The video game industry doesn’t always have the greatest track record when it comes to its stories. While this element of the industry has been getting better in recent years, too many games just disregard the story altogether. As a fan of well developed video game stories I have always been a fan of inkle Ltd’s work. The companies past games such as 80 Days, Heaven’s Vault and the Sorcery series (Part 1 and 2, Part 3, Part 4) have relied heavily on their adaptable stories linking story and gameplay into truly original experiences. Today inkle Ltd’s latest game Pendragon was released. With how much I enjoyed their other games I was really intrigued to see how Pendragon would compare. Pendragon is a really interesting blend of turn-based strategy elements and story to create possibly the first ever infinitely replayable story.
Pendragon takes place in 673 AD and is built around the King Arthur storyline. Camelot has fallen. Sir Mordred has broken up the Round Table and plans on ruling the kingdom in their absence. To put an end to him King Arthur is traveling to Camlann for a final confrontation. In the game you will have the opportunity to play as a number of different characters from the King Arthur story as you travel to Camlann to help in the final confrontation. Can you and your band of followers safely make it to Camlann in time and make a difference in the fight for Camelot’s fate?
If I were to describe Pendragon I would say that it feels like a combination of a turn based strategy game mixed with a story driven game, since story games are really popular now a days, games like League of Legends are widely play now a days, and you can also buy lol smurf which is a great boost for the game.
Lets begin with the turn based strategy elements. While playing the game it actually reminded me a lot of abstract strategy board games. In particular the gameplay feels a lot like Chess, Checkers and other similar games where you are moving pieces around a board. In the game you will be moving between different locations on your journey to Camlann. Each location you visit will bring you to a grid gameboard. At each location you will control one or more characters which you will move around the board. Each unit on the board will be in one of two formations: orthogonal or diagonal. Whichever formation that a unit is in will indicate how they can move and whether they can attack enemies. You can change between the formations, but that will use up your action for the turn. You and the computer will take turns taking one action.
There are three different ways to make your way through a location. First you can flee but this usually comes at a cost. Your second option is to make it to the corner space on the other side of the board which automatically “wins” you the board. Finally you can attack and kill/chase off all of the enemy units on the board. The combat is pretty simple. Each space that one of your units walk on claims the space for your side. Owning a space gives you more movement options as you can move through all of the spaces that you own with one move if you are traveling towards the other side of the board. To attack you need to be on an adjacent space (usually not diagonally) and move onto their space to attack them. All attacks are one hit kills. Your units can survive some attacks, but can’t return to the current board. Basically the first unit to attack eliminates the other unit from the board. If you successfully eliminate all of the computer’s units you will win the board.
Due to inkle’s reputation of mostly focusing on the story, I have to admit that the turn based strategy element was more of a secondary thought for me before I started playing Pendragon. I was a little surprised by this element of the game though. Now the turn based mechanics aren’t the most original as it seems to share quite a bit in common with many other turn based strategy games as well as quite a few board games. I still found it to be quite satisfying though. The combat relies a lot on positioning as you keep your own units safe and put them into position to defeat the enemies. To do well in the game you really need to find the right balance between playing aggressive and defensive. If you attack with reckless abandon you will lose your units quickly and your journey will end before you reach your final destination. Holding your position or retreating are necessary in the game to avoid attacks or to put yourself into an advantageous position. You can’t play too passively though since if you take too much time your morale will suffer and your units will eventually retreat. In a lot of ways the combat kind of felt like playing a game of Chess. If you like those type of abstract strategy games you very likely will enjoy the turn based strategy element of the game.
The only thing I didn’t really like about this element of the game is that the end of each journey feels a little anticlimactic. To reach the final destination you will normally have to visit at least ten different locations and even more if you don’t choose the most direct path. When you reach Camlann you will have two final battles. The first is a normal battle with King Arthur. The other is a one on one battle. I actually don’t mind the idea of the one on one battle as thematically it works well for the game. The problem is that it is a one hit kill for both sides. You could do a fantastic job on your journey to Camlann and then fail because you made one mistake. I found this to be anticlimatic where your whole journey could be ruined by one mistake. It doesn’t really matter all that much how well you do in your journey as you mostly just have to make it to Camlann. I don’t know how but I kind of wish the game somehow rewarded you for how well you did during the rest of your journey.
Lets move onto the game’s other major element. Like all inkle games Pendragon features an adaptable storyline. This is no surprise as this is a big element of all of their previous games. One of the things that initially intrigued me about the game was the premise of an infinitely replayable journey. Based on inkle’s previous games I knew the story would be pretty flexible where your decisions would make a difference. I was a little skeptical of each story being a totally different experience though. While I don’t know if the game has an infinitely replayable story, I would say that it gets quite close.
Each journey begins with you choosing one of the characters from the King Arthur story as they begin their journey. The character you choose has some impact on the overall story as it forms the character’s background. Some characters regret their past actions and are looking for redemption while others have less noble intentions. Outside of your character’s backstory there is very little in common between stories. I played multiple games with the same character and outside of their motivations very little was shared in common between each journey. Each action you take on your journey has an impact on what ultimately happens. You are presented with several different options for locations to visit as you progress towards Camlann. This impacts the fights you have to fight, who you will meet, and who will join your party. Most of the actions you take in the game will have some impact on the story even if some are kind of minor.
So far I have played seven different games and I have seen very few similarities between each playthrough. The locations you can visit and the gameboards seem to be randomly determined each game. Even the companions that fight by your side seem to be randomized. I was skeptical of this element as I thought after a couple of journeys I would start to see some things repeat. Outside of some really minor elements I didn’t really encounter anything from my other journeys. This even includes playing as the same character multiple times. I am guessing you will eventually start running into repeats, but I have yet to. In recent years games have started developing ways to create infinite gameplay by using procedurally generated content. I don’t know exactly how the game works, but it honestly feels like the first ever infinitely replayable story. You will probably like some of the stories more than others, but so far I have found every journey to be engaging and worth taking.
With the almost infinitely replayable story there really is no way to give a definitive length to Pendragon. It is ultimately going to depend on how much you enjoy playing through different stories featuring the same characters. The game has around ten different characters to play the game as. Only two are unlocked to start the game, but the others unlock when you meet them on one of your other journeys. The length of each journey is going to depend on how successful you are and how you approach the combat. Most journeys where you reach the end will take around 30 minutes to an hour. You will probably eventually tire of the game where you won’t get infinite playthroughs out of it, but I think you could enjoy quite a few journeys before that time. If Pendragon sounds like your type of game I see no reason why you won’t get your money’s worth out of it.
While Pendragon has almost limitless gameplay, it is more the type of game that you want to take your time with. What I mean by this is that while each journey feels different, there are some elements that are the same between each journey. Outside of having different boards to fight on as well as different enemies/allies, each fight plays out mostly the same. The combat is satisfying, but it just isn’t something that I would want to play for hours at a time. I think the game will be more enjoyable if you pace yourself. I would probably play maybe one journey (two if it ends early) each day instead of playing multiple journeys back to back.
At the end of the day Pendragon is another great game to add to inkle’s already strong lineup of titles. In many ways it feels like your typical inkle game and yet it feels a little different as well. It continues the emphasis on story telling and actually takes it in a unique direction. While I wouldn’t say the storytelling is infinite, I would say that it gets as close to it as any game that I have ever played. Each journey truly feels different as each decision has an impact on it. Some stories are better than others, but they are all pretty engaging. Pendragon combines its story telling with a turn based strategy game that really reminded me of abstract strategy games like Chess. There is quite a bit of strategy to moving your units as you have to balance between being aggressive and defensive. I thought the end of each journey was a little anticlimatic and the game is better in shorter doses, but otherwise I really enjoyed the gameplay.
My recommendation for Pendragon is pretty simple. Have you liked inkle’s previous games or think the game’s premise sounds interesting? If so I think you will really enjoy Pendragon and should consider picking it up.
Buy Pendragon online: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank inkle Ltd for the review copy of Pendragon used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.