Sci-fi is no stranger to post-apocalyptic settings. However, they are lot rarer in fantasy. I mean, what magical thing can cause an end of the world that leaves anything behind? What would its aftermath look like? For Trials of Fire, the Cataclysm left a wasteland like a nuclear war would have… only the elves are to blame.
The world of Ashe is a blasted ruin. Nobody really knows what happened during the Cataclysm, only that the elves probably had something to do with it. The land is scorched, the forests are burnt. However, life goes on, however precariously. In the Early Access’ only available quest, a town is seeking a magical water gem, for obvious reasons.
For a Few Obsidian Shards More
So once you get to go on this quest for the Water Chip, what do you do? You create your team of three adventurers. Four classes are available in the Early Access: the fighter, the ranger, the elementalist and the unlockable warlord. Their group will travel the hex-grid map looking for points of interest, managing supplies and injuries, and engaging in desperate battles.
Said desperate battles take place in smaller maps. Your guys start on the left, the enemies on the right. On your turn, your troopers draw three cards each from their decks. The cards determine what actions the characters will be able undertake during the turn. Some of action are a free to use, others cost points of willpower. Any card can be discarded to put willpower points into the team pool OR to allow the discarding character to move two hexes. Managing this system is key to winning battles in the world of Ashe.
Baptism by Fire in Trials of Fire
The battles are intensive and tactical. Surrounding an enemy with unengaged allies means that your melee attacks will invoke combo attacks, dealing more damage to the target. The various boosts you characters can give themselves don’t have timers – rather, they’re discarded when you take a certain amount of health damage. Your health is only protected by defense – generated by cards and decaying every turn. And that’s before account for the need to fine-tune positioning to use magical powers, make the most effective use of your attacks or to avoid environmental dangers that come from magical apocalypses.
So how do you build a deck? Each item of gear you find comes with one or more action cards associated with it. Characters also have a matrix of class skills, which you replace with new (and, hopefully, better ones) as you level up. You can really tailor your approach, as you even have a way to strip items of unwanted actions. There’s really not too much to leveling up in the game, really: aside from the already mentioned possibility of changing one of your skill cards, only your character’s health increases. In the same vein, your armor score is just added to health in battle.
Besides the battles – and maybe as the precursor to them – you’ll get into short text-adventure type encounters. You usually get only one or two choices for every event. Sometimes, having certain characters or companions (NPC companions that give passive bonuses on the world map) will open additional possibilities. Depending on your actions, you can get new side-quests, engage in fights or convince people to trade with you.
The most important part of trading is getting more food supplies. Your team will periodically consume a unit of supplies, and you can only carry 10. At the same time, you really don’t want to be starving, as your characters will start losing health. Similarly, your team will have to take rests (best done in villages, ruins and other places that aren’t open fields) periodically to both heal and restore stamina. Get tired and you’ll start seeing terrible cards in your decks. This is also how the game handles lasting injuries: an injury card enters the deck and, when drawn in battle, is at the very least taking one of three spots where a good card could be.
Not All is Lost
Oh, and if the worst comes to pass and you get wiped out in battle, you lose the game. Trials of Fire runs in ironman mode, so you can’t really save scum, especially since it saves during the fights as well as in the world map. However, you needn’t be sad: the experience your characters accumulated during their travel will automatically upgrade their classes and unlock new action cards. New classes become available as you complete small in-game challenges.
Overall, the Water Gem quest is meant to be finished in 3 hours, though I still manage to stretch it further (and still lose). In a way, the structure of Trials of Fire reminds me a whole of Weird Adventures in Infinite Space. Get in, fight a few battles, see how well you can do, enjoy the writing and the world. However, unlike in Weird Adventures, the class-soul level up system means that every play that you finish (instead of abandoning when things turn sour) affects the next one.
Apocalypse is Shiny
To take a sharp turn in the review, I’m going to say that the game is pretty. The game interface takes form weighty tome. As you adventure in the world, the view is laid out on a page of the book. When you progress through text-adventures, you turn pages. And once you enter battle, the ruins and other scenery grows out of the open tome. At the same time, the devs are really smart about using their resources, eschewing character models in favor of tokens with portraits of the warriors. Various effects make the fights more vivid – the most commonly seen being the shattering of a token upon death.
Trials of Fire may be in early access, but it’s already looking quite well for a game that won’t be finished till Q2 of 2020. I’ve already spent more time in it than I expected, and I quite like it. The apocalypse isn’t too depressing, there are enough of interesting elements (like ratmen becoming the new dominant species, albeit without being Skaven-evil) in the world and the game is easy to understand. The devs are keeping their ear to the ground, too, and a recent update shifted focus