Do you like the idea of XCOM? But don’t like how it basically revels in torturing your very soul until it turns you into a blubbering wreck of a human being? Then Fort Triumph might be for you! After spending a few years in Early Access on Steam, Fort Triumph has finally got its full release to very little fanfare. So let’s shine a light on it and see if its worth playing.
The story is based upon some pretty typical fantasy and RPG archetypes with a group of four heroes (A Mage, a Paladin, a Rogue and a Berserker) trying to find some work. To make itself stand out a bit though, Fort Triumph goes for absurdism fantasy and a bright, cartoony visual style that reminds me of the Warcraft games. The Mage, for example, is way to academic and would do anything in the name of gathering data, plus she’s maybe a bit too happy to Channel her power. Meanwhile, the Paladin is overly naive and fights for truth and justice and all that, and is having a bit of a debate about whether maths is acceptable since Paladins are taught that numbers are a terrible thing.
Humour is the strong point of the story. Without any voice acting not every joke lands, but there were a few lines that made chuckle, and as a fan of Terry Pratchett I have a soft sort for absurdism fantasy. The four heroes are quite likeable too, in a very basic way since they have all the depth of a drop of snail pee.
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the names of these daring adventurers. The way that Fort Triumph handles its cast of four characters is…strange. See, even the initial four champions that you get can die. Depending on whether you’ve chosen perma-death or not they will either be gone completely, or they’ll be waiting for you to buy them back from a nearby city. Either way, you can go into a story mission with a rookie hero you’ve recruited at the nearby tavern, or indeed without any of the original characters whatsoever.
What Fort Triumph does at this point is grab the strongest character you have that represents the class of your missing heroes, and then just rams those new named characters into the story. This new person with a new name will somehow take on the personality of their predecessor, and the rest of the gang will simply carry on like nothing happened. They’ll chat about things like their friend never died, and there isn’t a strange new person standing around. They’ll talk about stuff that never happened to this new character like it actually did happen to them. It’s weird. The developers really needed to think about the story they wanted to tell, versus the fact they wanted to include character death.
By comparison, the new Gears Tactics uses a system where certain characters can’t be permanently killed, while others can be. It’s a mish-mash, but at least it does allow the story to work while still allowing some of your squad to perish if you screw up.
The actual story itself is bolstered by a few fun characters but is mostly dull with nothing truly memorable. There’s a couple of moments where it feels like chunks of the narrative are missing, too. Especially the end of chapter two leading into chapter 3.
If you’ve ever played XCOM or anything of that ilk you’ll be instantly familiar with the gist of how Fort Triumph works – you and the enemy take turns moving characters around the place, spending Action Points to do things like attack or use special abilities. Unlike many other games though, you’re also free to swap between your heroes at will and attacking won’t end their turn automatically. That gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to planning out how to tackle the enemy.
All the action takes place on relatively tight maps and most characters have quite a lot of movement available to them. Because of this and the fact that there’s also a lot of melee based characters cover isn’t quite as important as it is in other games.
The thing that sets For Triumph’s turn-based gameplay apart is the use of a very basic physics system. You can happily sidle up to a tree and then kick it so that it topples onto an enemy, or you can boot a rock into someone so they rebound off a wall. This can trigger chain reactions, too, so if you kick a goblin into a pillar the pillar will then fall and damage the enemy behind that. It’s not just kicks, either: a mage can throw a blast of wind to shove scenery and enemies around, while a ranger can use grappling hooks and special arrows to do the same. Best of all you can activate another of your heroes’ Overwatch ability. Kick a goblin out of cover, for example, and that can set off your Ranger’s Overwatch, sending an arrow flying across the room and into the goblin’s skull.
It really does make for some fun opportunities, and makes you look at the battlefield differently than you normally might. There’s even skills that let you shift allies, enemies and bits of the scenery around. That giant bit of rock might look better over there, and might just setup another hero for a fantastic combo. Later levels in the campaign even introduce earns that do a variety of things when smashed, giving you some extra options to play around with.
But as fun as squishing a spider underneath a tree might be, and it is indeed rather enjoyable, it can’t hide the fact that Fort Triumph is a very light tactical experience. To be fair, that’s somewhat of an unjustified criticism: it isn’t trying to be a deep game that plumbs the depth of your tactical brilliance. But it’s still worth mentioning that if you’re looking for the next XCOM this isn’t it. Fights are often over in a matter of just a couple of turns, positioning helps but isn’t key since cover is so easily annihilated and characters can typically move a great distance.
I also found that since the game follows the XCOM style of letting you use every character in a single turn and the campaign typically let’s you go first, it was possible to utterly decimate most of the enemy at the start. This was especially true when using high-level characters. You’ll also find that certain combinations are absurdly strong. For example, it’s possible to let your melee heroes retaliate against any melee attack against them, then combine that with another ability that heals the entire team when they kill an enemy. With these in place you can march a high-level Paladin or two straight into the middle of the enemies, and then watch as the A.I. merrily feeds its units to their waiting hammers.
As for the way the game handles death, you get two options: proper perma-death does just that, killing off any characters who get their arses whooped in a fight. The second option lets you recruit fallen heroes from a city’s tavern, albeit at quite a high price.
Whether you opt to get your fallen comrade back from the dead or just spend a few coins on a rookie for your squad you only get a choice of four measly classes: paladin, rogue, mage and berserker. As they get levelled up you can choose to improve existing skills and pick out new ones which are presented to you in random order. There’s a tad more variety thrown into the mix in the form of the four different races (Trolls, Undead, Goblins and Humans) each having some inherit bonuses. Owing to their size Trolls can act as cover for other units, while the diminutive Goblins can take cover far more effectively. As for the Undead, they aren’t affected by pesky things like bleeding or being blinded owing to their lack of blood and eyeballs. Still, it just doesn’t feel like quite enough, and it doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of character models, either. One Ranger will look almost identical to another, and will play nearly the same, too.
Outside of kicking over trees and smashing faces Fort Triumph goes a bit Heroes of Might & Magic on us. Basically you’ll take turns moving around a map where you can pick fights with groups of enemies, visit special areas that provide a bonus and hoover up all sorts of artefacts. You can even have multiple groups of heroes trotting around the world. Meanwhile, the A.I. is doing the same, so you need to fend them off or even capture their cities while also tending to the story missions.
Notice that I mentioned capturing cities. Don’t worry, as the responsible new owner of a slightly damaged city you don’t actually have to concern yourself with the day to day running of your new acquisition. Basically each city you grab increases the amount of heroes you can have running around, though each individual group is limited to five characters. It’ll also generate money that you can then use to hire new heroes or construct buildings. These buildings will provide a bunch of potential benefits, like the infirmary increasing health. The exact buildings you get to pick from depends on the race who owned it previously.
All in all the campaign will probably take you around 6-10 hours to complete. Interestingly, there are campaigns for the other three races, but they’re all greyed out. The only information I could find about this came from the Steam forums where the developers said that, “Yes, there’s only one campaign with three story acts. We might add more in the future, but this is still only in the realm of ‘perhaps’.” Um, why have them on the menu at all, then?
Once you’ve run through the campaign you can always head into skirmish mode where you can pick from the four races, choose one of the three map types and jump into a game.
There’s a collection of annoyances that seem to have magically carried over from XCOM. To start with, the way the game calculates your odds of hitting a ranged attack seem to use some form of mathematics hitherto undiscovered by humanity. I’ll be buggered if I can make sense of it, but sometimes you’ll have a visually perfect shot at an enemy standing in the open but Fort Triumph will only give you a 30% chance of hitting it. And then sometimes the most awkward angle and a bad guy behind a pillar will equal a 90% chance.
Then there’s the fact that arrows and magic spells passing straight through solid objects frequently, which again brings up the question of Fort Triumph’s maths work. Other visual problems include the action camera zooming in to show a rock, or a pillar.
As we’ve discussed before, oh glorious readers, sometimes you don’t want something complicated that makes your head hurt from all of the tactical and strategic possibilities. As awesome as XCOM 2 is, it’s hardly a relaxing game to play. Fort Triumph however, takes great joy in being a straightforward game where you can zone out a little, enjoy the bright colours and engage your brain just enough to stop you becoming a complete and total couch vegetable.