It's been a couple of months since we've last looked at Sinister Design's Telepath Tactics. Fans of Fire Emblem and other tactical RPGs probably already know about the Mac/PC game's twenty-three character classes and interactive environments. They may have heard of the head-to-head versus battles, and even tried a few in the public demo. What they may not know is the tale of Lorenzo Llamas, guard llama and hero of the people.
Today's impression is based on the Guard Llama mini-campaign that was released as a demo for Kickstarter backers. The mini-campaign consists of four battles and a block-pushing puzzle connected by non-interactive conversations. Unlike the soon-to-be-completed main campaign, Guard Llama is very silly. The character names are puns, conversations skew common RPG tropes, and the titular llama learns to unlock his latent psychic powers with a flaming hoof strike. Pointing out tropes is a simple enough task, but making the satire zing is another matter. I'm hoping Telepath Tactics' main campagin isn't entirely devoid of humor; several bits from the mini-campaign weren't just silly, they were funny. I'm especially fond of the bit about well-developed characters who are only allowed two personality quirks.
Combat is a familiar-looking, turn-based tactical romp where all characters on a team move before the other side gets a chance. Energy powers special attacks, like the golem's ability to throw enemies around the battlefield. Moving without acting restores one energy, while standing still restores five. Managing the aggression zones of enemy units is key to entering each skirmish with optimal power. I didn't like being blocked off by my allies after they finished moving. Previous reports suggest this feature can be turned off, but the option doesn't seem to be in this version. This strictness is also seen in enemy tactics.
"Fans of tactical RPGs should keep an eye on this one--and the continued career of Lorenzo Llamas."
In one battle, an allied golem is trapped in a jail cell in the center of the map. After I pull a lever to free him and talk to him, he joins my group. Using the talk command in the middle of a battle feels odd, but suggests how Telepath Tactics is extending the role of the chessboard. In my first attempt to free the golem, I sent a lone warrior. Heroic as it was, he was quickly swarmed. Combat is harsh, but fair. Death is permenant, so conservative tactics and knowledge of one's foes pay off. Victory also requires knowledge of the control panel icons and key commands, some of which aren't especially intuitive.
It's hard to tell where Guard Llama's final party falls in terms of balance, power, or representation of the full game, but even after a few battles it seemed like I had a well-rounded group that could react to many types of threats. One character my group didn't have was an engineer. For that, I had to boot up the versus mode included in the backer demo and partake of the unhappiest gamer stereotype: playing a multiplayer game against myself. Breaking doors and braziers is fun enough, but being able to create defensive fortifications is unique enough to make the ignominy of forced solo play worthwhile. Like other characters, engineers use energy to fuel their special abilities. At this point, that means setting up bridges, spiked barricades, and explosive charges. Against a less impressive opponent, my fortifications would have been an interesting addition to the flow of battle. Building walls unlocks the possibility of channeling enemies into kill zones, and bridges suggest surprise flank maneuvers. Coupled with special abilities that push and pull opponents, Telepath Tactics promises plenty of unorthodox battle motion.
Telepath Tactics has a lot going on under the hood to interest anyone who can get past the graphics and interface. Fans of tactical RPGs should keep an eye on this one--and the continued career of Lorenzo Llamas. Just because the full campaign is supposed to be more serious doesn't mean there isn't room for a wise-cracking llama with hooves of fire. He's a good llama.