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    Trials of Fire review

    Need to know

    What is it? Procedural fantasy roguelike with turned-based, CCG combat.
    Expect to pay £15/$20
    Release April 9, 2021 (for version 1.0)
    Developer Whatboy Games
    Publisher Whatboy Games
    Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia GeForce 2080 Super, 32 GB RAM
    Multiplayer No
    Link Official site (opens in new tab)

    On paper, Trials of Fire is everything I despise. I don’t like turn-based roguelikes. I don’t like card battlers, and I really don’t like anything involving hexagons—the Poochie of the shape world. Trials of Fire features all of these, which in any sensible reality makes me the last person who should be reviewing it. But if you’ve looked out the window lately, through the haze of coronavirus toward the icecap-melting sun, you’ll have noticed reality died on the way back to its home planet some time ago. As such, I’m unsurprised to discover that Trials of Fire is flipping excellent. 

    Set in a blighted fantasy land where wild Conans would happily graze, Trials of Fire sees you pick a trio of adventurers from an eventual pool of nine, before embarking upon a series of set quests across procedurally generated maps. Trials of Fire is presented in literal storybook fashion, with the game map sketched across the pages of a hefty sword and sorcery tome, while your characters are depicted as pop-up paper figures who scroll across the cracked roads and dusty plains of Ashe.

    Between you and your key objectives are regular points of interest, ranging from small settlements to ancient ruins, cursed temples, prowling monsters and spooky forests. Encounters are initially presented in journal format, with the game describing the situation before offering a range of choices. Sometimes these choices require a skill check that results in a reward if successful, or damages your characters if you fail. Other times, your decisions will trigger a fight, in which case the world map disappears, and a top-down, 3D combat map rises from the book’s pages.

    (Image credit: Whatboy Games)

    Balancing survival with progress is one of the game’s main challenges, especially since reaching a quest objective usually triggers a tough boss fight that will test your affinity with your deck. If your party gets wiped out, the quest is over. This can be a little galling, especially if you’re near the end. But both the main Trials of Fire quest and the subsidiary Lore quests are designed to be completed in two-to-four hours. Meanwhile, failure still grants experience, unlocking new cards for your existing party, and new characters like the Witch, who specialises in stealing enemy cards and using them against your foes.

    For a game that borrows so many different ideas and mechanics, Trials of Fire is impressively seamless. The only area where it could be more consistent is the art. For me, the depiction of Ashe as this scoured and blasted land doesn’t entirely gel with the bold, boardgame-like colours of your counters and cards. I particularly dislike the ludicrously chunky buttons on the game menus, which look like a soft toy will pop out the screen and sing a nursery rhyme if you push them.

    More broadly, the storytelling suffers as a consequence of the game structure. While not startlingly original, Trials of Fire’s wild and desolate fantasy world is convincing, while the encounters are written in pacey and engaging prose. Yet the quests themselves are straightforward MacGuffin hunts, while your party characters have little personality outside of battle. Admittedly, this is in keeping with classic sword and sorcery fiction, which tends to prioritise eventful action over character development. Nonetheless, once you’ve completed the main Trials of Fire quest, you’ve more or less seen what the game has to offer narratively, and while there are other quests available, it’ll be the new cards and new characters that keep you playing.

    Overall though, these are minor blemishes. Trials of Fire is a taut and muscular RPG roguelike that successfully distils the action and mystique of sword and sorcery into card battling form. 

    As seen on PCgamer

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