Developed By: Shockwork Games
Published By: No Gravity Games
Category: Strategy, Stealth, RPG
Release Date: 03.13.2020
God is dead, apparently. Nietzsche’s famous quote is taken literally in stealth-strategy Alder’s Blood where the old god is dead and from his corpse darkness envelops the world of the Frontier. With a unique blend of familiar themes, Alder’s Blood paints its grim universe with a beautiful art style to backdrop its story and missions. Although, a frustrating number of variables sometimes don’t add up, and it undermines its stealth gameplay with inconsistent AI and a high level of difficulty.
In the universe of Alder’s Blood, everything is a struggle. You are a hunter. By the title alone, you can surmise your job is neither easy nor rewarding. The men and women of your class live as exiles purifying a land rife with dangers and beasts. Your work calls you to hunt the beasts when you can’t help others or yourself avoid them. Or at least this is the idea when it comes to completing many of the game’s missions. What in theory sounds great, doesn’t carry out quite as well in practice.
On the surface, the wilds of the Frontier are easy on the eyes. A game with blood in the name will naturally have a lot of red and dark hues, but for taking place in such a bleak world, there’s a surprising amount of color. Character models and portraits have a wide range of blues, greens, yellows, and purples to display their worn faces. Each area of the world contains a minimal but attractive depiction of its locale, each one an animated painting. Alder’s Blood earns all the points for style and effectively capturing the dark ethos of a forsaken land without leaning too heavily on muted colors and the greyscale.
Thematically, too, Alder’s Blood is a successful celebration of the macabre, although it’s easy to trace back to the source material. The game borrows heavily from the victorian, monster-hunter themes found in Bloodborne and Van Helsing while mixing them with a wild-west aesthetic and chaotic, Lovecraftian lore. The genre of men with tricorne hats slaying werewolves and other horrors is well represented here. Told through mountains of text (supplemented by the occasional word of voice acting or the odd but charming grunt of approval), the story of Alder’s Blood is the familiar yet interesting tale of man’s plight to survive in the face of a terrifying, indifferent universe.
Perhaps in an effort to recreate that dreadful sense of vulnerability in the gameplay the developers at Shockwork Games made it a stealth game because hiding and sneaking around enemies in Alder’s Blood is a gamble you almost never win. This is strange to me given the emphasis on not engaging in fights with more powerful monsters and strategically maneuvering your position so they don’t pick up on your scent. It’s a neat feature, but even when I was convinced I was out of range and well hidden in a bush, more often than not one of the game’s ghouls would find me. This happened repeatedly and without any explanation as to why. And while Alder’s Blood thankfully comes with its own wiki to explain the many of its systems and elements of its strategic gameplay, too often they were undermined by broken AI that appeared out of nowhere and made a beeline straight for my hiding place.
A high level of difficulty is fine, even when it requires some trial and error, but countless ambushes provoking a fight in a game that champions stealth seems to defeat its own purpose. Consider this, too, after equipping a meager team with limited, depleting supplies and against the clock as each hunter succumbs to a corruption that slowly kills them with each encounter, turning them into another expendable resource. The many moving parts of Alder’s Blood are cool in their own right, but their application together didn’t work or demanded so much tinkering that it took away from the experience.
Alder’s Blood is a weird game in the sense that it’s a pleasure to spend time with its visual art style and ambient score of chilling, dissonant tones, yet remain frustrated by the constant threat of your efforts at outthinking the enemy inexplicably falling apart. It’s fun to set tasks for your hunters in the downtime, to carefully manage your inventory so you have enough food, and to navigate your way through the bidding wars for your clan’s attention in one of its many storylines. If only the act of doing your work as a hunter were just as fun.
Calling to mind the titans of the macabre genre, Alder’s Blood wonderfully renders its dark art style through a unique display of painted texture and color. While not wholly original, the story is still interesting and does well to fulfill the mood set by the music and visuals. However, it’s the gameplay in the end that fails to live up to the promise of the game’s many interesting systems and features by compromising the spirit of quiet hunting with brutal difficulty and broken AI.