Jim Henson has created a multitude of beautiful worlds, marvellous characters, and most importantly – incredible puppetry work. Known mainly for his creation of the increasingly popular The Muppets, Henson later expanded to explore darker tones with The Dark Crystal. With heavier themes, an expanded lore and animatronics that still hold up to this day, The Dark Crystal has garnered a cult following, and rightfully so. More recently, the property was adapted by Netflix for a TV series, which further explored the world originally conceived by Henson’s mind. Inventive, ambitious and captivating are words I would use to describe the world of The Dark Crystal. Soulless, stagnant and tedious perfectly describe The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics.
Set in the fantasy world of Thra, Age of Resistance Tactics follows the Netflix show across its ten episode stretch. The landscape of Thra was brought to the screen with such imagination and life, that it seems an easy option to translate to a game. Yet, any sort of life that was pumped into the film and show has been devastatingly lost in transit to consoles.
The story of the show is retold through comic book style cutscenes. With no voice dialogue or sound effects, the motionless scenes only serve to feed more sense of a living entity in the puppet counterparts. Any fans of the franchise may find a small amount of nostalgia amongst certain characters or replaying pivotal moments of the story, but it’s all showcased so blandly that the novelty quickly wears thin. Any newcomers will be completely lost in this world, with little to no context provided to ease them in, and fans will find a poor imitation to the retelling of the story.
Evidently, this is a game that has been manufactured for fans, but that doesn’t make it worthy of their time. The fundamental gameplay for Age of Resistance Tactics, is tactical turn-based combat with role-playing elements. It’s X-Com meets puppets, but without any of the finesse of X-Com or the expressive personality of Henson’s work. A map screen represents the land of Thra and works well to provide a insight to the landscape, but acts as a glorified level select screen. After an initial wave of introduction missions, the shackles are let loose (slightly), and allow you to follow separate story paths. But each story thread plays out the same as the rest.
The turn based combat is serviceable, but highly unremarkable and boring. Character actions are defined by a wheel, which allows you to move, attack, and use a variety of special attacks or abilities. The problem with combat is that it takes way too long to complete the most simple of battles. To first attack, you have to move your character near the enemy, dragging out the process. When you eventually do lay down some damage, the output is so weak that even the most simplistic of enemies can take upwards of seven or eight turns to decimate. It’s a long, drawn out and tedious process that makes each battle a slog. Using special abilities such as pummel strike, which delivers a devastating blow, has the intensity of a wet paper towel. There is lack of variety in the mission structure as well, simply boiling down to ‘fight these enemies’ or ‘reach this point’. The latter being the better of the two, as you’re able to skip post the soul-destroying combat. Past the first few missions, you feel as though you’ve seen everything Age of Resistance Tactics has to offer, and you’re probably right.
Characters can be upgraded, but again, the process is painfully slow. Missions reward you with money which can be used to purchase new items and armour. Every mission is incredibly tight in the rewards it wishes to deliver out meaning that any weapon purchases are more of a treat than a natural progression. It would be helpful to be able to sell old gear, but instead, you’re stuck with it. The shop is also extremely cumbersome to navigate with no way to compare the weapons and armour to what you currently own, resulting in a constant to and from between the shop and party menu.
You unlock a party of up to 14 characters as the game progresses and each can be upgraded with skills via the game’s job system. Here you can pick the roles of what you want your characters to specialise in such as being a healer or a tank build, but you can also select a secondary job to ensure they’re mixing up their abilities. It’s perhaps the best system incorporated into Age of Resistance Tactics and allows you freedom to build specific builds to your preference. The skill trees are extremely limited though, only providing a handful of perks each to assist you, and with a 15+ hour campaign, it feels very limited in scale of what you can actually accomplish.
When the Stranger Things 3 video game came out last year, it wasn’t particularly revolutionary, but it at least retained the spirit of the show. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics on Xbox One tips away the love, excitement and incredible work of the TV series and remains an empty husk of its former self. In a world where Jim Henson created lovable creations such as The Muppets and the cast seen in The Dark Crystal, it’s disappointing that their property has been wasted on a hollow combat-heavy video game. A Netflix subscription is around half the price than this game, so do yourself a favour – treat yourself to a month and lose yourself in the show.