really show their personality, making the inclusion of occasional (and sometimes repetitive, I must say) banter between the party members quite welcome. The story itself is delivered largely in cut scenes and dialogue elsewhere, but much of what binds the experience together is in the way that the character development is so strong across the entire game.
Using these three modes of play, players explore The Lost Continent learning about Gully and the mysterious and powerful gloves left to her by her father. A plot about the mining of mana soon comes to light and before you know it, you’re up to your neck in adventure. The game structure is very pleasing, resulting in a steadily expanding world filled with new areas and interestingly varied bad guys to fight. The culmination of each area usually takes place in a dungeon, which will always comprise of several screens that are explored in the adventure view and require light puzzle solving as well as plenty of fighting. Each dungeon is randomly generated, and has both a normal and heroic difficulty level, as well as a legendary one to tackle once you’ve beaten heroic. Dungeons have a light rogue-like feature, meaning that if you die, you’ll lose items that were not equipped and unless you reached the single-use save point that each dungeon has, you’ll be back to the start (albeit with defeated enemies still dead.)
There is an item collection element to Nightwar, and like the combat, it is refreshingly straightforward. Items come in common, uncommon, rare even more rare forms, with power level increasing accordingly. There is also a really simple crafting system that allows players to shovel bucketloads of collected junk into crafting stations to increase their chances of success. As each additional component is added, the chances of crafting a better quality item increase, until eventually it is possible to have a 100% chance of creating e very good item. Thankfully, whilst I am sure this will result in some form of abuse as the internet begins to work out the best items to craft with, it doesn’t seem overpowered as yet and was certainly more fun than most crafting options.
Between the excellent story and fantastic characters, the superb graphics and richly crafted world, Nightwar is a very appealing game to stay involved with. Beyond that, simple, enjoyable combat that has a nice level of depth to it is also welcome, as is the structure for exploring the game world and in particular, the dungeons. Music is fine without being particularly spectacular, but the sound effects and occasional voice acting round out the already strong connection between what players see and hear. I really enjoyed Nightwar, and with everything I like about it, you should: