Oaken review

by on July 27, 2023
Release Date

July 20, 2023


Oaken is a strange little game. On the one hand, its cutesy art style suggests it’s a strategy game aimed at the more casual crowd, maybe even the younger crowd. And indeed, the tutorial and first few missions feel decidedly simple when compared to something like XCOM. But it doesn’t take long for Oaken to become a little bit frustrating. And then kind of infuriating. And then kind of not fun at all.

It’s set in a fantasy world in the boughs of a giant tree, where various sprites and woodland folk do battle against the nefarious corruption that has taken root. So far, so generic. But while the setting is fairly also-ran, the aesthetic is gorgeous. It’s a world of chunky characters, vibrant colours, and dazzling magic effects.

Oaken review

The problem is it took me a long time to grasp even some of the more basic actions, and even now there are some fights I won by luck rather than judgement – even after dropping the difficulty down to “Relaxed”. And I don’t think it’s because Oaken is particularly hard. Rather, it feels somewhat unfair, and doesn’t do a very good job of explaining all of its mechanics.

It’s a hex-based strategy game that sees you moving your hero and their summoned minions into and out of attack range, fielding new creatures to deal damage or soak it up for you, and executing powerful magical attacks on the enemy. Initially, it feels pretty good if a bit fiddly.

Perhaps it’s on me but I find it hard to relate to characters in games like the ones in Oaken. Blatantly inhuman, little differentiates your summoned creature – or you heroes for that matter – from their enemies. It makes relating impossible and throws up a barrier that prevents you from really caring what happens to any of them. It makes it difficult to invest unless there’s a hook elsewhere. There is some choice-based gameplay as you progress, but it doesn’t have stakes; it’s more a way to get extra XP or refill resources.

Oaken review

At the end of a battle you’ll generally unlock something, either a new summon or at the very least some XP. Abilities are presented as cards, which is fine, but there’s no real reason for it. The artwork is pretty but too busy, and they’re too small on screen to appreciate. Each battle you can select what to take in and then you play them strategically to hamper the enemy, destroy opposition, or clear out the corruption from a space you want to move to. It’s all very fine, and all very basic.

But every now and then Oaken will throw up a mechanic you aren’t prepared for and unceremoniously cut your run short. You do keep certain upgrades and cards from run to run, so failure isn’t a major barrier, but it is annoying.

All in all, Oaken is a bit of a mixed bag, then. On one hand it does offer a more accessible tactics experience, at least at the outset, but on the other hand it’s not particularly well-balanced. There’s nothing in it that feels nuanced or even all that fresh besides the art style, and while there’s nothing egregious about it, it doesn’t push the genre in any particular direction.


Quite pretty
Some interesting ideas


Frustrating difficulty spikes
Doesn't always explain mechanics

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

While there's nothing egregious about Oaken, it doesn't push the genre in any particular direction.