Are you ready for an adventure? Well, that appears to be what you’re going to get with Trulon: The Shadow Engine, a self-confessed adventurous RPG set in a magical steampunk world. Developers Kyy Games have thrown in a unique card combat system to help it stand out from the numerous RPGs on the market. And, as it’s a spinoff from the Trulon novel, one would expect a decent story to be present too. So, given that Trulon: TSE has all these elements combined, is it as good as it all sounds on paper, or is it let down in the execution phase?

Sadly, I was far more excited at the prospect of playing it than I am now after actually putting in a fair few hours. But to find out how it falters, let’s take a deeper a look at all things Trulon…

The story begins in the fantastical world of Tripudia, with monster huntress Gladia given the task of finding the source of a deadly and mysterious disease in order to protect the whole kingdom from further spreading. This journey will see Gladia, and any companions she picks up along the way, traipsing across both her home kingdom and the grim kingdom of Maelon, battling the many strange creatures lying in wait. Although the basis of the narrative is solid enough to kick-start the adventure, it easily gets forgotten as the storytelling is sparsely done and entirely text-based.

I’d like to say the story is simply overshadowed by the general gameplay, but it really isn’t. When not in battle, you’ll be spending your time moving around an area within the kingdom, searching for chests, XP orbs and working your way towards the next objective. It’s not always completely clear as to where you’re meant to go though, a problem which arrives due to the lack of any kind of mini-map. Usually it means venturing out into the overworld and hoping a new area has popped up to give a little clue as to the next destination.

The overworld connects all the parts of the kingdoms together and when travelling between each, there are occasions where random encounters can occur. Whether you check out what’s there is entirely up to you, with either enemies or a chest waiting to be found. It may not be a natural inclusion, however, the option to refuse to engage, even after finding out the nature of the encounter, is a welcome one.

Battles themselves are played out in turn-based combat, but instead of the standard movesets and abilities you’d expect, each character has a set of ‘tactic’ cards to take into the fight. The choices are: to attack normally, play a wildcard given at random by the game, use an attack tactic, or perform a manoeuvre tactic. These tactics generally have benefits and drawbacks to weigh up, such as an attack bonus at the expense of defensive protection. When the deck of tactics runs out, they’re gone until the next battle and so you’ll hope to have drained all the enemies’ health before that point.

At first I was suitably impressed by the idea, but the more you play, the more you notice how few different cards there really are for each character. The slightly pixelated animations which pop up to represent the moves are bland too, with the same ones used for many different tactics relating to specific characters.

The four main characters each have their own special tactics, with Gladia being a hybrid pistol specialist and Ferra specialising in magic etc. Winning battles will help towards levelling up and earning new cards to add to the deck as well as cards to equip for extra overall bonuses. Given a decent draw, characters can aid each other to unleash a combination of attacks before the opponents even get a look in. What’s disappointing is how weak these attacks often are.

As noted by the developers, the content within Trulon: TSE is only expected to last around seven hours. I do commend the decent variety of well designed monsters and other enemies featured. From three-eyed monkeys and ferocious bears, to deadly robots and spies, there’s something new added quite often – even if it’s only a slight variation on a creature already seen. The only issue I have with them is how beasty they become so quickly. It doesn’t take long before a trio of monkeys are difficult to defeat, and that in itself is fine because I prefer a challenge, but by the time your party of heroes increases to four, the enemies practically one-shot you no matter how many tricks are up your sleeve.

The steep difficulty curve goes from being a welcome challenge, to a game halting problem, as it’s virtually impossible to survive long enough to dispatch the threats at hand, even with few great tactic cards at your disposal. I almost didn’t get as far as I did due to another issue involving a side quest and a house which freezes the game upon entry. It does stutter here and there anyway, however, this house in particularly forces a complete reloading of Trulon: TSE – it’s a good job the auto-save system kicks into effect regularly.

Where the visuals are concerned, character models aside, the world of Tripudia gives off a peaceful aura with plenty of greenery surrounding the kingdom. Alternatively, the poorer, far more dangerous kingdom of Maelon comes across as very grim, which is made all the more apparent in the shabby looking NPCs dotted around and the darker colour palette used. Design-wise, it does the job it’s supposed to really well.

Trulon: The Shadow Engine certainly looks ready to send gamers on an adventure, especially in creating a world full of fantastical beings, but that’s where the goodness ends in truth. The turn-based card combat system grows tired in no time at all – despite a decent array of enemies – whilst the difficulty spoils and subsequently halts progression through to the end. That’s after overcoming numerous mini-freezes and a buggy house that puts side quests on the backburner.

Overall, it’s a nice idea, coupled with a decent premise, which ultimately lacks on the gameplay side and harbours a few bugs. Give Trulon: The Shadow Engine a miss, for it can hardly be called an adventure without a healthy dose of fun and enjoyment.

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