Heroes of Steel Review
In 2013 there weren't many RPGs on Steam, so I was voting on Greenlight for anything which looked even remotely interesting, and so I voted for Heroes of Steel, a game which a year later wouldn't have caught my attention due to its rather amateurish artwork and because it was first developed for mobile phones. I actually feel like I should buy games I vote for on Greenlight, if the reviews look good, and Heroes of Steel got positive user reviews. So I bought it on sale and it stayed in my backlog a long time, as I played games that interested me more. I kept on hearing good things about Trese Brother games, though and so eventually I caved in and gave it a try. Heroes of Steel surprised me. It captures the experience of tabletop roleplaying better than most games I've played, and makes the most of its shoestring budget.
The art style of Heroes of Steel is reminicent of a bunch of minatures being moved around a tabletop mat
Roll Out That Battlemat
I've been playing tabletop games with my friends now for almost thirty years. In the last two years that's been mostly over the internet using the RollD20 website. Heroes of Steel is so reminiscent of tabletop gaming. Its maps look like my friend's battlemat. You see the squares, the furniture or geography drawn from bird's eye view. Of course the graphics are better than my friend's pen drawing, but only barely. You have a good idea of what everything on the map is, but the game also leaves a lot up to imagination. In a tabletop game, a good gamemaster supplies most of the atmosphere by filling in the details of the places and figures which dot the board. Heroes of Steel does an excellent job of capturing that. Unlike many modern RPGs, there are no long winded texts, but Heroes of Steel's characters are constantly commenting about the world around them. They wonder about why a statue is placed where it is. They say near a bunch of bones that it looks like nearby creatures are eating travelers, and comment on the floorplan of a castle. The pacing of the narration is excellent, and it breaks up the large amounts of combat much better than most RPGs designed by professional studios do. The writing in Heroes of Steel also reminds me of my buddy describing a scene, rather than a professional writer. It's competent, but by no means, something a novel writer would pen. And yet it fits well into the game as it is designed, which made me much more accepting of the bare bones writing style and rather standard fantasy plot than I would have been if the game had been designed, by say Obsidian or Bioware. The heroes and monsters also look like miniatures drawn from above. Heroes of Steel's atmosphere and graphical style won't be for everyone. Quite honestly the screenshots put me off, and it wasn't till I played that I realized that the graphical style was meant to look like the map sets from a tabletop game. It has an amateurish feel, which comes off as intended, turning what otherwise would be a weakness into a somewhat charming characteristic of the game's atmosphere.
Making More of Less
You can tell from beginning to end that Heroes of Steel had a small budget and was made by two guys in a relatively short time span. The maps are more or less grey. The same objects appear again and again. There are a relatively limited number of opponents considering the amount of game time. The constant narration helps make up for quite a degree for these limitations. For example, for a span of close to 15 hours the majority of the battles in Heroes of Steel are fought against ratkin. This would be a fatal flaw in a classical dungeon crawler, but the characters in the game are constantly commenting on how surprising it is to find so many ratkin in one place, guessing at why this might be, discussing a number of new units as they appear, and speculating at their motivations. Every monster seems to be where it is for a reason, which covers up the game's relatively limited number of assets.
Here are two examples of the enviornmental narrative: Kryae gives some background on a statue, while Selen indicates what might await us if we go north
This isn't only true for monsters. You'll find the same items again and again, though Heroes of Steel has almost no worthless items. For example, I specialized Vraes, my fighter, with the spear. There are one and two handed spears. The former allow for a shield, the latter do more damage. I actually chose a shield in the end, because I often pushed Vraes out alone in the front of the party, where he became the target of a massive number of attacks. There are also spears which cost 2 action points which to less damage than those that say cost 3 action points. The latter are great against high armor opponents, like giant beetles, the former are better against low armored enemies, like wardogs. The music in the game is also decent and appropriate, but you'll hear it again and again, as there aren't too many tunes.
While you have what you'd expect in the towns of Heroes of Steel (and there are a fair amount), such as stores, and quest givers, these are presented in a rather bare bones matter. Once you enter a building, you are in most cases given a number of text options. There are a few optional side quests in the game, though most of your time you'll be following the main quest line.
In terms of character development and party choice Heroes of Steel also gives the player somewhat limited freedom, but makes good use of what it offers. You get 4 party slots, and in classical fashion they're for a warrior, a rogue, a healer, and, a mage. You get to choose from two characters for each slot. For your healer slot you could choose Fyona the paladin or Kryea the priestess. The paladin is the better melee character, the priestess the better spellcaster. For the rogue character you can choose between Tamlin, who is a better ranged attacker, or Selen, who is a better melee character, though both characters can be made effective in either area. Each character has access to a number of powers and how you want level these up, is also up to you. Both the mages and rogues have powers which can defeat locks and scout out unknown areas. So you can decide to dedicate one of these characters as your support character, or split up the support skills. Your characters also have different stats and skills which can be raised. The combination of all these factors allows for a decent amount of customization.
Low budget feel: Going into a shop brings up such a bare bones menu
Heroes of Steel focuses especially on exploration and combat. Even though there is a lot of writing in the game, much of it is used to describe the environment, and not necessarily the story per say. However, each of your player characters is fleshed out decently so you learn about their background and motivations. Also your characters comment on the environment and story based on their class. For example your mage often will explain magical things to the others in the group, while your priestess will explain about the gods, and your rogue will often comment about what she perceives around you, which makes the requirement for one character of each class make sense.
The game is good at offering you reasons to consider searching all corners of the map. There are sometimes hidden chests, or moonstones (large numbers of moonstones lets you to respec a character). Also the level design is well done, and while not completely open, is definitely not linear. Most maps often offer multiple paths forward and you can even get through many maps after only exploring a part of the area, should you choose to do so.
There are also traps and locked doors. You can also use the search skill to determine if danger is in an area and later to find secret doors, but not constantly, because it costs energy and slows down movement. I used it mainly to see if it was worth opening the doors of rooms which I wouldn't otherwise have had to enter or if I knew a secret door was on the map. Also the levels differ a fair amount. While you mostly explore caverns and buildings, these have a decent amount of variety in how they are built.
This is going to be a tough battle. The characters are caught in the open and are going to be swarmed from all sides
Combat in Heroes of Steel is also executed well. Combat is turn based and tactical. Your characters can move, attack, or use items with their seven action points. Your characters have enough skills to make combat interesting. For example, my Wizard Kjartan got access to two debuffs, an area effect attack, a single target attack, a party based attack buff, and a party shield. These were all fairly useful, and pretty well balanced, so there was no go to skill for every situation. It becomes quickly apparent if you try to fight in the open or don't use your skills cleverly, you will lose a character, which means losing the game. If this happens you have two options. Either you can replay the turn, or you can return to your last check point, which doesn't mean you have to replay everything, but you do usually have to return to wherever you were from the closest town or campfire. Combat also has nice variety. You might fight two relatively easy battles back to back, only to be hit by a really hard one afterwards. Some battles take place in the open. Others are fought in narrow tunnels. Sometimes you are ambushed from all sides, while at other times you pretty much have the drop on the monsters. Also the enemy AI is pretty well done. If you expose a weak character, like your wizard, the monsters will pick them off. If you let them they will surround you. On the other hand, they don't actively hunt down your weakest or most wounded characters, so careful planning can usually mitigate dangers.
Heroes of Steel is a huge game. At release it consisted of a finished chapter 1, and about two thirds of what now is chapter 2. It took me 35 hours to finish all of that. For this review I completed chapter 2 in its entirety, and that took me well over 40 hours, and I didn't explore everywhere or do every side quest. The developers currently have expanded the game to 4 chapters, more than doubling the material of the initial release. That's an extremely large amount of material for a low priced game.
Your player characters all have their own background story. Vraes is your typical repentant hero, driven on by his feelings of guilt and self loathing.
Heroes of Steel is clearly a budget game. Its art looks like something your talented friend would draw. Its assets are limited. No one would ever mistake it as a product coming from a professional team. It also doesn't do anything particularly original, or even particularly memorable. Still the developers are clearly competent and understand what makes a fun RPG, the game plays smoothly, has excellent pacing, a nice tabletop feel, and is clearly better than the sum of its parts. In comparison to many other budget indie RPGs in its price range it also offers a huge amount of gameplay. As a pc game (I played it on the pc), it's a fun timekiller, if you are looking for a budget tactical RPG with a ton of content for in between, and can deal with its art style and obvious weaknesses. I imagine as a tablet or phone RPG it would be even better, since there are far fewer quality alternatives than on the pc.
Information aboutHeroes of Steel
Developer: Trese Brothers Games
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2014-04-23
· Publisher: Trese Brothers Games