Creating something new and unique in a video game is very challenging and often portrayed as a failure. This is why most developers prefer to stick with tried-and-proven method of developing video games. But this is what separates Iron Danger from the crowded realm of turn-based strategy games as developer Action Squad Studios have embarrassed the concept of innovation and introduced a new gameplay mechanic (well, new for the genre) that allows you to manipulate time during real-time combat. Have they perfected it? No, but learn the art of mastering this intriguing mechanic, you begin to understand their vision and think of the depth this can introduce into strategy games.
Iron Danger is a real-time tactical RPG that focuses more on its unique combat mechanics, rather than its sub-par story. Typically, stories and character progression are the core of a strong RPG, something that Iron Danger comparatively lacks. There is no experience to earn, there is no armour or weapons that effect your character’s statistics, and character progression is limited to the pre-determined upgrade of skills upon completion of a chapter. But you soon understand that Iron Danger doesn’t pretend to be your traditional RPG, and as soon as you realise this you begin to appreciate a game that is slightly different from what you are used to.
Who is Kipuna?
The story of Iron Danger focuses on Kipuna; a sharp-witted young girl who unexpectedly finds her village under attack from Northlander invaders. As you try to escape, you unfortunately fall to your death and find yourself impaled through your heart. But thanks to the mysterious ancient shard of Auralith, Kipuna not only finds herself alive, but also with the ability to manipulate time, oh and one or two other surprises. Soon enough, you find yourself in the middle of a war between your city of Kalevala and the armies of the Northlanders, driven by their evil witch queen Lowhee. Helping you on this journey is are a numerous controllable companions, initially Topi, a war veteran who provides a physical presence for your team. This is where you must master your new abilities and save mankind before it is too late…
Enough of the story, let’s get down to the bread and butter of combat — Thanks to Kipuna’s ability to manipulate time, things get quite interesting and initially very complicated. Combat is effectively based on a timeline of heart beats (effectively seconds) called Trance. This means that during combat you can effectively rewind time by up to 5 heartbeats (seconds), which can be used both offensively and defensibly. Initially, I found this concept a bit underwhelming and more of a tool to correct my mistakes in combat. However, once I began using this mechanic offensively it completely blew my mind and changed my perspective of combat.
I began using Trance to my advantage; I would draw my opponents attention with one of companions by throwing down a barrel of oil in their path, then I would go back in time and command Kipuna to use a fireball at the oil barrels destination so both the oil barrel and fireball would impact in the same frame and disintegrate my enemy. I also found the Trance mechanic to be useful for seeing how enemies react. For instance, I found an enemy charging at Kipuna who I had already prioritised by using her spells aggressively, this meant that she was vulnerable to be attacked during this time, so I could rewind the timeline and use my other companion to distract the enemies focus long enough for Kipuna to complete her action and safely retreat before the enemy could get to her.
If I could turn back time
This of course means that as you go back in time and change history, your enemies also react to these changes. A couple of times when I went back a few heartbeats and changed the outcome, my enemies also react differently, which constantly makes you reassess and try various actions before settling on the best outcome (or at least, you think the best outcome). This dynamic mechanic is the core of the game and means that for every action, regardless if it is your action or the AI’s action, it will change history. It is great aspect of the game that has a surprisingly amount of depth to it, but once you become component in using Trance, you begin to have some serious fun with and understand why it is such a focus of the game.
As good as the this mechanic is, I encountered a number of glitches throughout combat. This made it quite challenging as one frame you let off a powerful fireball, only for the enemy to gain the ability to move at the speed of sound and completely dodge the fireball without actually trying. The same goes for physical attacks; the enemy is in the process of being knocked down and is the perfect opportunity for you to use your positioning to advantage.. but suddenly the Flash is attacking you again before they even land on the ground. At times it was quite frustrating, but as I previously mentioned, you can use Trance to replay this scenario many times until you are happy with the outcome.
Of course, this means that you are CONSTANTLY using Trance to advance time, then rewind it to see the enemies actions — will they attack? will they move? will they block? This meant that I found physical combat quite boring and reactive. Most of the time when I was aggressive and attempted to attack first, I found that the enemy easily countered me, meaning I was always going back in time and reacting to their aggression.
One aspect of the gameplay I wished Action Squad Studios incorporated more into Iron Danger was puzzles. I enjoyed the very few puzzles that Iron Danger had to offer, which is a shame because you can enter Trance at any time in the game, even when exploring to solve a puzzle… I remember the first puzzle I can across where I had to unlock a certain code by ‘capturing the light’. Two rays of light shined down for one second/heartbeat. To solve the puzzle, you had to have both your characters were in the position where the light is shining for that second, once the second was over then the light was gone. once one of characters was in the correct position, suddenly I could see where the other ray of light was shining. Now I knew where my other character had to be, I could simply move back 5 heartbeats and move her to that location simultaneously and presto, the puzzle was solved!
I was instantly drawn to the game’s art style; It reminded me of a mix of Torchlight and Divinty: Original Sin, which is not a bad combination at all. It graphics were vivid and enticing, but despite the maps looking fantastic they were quite limited in the way of exploration — a big aspect of RPGs. I noticed a few alternative paths to explore, even some that were hidden by bushes that had to be burnt down using Kinpuna’s fireball ability, but the reward, or rather lack of reward for exploring was extremely disappointing and something Action Squad Studios should really of improved upon.
Let us speak!
One aspect that I was pleasantly surprised with was the welcomed addition of EVERY character being voiced. There is a decent amount of voice acting/dialogue, not as much as Divinity or your traditional RPG, but the voice acting and music in general was a great addition and of a high quality. It really helped immerse myself in the Iron Danger universe and contributed well to telling its story. For as immersive as this was, the constant changing of acts was not only frustrating, but also breaks the game up far too regularly. There are multiple acts per a chapter (around 10), which is fine, but as soon as you complete an act the game will stop and display a very simple rundown/report of the act, basically telling you how much you died rather than letting the game tell its story. This was quite annoying as some acts were only 1 or 2 minutes long, while the average length wasn’t much longer and tend to peak out at around 10 minutes. I would have liked these acts to streamline together with the only disruption of gameplay for change of chapter. I understand that some acts activate a cutscene or change location, but there are better ways to streamline these events than to completely ruin any immersion you currently having in the game.
Iron Danger is a great example of thinking outside of the box and introducing unfamiliar mechanics to the genre. I honestly think that timeline manipulation will become more common in future turn-based RPGs, the depth it adds is simply too good to ignore.
- GAMEPLAY - 71%71%
- GRAPHICS - 77%77%
- AUDIO - 74%74%
For everything that Iron Danger does well, there is a handful of areas that needed more attention are are simply too hard to ignore. If you can look past its shallow story and absence of core RPG elements, then you will have an absolute blast mastering its time manipulation mechanics!
For more on Iron Danger, check out our previous coverage.