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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Lightbulb Crew
Release Date: July 28, 2020


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PC Review - 'Othercide'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 28, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Othercide is a horror themed tactical turn-based game set in an esoteric world beyond our reality.

Othercide is about a shadow war that's being waged for the fate of reality. A being known only as The Child has been corrupted by The Suffering, a malevolent entity that is trying to enter our reality. The only person who can stand against him, The Mother, has been defeated. She must save The Child and defeat The Suffering by making lesser versions of herself — Daughters — to confront the forces that are being unleashed upon the world.

Every character, item, or event in Othercide has associated lore to provide some past detail about the major characters. The lore-building is the bulk of the game; there is a story, but it isn't particularly satisfying, and it comes to an abrupt end (sequel, anyone?). The lore is interesting enough that I'd like to see more of the world, but the plot feels perfunctory.

Othercide is a strategy game where you build up a team and send them on missions. To begin with, you'll create characters that are divided into three different job classes. The Blademaster is a melee class that deals the most damage and can be upgraded to better single-target or AoE damage while also gaining mobility. The Soulslinger is a gun-wielding class that's classified as support, with both damage-dealing attacks and the ability to buff allies. The Shieldbearer is the tank class, with the most health and armor, and it can move or slow enemies. Part of the way through the game, you unlock the Scythedancer class, which excels at shredding enemy armor and dealing AoE attacks. You can choose any combination of the classes, and it's sometimes easier to run two Soulslingers and a Blademaster instead of one of each type.

Othercide can be best described as an XCOM-style tactical game. You choose your Daughters before battle, deploy them, and then you must achieve success in various objectives, such as Hunt, Rescue or Survive. From there, the gameplay feels familiar, aside from the lack of cover and defense. Each character has an AP bar that begins at 100 and goes down as you move or use attacks, with each attack having an AP cost. Once you get below 50 AP, you enter a Burst state, which means your next turn takes twice as long to arrive. This means you have 50 AP on most turns but need to avoid "Bursting" unless necessary. The game also features positioning, so attacking an enemy from the side or behind significantly increases the damage they take.

You can see both friendly and enemy turns on the time bar at the bottom of the screen. Manipulating this bar is a big part of the gameplay. In addition to the aforementioned Burst status, you'll encounter moves that can delay someone's turn or speed it up. Delayed actions can be activated on one turn and then triggered on another — or triggered multiple times in a row. When enemies use Delayed Actions, you'll want to interrupt them with special attacks or kill them before the actions are triggered.

Stages play out in the standard "Kill all the enemies before they can kill you" or "Reach the target point" varieties. Each day brings you closer to fighting the boss of the current area, which generally involves a battle against an extremely powerful foe that dwarfs anything else in the level. Fortunately, you have plenty of time to prepare. You can escape from most missions, but depending on the mission, you'll either lose out on rewards or lose the Daughters that you sent on the mission. As in XCOM, Othercide has a form of permadeath, so any Daughters who die are lost to you — for a while.

Unlike XCOM, your Daughters don't recover health between missions, either. The only way to recover a Daughter's health is to sacrifice another daughter of an equal or higher level. This will replenish the Daughter's health and give them a new trait based on the class of the sacrificed Daughter. Obviously, this is for emergencies only, but it shows that the game's focus is to not limp across the finish line but to win with as little damage as possible. Taking any but the weakest hits generally means you screwed up somewhere.

Since health is difficult to recover, you might be loathe to use skills that cost health. It takes some getting used to, but health is a resource that's best used for actions, not survival. Any action that takes health is absurdly powerful and often saves more health in the long run if used at the appropriate time. Most interruption actions cost around 10% of a Daughter's health. That might sound like a lot, but when you consider that a boss attack does considerably more damage, each use of an interruption saves significantly more health than it costs. Using them wisely is the only way to succeed.

This also plays into how you can effectively beat bosses in the game by chaining together reaction skills. For example, the Blademaster and Soulslinger classes have a reaction skill to attack a nearby enemy every time the enemy takes damage. If the Soulslinger uses that skill and then shoots, the Blademaster's attack triggers, and then that attack will trigger the Soulslinger's attack. If you chain together multiple rounds of attacks like that, the bosses just melt. That's why several bosses practically play keep-away from the Daughters after taking on damage.

Othercide suffers from the fact that it takes a long time to obtain those skills. Leveling up is slow in the game, so you're stuck with your job's base skills for a surprisingly long time. By the time I reached the final boss, I still didn't have level 15 (the maximum level) skills. If you have a tough time, you'll get there eventually, but it leaves a lot of potentially interesting tactical options on the table. There's also poor balance between the two choices on every skill level; AoE damage is almost never worth it, unless it is the Scythedancer's absurdly strong The Harvest skill, which hits every enemy on the map and turns end-game farming into a joke.

Farming isn't for experience points but for memories, which are items that can be equipped to amplify each character's skills, from additional damage to passive buffs. Some skills can get very powerful if you use them correctly, such as adding a 60% bonus to damage to your character's strongest attack. That can turn an attack into an incredibly strong nuke that can eliminate most regular foes in a single shot.

Another reason that health isn't as important as expected is that the "permadeath" nature of the game isn't as significant as it looks on the surface. At any time, you can restart the game, and this instantly "kills" all of your Daughters and erases all of your memories, but you don't lose much progress because as you play, you'll earn the ability to unlock recollections, which include bonuses, such as improved damage, greater health pools, skipping any boss you've already beaten, and being able to resurrect Daughters for free at the start of another attempt. It means that losing a Daughter is temporary because you can resurrect them in the next go-round. If you've already unlocked the boss of the current stage, you can fight them right away.

It's a neat concept, but it has trouble making things feel "permanent." Theoretically, you can go through the whole game without resetting, but until you do that, you can reset whenever your main combat Daughters are too damaged. It almost always works out in your favor. Eventually, you feel like you're grinding for levels or equipment more than playing a perfect game, especially since the stat increases are tremendously huge after a while. Going back to earlier eras once you're in later ones feels a bit like you're picking on enemies who can't fight back. Daughters also gain traits as they fight, which are passive bonuses that add up, so sticking to the same small group of Daughters is far more effective than making new ones between battles.

The biggest thing holding back Othercide is that the UI is kind of messy. My clicks often wouldn't respond on the battlefield, forcing me to mash the button until my clicks finally decided to function. Seeing the "rush" movement radius is a pain because it's light gray on slightly darker gray, and it took me a while to even realize it was there. I would often get "phantom" notifications of level-ups, new memories, or new codex entries that wouldn't vanish even after I clicked on everything to make sure. Nothing prevented me from finishing the game, but it felt unpolished in a lot of spots. Hopefully this is something the developer can adjust with patches, but it was such a glaring flaw in what was otherwise a polished experience.

My one other issue is smaller but still significant: The final boss is such a ridiculous step up from everything that it is easy to see players getting frustrated and giving up, especially since the game ending isn't great. Whereas previous bosses were tough but fair, the final boss acts multiple times in a single turn, often gets multiple turns between fighting each of your characters — while the boss is also teleporting and killing characters. Unlike other bosses, he felt cheap, and when I beat him, I was glad that it was over, not that it was "a great fight." Heavy optimization of memory is all but required, and since you lose memory every time you lose to the boss, you'll have to start the grind all over again if you fail and hope the RNG favors you with good ones.

Othercide looks beautiful. The entire game is done in shades of gray, except for brief flashes of red associated with the Daughters or the Mother. The animations are nice and solid, and there are a lot of little added touches. Sometimes, the emphasis on gray can make the details difficult to discern, but it usually works in the game's favor. The soundtrack is also quite good, featuring a mix of haunting melodies and dramatic vocal songs that provide a very anime-inspired feel. The game tries for a Darkest Dungeon-style narration but lacks enough voice clips to make it work, so be prepared to hear the same five lines over and over again.

Othercide is a flawed but generally fun strategy-RPG. It has some balance issues and an annoying UI, but beyond that, it does everything that it sets out to do. It's not as difficult or punishing as an XCOM title might have been, but it may be a good replacement for those who like the strategy game style without the punishment of losing so much when you die. Be prepared to do that a lot, since death is in many ways the only way to advance in the game. Overall, I had fun with Othercide, but it's the kind of game where my opinion will likely improve after a couple of patches.

Score: 7.5/10

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