Alder’s Blood certainly has an awesome setup: mankind has killed God, and now His corpse is corrupting the world, unleashing unrelenting horrors in the form of savage beasts. As the game opens you control Duke, a Hunter seeking the body of God in order to hopefully end the torment. But Duke’s reward is instead a haunting vision of horror that leaves him blind. You then swap over to Chief and his band of Hunter’s as they find Duke and set off on a mission to find the body of God, deal with the monsters and hopefully survive this bleak world through turn-based stealth and monster slaying.
As for the Hunters themselves they are a form of super-human. They are empowered with heightened senses to help them hunt the beasts that roam the lands. Indeed, they’re sort of like Witchers. However, they are also vulnerable to the Corruption themselves, and so while they are compelled to hunt the beasts down that very goal drives them towards madness.
The world and story of Alder’s Blood is an unrelentingly depressing one, and that means there’s little in the way of memorable characters. However, the writing is actually quite strong, leaning heavily into its mixture of supernatural and western, a tone that will be familiar if you’ve played Hunt: Showdown.
The basic premise of how the turn-based action works is familiar stuff, with each of your three Hunters having a set amount of stamina to spend. Moving, reloading, shooting, attack and using gear all uses stamina. Unlike XCOM you’re free to mix these actions as you like, which I appreciate. It allows for more flexibility. Something else I appreciate is that if you completely use up a Hunters stamina they’ll fall to their knees, exhausted, and have to skip their next turn. Another thing that makes stamina management vital is how enemy attacks also drain stamina, potentially exhausting a Hunter as well as slicing them up into little bits.
The emphasis is most firmly on staying hidden and keeping combat to a minimum where you can. There’s just four basic mission types, and only one of those specifically requires you to kill some monsters. To stay hidden you can use patches of grass, large objects and an infinite supply of stones to distract potential beasties. The real trick is understanding the smell system. You see, the beasts you hunt have keen senses and your Hunters probably aren’t the cleanest bunch. The stench they give off is shown as hazy lines, while the wind direction dictates where it floats. If a beast catches a whiff they instantly go on alert, which is terrible if you were going in for a cheeky back stab. Carrying a gun makes the smell travel further, too, so taking that shotgun along on a stealth mission might not be the best plan.
In fact, I love that actually taking just one Hunter is sometimes a better plan. Alder’s Blood never mentions it, and of course it’s tempting to take as many bodies as you can, but with three Hunters running around it’s a lot harder to stay hidden.
If you do need to slay some monsters then there are some things to consider. Guns, for instance, make noise, so you need to be careful about what’s nearby. If you can sneak up behind a beast with a small weapon you can knock them down. A lot of time it’s best to leave them there while you make a hasty retreat to safety. Another option would be to Banish the fallen foe, a trick that costs a chunk of stamina but in return instantly gets rid of the threat, though the Hunter who did it takes a hefty doss of Corruption for invoking such a ghastly power. The trick to the way fights play out is that you want to isolate the enemy. It’s incredibly easy to get swamped and ripped to pieces, so fights need to be picked smartly. I like that. I like that just killing everything is the dumb choice.
You get a fair variety of gear to help you out, too. Stuff like a net can immobilize an enemy for a turn or two. There are decoys, traps that drain stamina and health, throwing knives and more. Between these and the pebbles you can fling there’s a good range of options for distracting, trapping or destroying enemies.
As for the beasts you battle, there isn’t a huge variety in them, but they are interesting nonetheless. The small Shrieker can send out a piercing scream when it spots you, alerting everything nearby to your presence, for example. There are even beasts capable of remaining hidden from your special Sixth Sense vision mode which highlights enemies that are out of your sight. Most of all, I like that even the smallest beasts can still be deadly if you don’t pay attention to them.
Something I like a fair bit less is how the encroaching darkness can literally summon up enemies. I think the idea is to push players to make rash moves and not to just hide in one spot for too long. As a game progresses the A.I. will spawn more foes, including on occasion right beside one of your Hunters, potentially messing everything up in the most annoying way possible outside of literally slapping you. It feels at odds with the stealthy nature of Alder’s Blood, though – here you are being rewarded for your carefully timing your movements with even more enemies.
Sometimes it’s possible to get your ass kicked through sheer bad luck, too. An enemy might come stomping out of nowhere and immediately pickup the horrid stench of a Hunter’s armpits. There’s no real reason or rhyme to how the beasts move about, which gives you a constant sense of danger but can also be very, very annoying in a stealth game. Even when you throw a stone they might investigate the spot then come right back again. Finally, it’s possible for the game to suddenly change wind direction, meaning suddenly your upwind of something that would really, really like to stick a claw in your eyeballs.
Repetition can become a bit of an issue, too. Four basic mission types and a fairly small selection of enemy types don’t help, but main problem is most missions play out exactly the same. Because of that there were almost no memorable moments. Thinking back, I couldn’t tell you one mission from another – you move from bush to bush, tossing pebbles as you go. Occasionally, you kill some stuff.
In the likes of XCOM 2 or the more recent Phoenix Point you could become attached to your little virtual soldiers. Their heroic, seemingly impossible shots and crazy escapes gave them personalities. And the fact that they could die at any time only served to increase your attachment. But importantly there was also a chance you could keep them alive, if you played smartly and luck was on your side. That was the key to ensuring they didn’t feel like faceless assets. In Alder’s Blood, though, your Hunters are nothing more than walking numbers because their fate is inevitable thanks to the creeping decay of Corruption. Every mission a Hunter undertakes increases their Corruption, which in turn gives them negative traits. Eventually the Corruption will result in them going mad and potentially hurting other Hunters. Before that happens you’re expected to sacrifice them in a special ritual. This transfers a chunk of their experience to another Hunter, typically one you’ve just spent some coin on recruiting.
It’s a fascinating idea and one that is doubtless divisive. The Steam forums are filled with discussions about it, with some loving the idea and others hating that their Hunters are purely disposable. It’s true, too: knowing that your Hunters have to die stops you ever giving a damn about them. And Alder’s Blood doesn’t even try to let you form a connection with them. There’s just two basic character models, and customization is limited to a few colours. The only thing that differentiates them is the gear they carry, the perks you assign them and the bad traits they get from the Corruption. None of those things give them a personality. On paper I like this concept of a veteran Hunter choosing to sacrifice themselves before madness can consume them, passing their knowledge to a younger Hunter so that their legacy may live on. However, what I don’t like is that when you use that experience, or XP gained during a mission, to level up a Hunter there are only ever perks that take effect outside the main missions. So my level 10 veteran Hunter kills himself and passes on…being able to scavenge food a bit better? Really? It makes the sacrifice feel a lot less impactful.
Camp is where you do the general book keeping of running a band of monster hunters. From here you can assign jobs to your Hunters, like crafting items you need, resting up to regain health and standing guard to decrease the risk of being ambushed. You can also scavenge, hopefully resulting in some useful cash, food or crafting items. These camp tasks are where those perks I mentioned in the previous paragraph come into play. What perks are available to choose are randomly chosen, but if Lady Luck allows it you can sometimes focus a Hunter toward doing one thing exceptionally well.
From the world map you get to choose where you travel next, at the cost of some of your food. There are primary story missions, but there’s also some side-missions as well which can help improve relations with the four factions or just provide some helpful resources. Of course, you have to weigh up the reward against the surge of Corruption your Hunters will have to endure for their efforts. Getting from point to point costs you food, so combined with the constant crafting of items there’s a very light management element to Alder’s Blood.
All this yacking and I’ve not even mentioned just how good Alder’s Blood actually looks. Take a gander at the screenshots and you’ll see that dripping so much atmosphere that it’s damn near leaking out the screen. For all of its faults one thing is absolutely not up for debate: that is one hell of an art style.
Alder’s Blood is a gorgeous looking game with a bleak, depressingly dark world that stands out as something different. The story it tells is surprisingly good, too. It’s the gameplay where I find myself questioning the game’s design. The focus on stealth is great, and I like the idea of taking smell into consideration since you’re hunting beasts. But the Corruption system just doesn’t feel right, the missions get repetitive and as often as Alder’s Blood excited me, it also annoyed me. This one is probably for the real die-hard turn-based lovers who like a bit of grim fantasy.