Earthlock Review – Flawed Turn Based Fun

Posted May 9, 2018 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Snowcastle Games

Publisher: Soedesco

Release date: March 20, 2018

Available on: Macintosh, Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Snowcastle Games’ turn-based RPG Earthlock first appeared on Xbox One in 2016 under the title Earthlock: Festival of Magic. The game then found its way to the PC, PS4, and Wii U, and was reasonably well received. Earthlock has now been reworked and revamped, and has dropped its subtitle, but is the reworked version worth checking out? If you played the old version, not really.

The game’s story, which starts out thin but improves a bit as you go on, centers around Amon, a scavenger and engineer on the world of Umbra. Amon finds an artifact in a temple with his Uncle Benjo. The artifact attracts the attention of Commander Ichabo, who wants to use it for your typical, dastardly purposes. Benjo is kidnapped, and Amon joins forces with other characters, including a hogbunny named Gnart, a pilot named Ive and her stormdog, Taika, a warrior named Olia, and a robot named PAT. Each character has their own special talents and abilities, all needing the magical force known as amri to carry out their special attacks.

The story is your typical fare of the genre, and the basic gameplay follows suit. You can talk to NPCs to get side quests, and leaving a city or dungeon puts you in an overworld where you can choose to engage enemies or evade them. Fighting gives you experience points which enable you to level up and earn TP (talent points). The TP is then used to fill in your talent grid. Some talents are basic, like adding armor for defense or raising your magical attacks, and can be obtained by fighting enemies or found in treasure chests. Other talents add stronger perks and can be crafted with the proper materials. The third set of talents are particular to each character and are unlocked through gameplay. You can swap talents out if your current build isn’t working out, but you can’t eliminate them. It is possible to fill out your character’s talent grid by the end of the game. Your characters are capped at level 20, so once that’s reached experience points no longer accumulate.

You form two sets of pairs with your characters (there are six total, with your party at four). Each character pair forms bonds, which give passive perks like having haste cast at the beginning of a turn or granting immunity to poison. Each pair can unlock five perks, and pairs can be reconfigured as needed outside of battle. This adds a layer of strategy to the combat, allowing you to decide what buffs serve you best. Each character has two stances, which can be switched during combat (at the cost of a turn). This adds another layer of strategy, letting you decide to you use Gnart as a healer or one who focuses your attacks, or having Amon blast foes with a ranged weapon or get up close to stab and rob his enemies.

In addition, you can choose to use healing items or rest to gain amri to use your abilities. Amri replenishes over time, but not keeping an eye on it can leave you short on your turn.

Healing items and ammo for weapons can be crafted from plants you find or get seeds for. Each city has planters where you can place seeds, though most of your planting is best done on Plumpet Island, which serves as the game’s hub. From Plumpet Island you can warp to anywhere where you’ve activated an Onurasi statue. The statues also serve as save points. The system works as a fast travel, but it feels a little clumsy that you can only warp from the hub. Every time you wish to head to a different place you need to warp to Plumpet Island, and then warp to your destination. While it’s better than walking, it’s not as streamlined as it could have been.

As you move about, to view your map you need to go to the heading in the menu, which feels a little clumsy to use. viewing the map won’t always help you, since the marker that designates you is always pointed in the same direction, regardless of how your character is looking. It becomes workable as you go along, but it takes getting used to. Movement for the most part works well, but a couple of areas have you inexplicably moving slower than you should. You can switch between characters as you move about, which is necessary at times. Gnart is the only one who can harvest plants in the wild, Amon scours through heaps of garbage for parts., PAT can activate certain switches, and Ive can enter stealth mode to avoid combat (just don’t get too close to enemies). Taika can also dig for treasure, with treasure maps being available at some shops.

It’s helpful to find these things, but ultimately not completely necessary to complete the game unless you’re chasing trophies/achievements.

The camera throughout all of this is fixed, which is detrimental in some areas. There are times it also zooms in on your character, leaving you open to running into an enemy. Not fun when your healing items and health are low, and you’re just trying to reach the next save statue. The statues’ placement isn’t always the best, especially in two late game areas. Your quest log isn’t always helpful either, especially for fetch quests where you need to track down multiple items. You basically have to write things down on a notepad to keep track. While some may appreciate that old school nod, you shouldn’t have to do that for modern games.

In all, Earthlock is a fairly fun, turn-based RPG, but flaws hold it back from greatness. The combat does have a level of strategy to it, and it is nice you can customize your character through their talent grids. The crafting system is varied, though again it can be a pain to keep track of what materials you need to accomplish your task. Having a garden outside the crafting room on Plumpet Island makes things a bit easier, though you have to revisit the plants multiple times to craft any real quantity of items. Oddly, the game maps two sets of abilities to the face buttons, yet you can’t switch between those sets in combat. Switching stances adds another layer to combat, but enemies all too often take advantage of your loss of a turn. The final boss can be especially troublesome, and he’s not the only area where there are cheap difficulty spikes. There’s nothing that’s insurmountable, but until you hit on the right strategy your frustration level may rise quite a bit. There’s a lot to like here, but flaws make it hard to recommend at full price. Despite that, it still proves to satisfy that turn based itch for the most part, and one can only hope things improve should a sequel be made. For now, many may want to wait for a price drop.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus