As someone without a whole lot of experience with auto battlers, playing the demo of Tales & Tactics was something of an awakening for me. Collecting units that work well together and beating up other armies without having to control them or give them orders was an absolute blast, but just as I found my groove the demo ended and I was left without any battles to automate. Well the time for despair is now over, because I’ve now played the early access release of Tales & Tactics and it’s wonderful.
As your chosen hero, your goal in Tales & Tactics is to gather an army strong enough to win The Grand Tournament. It’s really just an excuse to get you invested in building power, so get ready to check out the shop and pick a unit or two to battle the pathetic goblin armies that await you in the first few fights of the game.
You start the game with a little bit of currency, and are presented with five units at the store along the bottom of the screen. Between each fight you’ll be allowed to reroll the units in the shop once for free, but after that it costs a couple of coins. You’ll want to do this as much as possible because units fuse together and level up if you collect three of them (as is traditional with this sort of game). Unless there happen to be multiple identical units waiting the first time around though, you’ll have an important initial choice to make.
Now choosing which monsters you initially want to buy from the store is always a tough decision. Usually you’ll want to focus on a specific type of unit (like Dwellers or Bugs) because if your army contains enough of them they’ll be granted a powerful class bonus. The variety in these effects is absolutely wild, but they’re all game changing once you’ve amassed enough of the little minions to activate them. Skeletons all rise from the dead when defeated for a final attack that might just be what you need to beat the enemy, Orcs gain a load of stats when they drop below half health, and Demons transform the last remaining Demon unit into a super demon with especially high stats. There are well over a dozen unit types in the game, and experimenting with the different effects is a lot of fun.
Outside of collecting the same types of units for your army, you’ll also need to arrange them sensibly on the hex based battlefield for them to fight effectively. Each unit has a range it can attack from, as well as a unique special ability it’ll use when it has the mana to do so. On a basic level you’ll want to keep healers and archers chilling at the back and burly bruisers at the front, but if you’ve got a unit that teleports to attack you should think about what that’ll do to your line-up, and if you have a melee unit that cleaves multiple enemies you’ll probably want it in the middle of the action. The depth of Tales and Tactics is really impressive, and every time I failed a run I felt like I learned something new.
The auto battling is broken up by Roguelike elements like deciding where to go next and what upgrades you want to gather. There are shops that sell various equipment that’ll increase health, attack speed or even grant lifesteal to units, there are shrines that grant you free potions and equipment, but if you want the most powerful option you’ll have to be cursed a little, and there are even side quests that ask you to find specific units for big rewards. The amount of big decisions you have to make in Tales & Tactics is frankly a bit overwhelming, and although I found some success after playing for a while I never really felt like I was playing optimally.
Thankfully even in failure you’re rewarded with a whole load of points to spend on permanent new additions to the game, but these additions never really make you stronger specifically. Whenever you unlock something new that’ll power up your minions in future runs you also unlock something that makes the enemies tougher, and although I understand this from a balance perspective I must admit it felt a little demoralising. Some purchases like new heroes don’t buff the enemy though, so I ended up focusing on those for the most part.
Each hero you choose from at the start has a variety of different (sometimes overly complex) perks that’ll change how you build an army on your run. The pink haired gnome grants a hefty buff to a mage on your team as long as you only have one of them, whereas other characters grant you potions that duplicate units, give you boss monsters in your army at the start of the game, and all sorts of rewards for sticking with their favoured archetypes. If you can’t find one that works for you then you can even make your own class by picking and choosing from these different perks, which is as handy as it sounds.
I feel like I’ve talked about so many of the dense mechanics that Tales & Tactics throws at you with glee, but really I’ve only scratched the surface of the game. Other mechanics you’ll find along the way include item fusion which allows you to combine certain bits of equipment so they only take up a single slot, hex buffs that grant units a bonus when placed there, and banners which are a special type of equipment that can make any unit a specific type. Especially with how quickly these mechanics are thrown at you I think it’s a bit much to be expected to get the hang of early on, but if you want to dedicate months of your life to this game then it’s definitely deep enough to do that.
Tales & Tactics is a deep and compelling Roguelike auto battler, that once you get that hang of it could be played almost endlessly. Gathering up units and creating the most powerful army possible is really satisfying, but the density of the systems means you’ll invest some serious time into it to succeed. If you’ve never been tempted to try an auto battler then this is probably the time to change that.
Building a powerful army is so compelling
Loads of interesting systems to get stuck into
Plenty to unlock between runs
Watching the combat play out is really entertaining
Sometimes feels a little too complex, especially early on
Upgrades feel less satisfying when they also power up the enemy