One of the main reasons that I am a big fan of the indie video game scene is due to the creativity that comes from it. While most AAA games fall into one of a couple mainstream genres, indie studios have much more freedom when developing their games. Simply put a game like Spirit Oath would never have been made by a studio other than an indie developer. I will admit that I had never heard of Spirit Oath until I was presented with the opportunity to take a look at the game by the developers. After seeing the game’s trailer though I knew that I wanted to check it out as it had a really interesting concept. Basically the gameplay combines tile laying mechanics from board games with RTS mechanics which is something that I had never seen before. Spirit Oath may be in early access at the moment, but it has all the makings of a great game as it takes two wildly different mechanics and combines them into a really satisfying gameplay experience.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Triangle Square for the preview copy of Spirit Oath used for this preview. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to preview, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this preview. Receiving the preview copy for free had no impact on the content of this preview or the final score.
In Spirit Oath you play as a forest Guardian Spirit. After a long sleep you have been awakened by encroaching dark forces that threaten you and the rest of the forest. You must use your spirit powers to summon spirit warriors to help you defeat the dark forces and protect your fellow sibling Guardian Spirits.
Spirit Oath is the type of indie game that is kind of hard to describe as it plays quite a bit differently than any other video game that I have ever played. In a lot of ways it feels like what you would get if you combined a RTS with some board game mechanics. The game takes place on a grid gameboard which has huge gaps that you have to fill in with tiles. You begin the game with your Guardian Spirit locked into its position in the grid as well as sometimes another spirit that you have to protect. The objective of the game is to keep your spirit alive while defeating the enemy spirits.
The gameplay in Spirit Oath mostly consists of placing tiles on the gameboard. Placing tiles is pretty simple as you just choose one of three randomly chosen tiles and place it in an empty space in the grid next to a tile that has already been placed. This seems pretty simple except that a large majority of the tiles that you will place will have special markings on them. These tiles can only be placed where the markings connect to one another or where there is the possibility for another tile to connect to the markings. These markings are key to the game as you need to try to connect these markings together to create a closed loop. Doing this successfully is the thing that drives most of the gameplay in Spirit Oath.
When you successfully create a closed loop of markings you will create a spirit spawner. The type of unit that it spawns will depend on the number of tiles that you were able to connect together. The more tiles you connect together the more powerful the spirit that will spawn. Each spawner will only create one spirit at a time. When a spirit is destroyed a new one will be spawned at the corresponding location after a short cooldown. This is where the RTS mechanics come into the game. While you are building up your army the enemy is doing the same by creating their own spawners. You can use your spirits to defend your Spirit Guardian and spawners, or you can send them out to destroy the enemy spawners. The objective of most levels is to defeat all of the enemy spawners and claim supremacy over the board.
At this point the game has two main gameplay modes. First there is the story mode. The story mode features a number of different scenarios. These scenarios have different initial setups and add other various twists to the formula that you have to deal with. These can include having to build around various obstacles or having to build quickly as enemy units begin attacking right away. The other game mode is basically a skirmish where you and the enemy are put on opposite sides of the grid. The goal is to just eliminate all of the other player’s spawners.
When I first saw Spirit Oath I was quite intrigued as the gameplay sounded really interesting. The premise of adding board game mechanics to a RTS was intriguing. Basically playing the game feels like a tile placement board game where you are placing tiles in order to spawn units. Unless I missed it I have never seen a video game utilize this combination of mechanics before.
While I thought this combination sounded really interesting, before playing Spirit Oath I was a little curious about how well they would work together. Well those fears were quickly extinguished as the mechanics work surprisingly well together. I honestly don’t know why another game didn’t utilize them earlier. Spirit Oath is at its heart a RTS game, and yet is is considerably different than most games from the genre. Instead of building a base and gathering resources, you are tasked with forming patterns on the ground with the tiles. It is genuinely a unique take on the RTS genre and it works surprisingly well.
I will admit that Spirit Oath is probably not going to be for everyone. People who generally don’t like RTS games or tile laying games probably won’t like it. If you are looking for a deep RTS you may be a little disappointed as well as it is more streamlined than most. Those that find the premise to be interesting though will likely love Spirit Oath. Simply put the gameplay is really fun. The gameplay is quite simple as you just play tiles hoping to complete patterns. There is skill and planning to this though as you need to figure out how to connect various patterns together especially if you are trying to summon more powerful spirits.
At first you wouldn’t think that tile laying and RTS mechanics would work well together, but they actually do. The game can be a little frantic at times as you try to manage finishing off patterns to generate new spawners and fighting off enemies. The change of pace between these two mechanics though works really well. While you need to carefully consider where you are going to place tiles, you also need to do it quick enough that you have enough spirits in place for when the enemy attacks. Outside of some slight tweaks in the story missions, the gameplay never really changes as you are just matching tiles and commanding your army. Despite this the gameplay is quite addicting. Time really flew while playing the game.
On top of this I think the game has a great atmosphere. The story is not super deep, but it is better than what you normally get from this type of game. The game’s graphical style looks really nice and suits the game. The game utilizes a unique style that works well for the game. This is supported by the game’s soundtrack which is also really good. The game features orchestral type music that works really well with the game’s overall atmosphere.
As for complaints I don’t actually have much for Spirit Oath at this point. This is kind of surprising as the game is expected to spend at least half a year in early access. There are a couple things that I think the game could tweak though.
First in the story mode I think the level difficulty could use a little tweaking. The levels are quite fun, but the difficulty tends to fluctuate quite a bit. I attribute this to the different structures of the levels. I would basically put the levels into two groups. First there is the standard level. This works like a normal skirmish as you and the AI both basically start at the same time. Therefore the level has some slow buildup as each side grows their army. With enough time it is pretty easy to build an army that can overwhelm the computer. This leads to these levels being kind of easy since if you take your time and pay attention you shouldn’t have any trouble beating the computer. I think the game could make these missions a little more difficult in order to provide more of a challenge.
The other type of levels feature more fast paced gameplay. In these levels the computer already has a lot of spawners in place which will start spawning enemies as soon as the level begins. In these levels you basically need to withstand the initial surge of enemies and then you can slowly fight back and take out their spawners. This is a nice change of pace and is quite fun except these levels can be really hard. Unless you get lucky with the tiles you are dealt you likely won’t be able to spawn enough spirits to offset the advancing enemy troops. The game has to randomly choose tiles, but it does add quite a bit of luck to the game. If you don’t get the right tiles at the right times you basically have no chance at winning some of the levels. The current level that I am stuck on floods you with a ton of enemies after a short building period. The only way you are ever going to be able to hold them off is if you get the exact tiles you need to quickly build a bunch of spawners. I think the game needs to make these levels a little easier as they can become a little frustrating.
The other suggestion I would have for the game is that it could give you more direct control over your spirits. The game allows you to drag over units to select them all at the same time and give them a position to move to or attack. This works most of the time, but not always. When enemies are nearby your spirits are usually smart enough to move towards the enemy and attack them. There will be times though when they are pretty close to an enemy that is attacking one of your structures and they don’t do anything. In addition sometimes when a unit respawns it will head to the location where it was when it died. Other times it will just stay at its spawner though. You can usually overcome this, but it occasionally leads to you having to micromanage your spirits instead of placing tiles. I am not exactly sure how you could handle this, but a little more control could be helpful.
When I first saw Spirit Oath I was immediately intrigued. The idea of adding tile laying mechanics to a RTS really caught my eye. After playing the game I was genuinely surprised as the game was even better than I expected. Two mechanics that don’t seem to really fit together (tile laying and RTS) work surprisingly well together to create truly engaging gameplay. Having to manage your army while expanding on it by matching patterns on your tiles is really fun. The game is simpler than a lot of RTS games which may turn some people off. These two mechanics work really well together to create a compelling experience though. In addition the game’s atmosphere is quite good. Spirit Oath is already in great shape even though it expects to spend around half a year in early access. The game could use a little work regarding difficulty balancing in the campaign as some levels are too easy while others are too hard. I think the game should give you a little more control over your army as well.
My recommendation for Spirit Oath comes down to your feelings about combining tile laying mechanics with a RTS. If this sounds interesting to you I think you will really enjoy the game like I did and should consider picking it up.
Buy Spirit Oath online: Steam