I really don’t enjoy dressing down games as a reviewer. Compared to popular opinion, I’m also usually a lot more forgiving towards games. And yet, even so I find it hard to find much to praise about Exorder, a turn-based tactical strategy game set in a fantasy world. One of the first things I noted is that the entire game feels like it was intended for mobile platforms, but then the switch to make it a PC game was decided upon last minute - or, for some baffling reason, the devs wanted it to feel that way.
Beyond the menus, UI, controls, perspective and everything else aligning with mobile game formats to a T, the game is also really poorly optimized for PC. I tried running it both on my laptop and my beefy gaming desktop. Obviously, it ran without a hitch on the latter, but on the laptop - which, for comparison, runs Assassin’s Creed: Rogue on medium settings at a mostly solid 45 FPS - even on medium, Exorder stuttered horribly with FPS varying between 20 and 50 wildly.
The game has a highly stylised art-style, the benefit of which should be good-looking aesthetics without high graphical fidelity, but this falls short in two ways here. Firstly, in spite of there not being many effects, the models being low-poly, textures and animations being simple and that there never is much to render on screen at any given time the game still stutters. Secondly, the game, and there is no nicer way of putting this… just doesn’t look good. It’s going for a cartoony, exaggerated aesthetic and quite clearly is taking more than a pinch of influence from Warcraft 3, but it looks uninspired and flat. None of the designs are particularly unique or memorable, the environment in the entire game is the same standard forest-y biome and nothing has a personality to it.
Keeping track of buildings and ballistae is essential to controlling the map
The gameplay is also suitably simplified for a mobile game. It’s a cross between XCOM style turn-based tactical combat and lite RTS mechanics like unit production and resource management. You don’t build any structures, as these are present on each map already, but have to capture them. Houses provide healing and currency each turn, whereas you can recruit units from castles, for example. You also have non-capturable structures which can be used by sending units near them, or onto the control tile, such as healing fountains and ballistae.
Various units have different strengths and weaknesses. Your standard footman isn’t anything special, but can capture houses. Marksmen deal high damage at a distance, but have low health and very limited melee capabilities. Architects are large, heavily armored units who can push other across great distances. Esprites can teleport between occupied houses. You have a relatively large selection of units, and while Exorder escapes the typical rock-paper-scissors approach to balance where everything has a clear counter, you’ll get the hang of what compositions work against what others. Early in the campaign, you’ll be using standard human units, but in skirmishes, for example, a wider array of monster units is also opened up. However, you don’t have distinct factions or civilizations who differ from one another greatly.
This is your initial troop recruitment pool, which will expand
Gameplay is functional, and there are no major bugs or glaring balance issues. It’s just bland and slow. While a game like XCOM, which is significantly more complex and where you need to pay attention to a lot more and take more factors into consideration when planning your moves, still manages to progress dynamically and never makes you feel bogged down or like it’s wasting your time, I felt that much of the time while playing Exorder I was doing a whole lot of nothing. Units can only move short distances, animations take a while to complete, waiting through the enemy turn takes oddly long.
Exorder also falls short in other departments. The story is really quite generic and is mostly delivered in pre and post-mission screens a paragraph at a time, and the writing isn’t particularly stellar either. Beyla, who won the throne from her comically douchey brother in the first mission must defend the kingdom of Cerulean as its new Queen as sinister forces spark a war between her nation and the previously peaceful Federation of Clans. It isn’t a groundbreaking fantasy epic, but then you don’t necessarily need that if the story still sports interesting characters and is well written. Exorder’s story is barely there at all.
Cutscenes occur infrequently during missions
The thing with Exorder is that technically, it’s sound. Poor optimization notwithstanding, as I said, there aren’t any bugs worth mentioning, the AI is well programmed, the art isn’t low-quality and there are a fair amount of gameplay mechanics which do not clash. From a technical standpoint, this is a good game, and certainly hits the level of quality that is to be expected for the second release of a small after-hours indie studio. The problem with Exorder is that it feels like very little thought, very little passion, very little creativity went into it. Exorder isn’t bad, at all, it just isn’t noteworthy either. It doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t try anything new, it doesn’t add creative value. It’s the skeleton of a great game, it’s a framework, a structure, that is waiting to be given character, to be given a personality.
Exorder is a technically sound game save for optimization issues, but fails to present a personality of its own or stand out from the crowd with any unique or creative aspects. With poor visuals, bland gameplay and a barely existent storyline coupled with the mobile-game feel leave a sour taste in one’s mouth after playing.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Overrunning an enemy position with a large force and luring their commander into the attack-zone of a ballista under my control felt like pretty damn sweet victory.