After years of toiling through development hell, Jim Henson’s passion project, The Dark Crystal, finally returned to screens. The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance is a 10 episode Netflix series that takes a look into the fictional world of Thra before the events of the film. The series launched to critical praise and accolades which eventually spun out to its very own tie-in video game, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics.
The plot of the first season of the Netflix show is basically retold in Tactics, with a few new minor details added in for the game. The bulk of the story is told through dialogue boxes while on the overhead map or in the grid based levels. Tactics also uses a few comic book style cinematics to convey the more complex story elements, but these are pretty sparse throughout the game. While this is serviceable to get the gist of Netflix series so far, it is an absolute disservice to the grand sense of scale and stunning visual sequences the show offers.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics should absolutely not be played until after watching the series, but therein lies an inherent problem. As I said earlier, the story of Tactics begins and ends in the same places as the show and the new details added are very inconsequential and feel like they only serve to pad the length of the game. So if you come to this game to get more out of the world of Thra you will be sorely disappointed, as all that is up to offer is the same plot that’s been stripped of all of its star studded voice acting and award winning cinematography.
While it tells the same story as the show, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is so far the only way this world has been playable. The game is broken up into a variety of levels that are accessed by a map representing Thra. Each level is a relatively small grid based map with different elevations, with some having various stage hazards such as poison or rising tides. Although the maps are small, the movement on these maps is fairly limited with a character only able to move a few squares per turn. The turns are decided by a stat each character has called recovery, so a lumbering tank build will take their turn way after everyone else and sometimes characters will get multiple turns before them.
Most of these levels you will be tasked with simply eliminating the enemy. These usually come in the form of giant spiders, the little Podlings, Gelfling that haven’t joined the resistance, and boss enemies in the form of the vulture like Skeksis. The levels ultimately become very repetitive, despite their attempts to vary the gameplay with different goals such as reach an exit or free captives. When those different objectives pop up it would be who of you to adjust your loadout accordingly.
The issue with making those adjustments is that you won’t know the goal of the level until you start it. This becomes an issue because there is no quick restart for the levels, meaning you have to back out to the map and then go back in to the level. The load times for these switches are noticeably long and become a burden.
You can customize your team, which usually consists of 3-5 members out of a pool of 14 possible teammates. These characters can have 5 different abilities selected based on the jobs they are assigned. The job system works in tiers, for example a tier 1 at level 10 can rank up to a tier 2 job, once 2 different tier 2 jobs are at least level 5 you can rank up to a tier 3 job. The jobs can be mixed and matched with primary and secondary, so for example a warrior build could also have healing spells. You can swap out the characters primary job at any time in the overworld map menu so experimentation is easy and encouraged.
However the upgrade trees are fairly shallow. Each job has roughly 10 abilities which can then be slightly strengthened with further leveling. The abilities granted are fairly basic and what you would expect; healing spells, stat buffs/debuffs, stronger attacks, movement skills. A lot of abilities are also completely reliant on other abilities to be on the team as well, so while experimentation is encouraged it can be hard to switch things around once you’ve finally found the loadout that really clicks. In the later stages of the game I had my proven team that got me through levels with ease and it was difficult to use anyone else at that point.
Presentation is a significant weak point in The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Tactics. The movement and animations of the characters are stiff and robotic, much more so than their puppet contemporaries from the tv show. The pool of animations is really shallow and repeats often, for example if a spider enemy ties you to your spot with a web attack the animation shows your character rooted to the ground with vines as if attacked by a different spell.
The UI in this game is also just as noticeably clunky. Selecting to move your character and attack, for example, is done by clicking on the character, selecting move from the action wheel, selecting the square to move to, selecting the character again, then selecting attack which is right next to the undo movement option which you will accidentally select multiple times throughout the game and have to restart the process. This may be a small gripe, but when you do this process over and over again throughout 70+ levels it becomes more and more noticeable how it’s not as streamlined as other tactics games. Every level feels like it takes much longer than it needs to be because of this.
Earlier I mentioned that the star studded voice cast was noticeably absent, but the sound design in this game is lacking a lot more than just that. In general it feels very minimalistic in a negative way. Levels feel quiet and dull with no noticeable background music, no voices, and the same handful of sound effects that trigger with the limited animations. All of the enemies have the same voices, all of the gelfling make the same noise when damaged, all of the background music feels like the same boring dulcet tones.
The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Tactics is a throwback to an earlier time when movies and TV shows regularly pieced together barebones tie-in games. There was a real opportunity for this game to delve further into the gigantic and mystical world that the show did such a great job of fleshing out, but it just doesn’t. The game rips the same exact story as the show, rips the bare minimum mechanics of tactics games, and presents it in a drastically minimalistic way that is the antithesis of the show. Do yourself a favor, get your hands on a Netflix account and watch the TV show with a controller in your hands. It’ll be a much more enjoyable experience.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A Barebones Experience
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is at best a rudimentary strategy game and at worst a stripped down, poor way to experience the story of the Netflix show.