AETHERIS is a roguelite tactical turn-based RPG developed by WILD WITS and published by Hawthorn Games. In this game, the world is in dire straits, with the Shade slowly but surely taking it over. Four heroes (called “Vazzards”) venture out from their village to find a path away from the Shade, but within a hostile world and an unrelenting force after them, their chances are slim… but never zero. So, let’s see what the game has to offer.
I have to mention the art style first because it was the most striking thing about AETHERIS when I first checked it out. It has an Incan style that feels unnatural yet fascinating to look at, from the skill icons to the enemies you face. It’s so colourful and strange. Even the characters you play can’t really be described other than being both bird-like and reptilian. You just get lost in this world after a while. These are some really good designs that aren't conventional in the slightest. It also makes the horrors you face even more horrifying.
Before you exit the village, you need to assemble a party of adventurers who are most likely not making it back, a similar sentiment you should be familiar with if you’ve played Darkest Dungeon. You’ll get to select up to four characters, who are randomly generated to have their own initial stats and skills but can be changed or improved as they level up. They can also have the help of a previous character’s spirit to aid them. They not only give them a few stat buffs, but they’ll also revive fallen party members in battle. However, they will disappear after they do so, so choose wisely.
Every Vazzard has personality traits that affect their skills and stats: Brutality, Mysticality, Rationality, and Empathy. At its most basic, it’s just the fighter, mage, ranger, and support classes you’ll find in any other RPG, but they also affect what decisions you can make in events. You can also freely decide which personality aspect you’d like to draw from when deciding your new skills when levelling up. It uses a draft system, where you choose which trait you want to improve, then draw two cards from either the active or passive skill deck or one each. And you better make sure you don’t regret what you choose because the skill you don’t choose is removed from the deck until the next run. It really makes you mull over and consider your choices and forces you to adapt to whatever hand fate gives you. Yeah, it can be frustrating, especially when some really good skills could be at the bottom of the deck for all you know, but it makes those runs less repetitive. And hey, you have much more control in battle.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the fights you will get into, which plays like a tabletop RPG. Everyone roll initiative! Literally, your turn order is based on a dice roll plus modifiers. From there, you have options. You have three types of points to spend every turn: Willpower, Movement, and Spirituality (SP). Every action will spend one or a combination of each type, or all three for the particularly powerful skills. Willpower and Movement points are refilled at the start of each turn, but Spirituality isn’t. Nope, you need to pray at rest points to refill it, so SP is a precious resource that you must maintain in and out of battle. Battles can be difficult to get through unscathed, but you have everything you need to ensure every move is calculated. You can always check the character sheet to get any information you deem necessary to help you win the fight, see the range of movement of your enemies, and your chances of successful attacks are pretty clear. I really liked all of this. The combat is fun as it makes you think through your turns, and the outcome can either have whatever plans you make turn out perfectly or force you to adapt. There were some really good fights that tested the build of my party, and more often than not, I paid for my mistakes. I didn’t feel the game was unfair at all, which is good. I don’t want to feel frustrated because the game gave me an unwinnable situation, but because I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead.
Between battles, you need to keep your party healthy, strong, and alive throughout your adventure because every day is one step closer to death… in the form of a red fog following in your footsteps. The Shade will follow your party, and with each day that passes it grows closer and closer. Letting it catch up to you is a death sentence. You can run away from it at rest points, adding seven more days to your time, but that sacrifices healing the party, refilling their SP, or getting in some training before the next fight. You’ll also need to deal with random events that can either turn out well or as terribly as possible, with some events seemingly relying on a coin flip if it turns out in your favour. Your decisions will haunt you, so you really do need to think through every move you make and make sure you literally and figuratively are one step ahead of your enemies.
Oh, wait, I forgot to mention: if everyone in the village dies, you lose the save file but keep all unlocked skills. With only 12 villagers, you only have four chances to get to the end. This isn’t the type of game where dying over and over again is how you play it. While the lessons learned are important (as well as the higher-level spirits), you really need to take care of your party members. They aren’t quite as disposable as what you usually get in roguelites.
And hey, why not share that intense decision-making with your friends? There is online co-op multiplayer available where up to three others can help you conquer the Shade. Now, unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to test out the multiplayer, but it is an interesting concept. Talking it over with your friends on the decisions you make, working together to ensure everyone survives each battle, distributing the loot, and then yelling at each other when someone dies.
Now, I found nothing in terms of technical problems. No glitches or FPS problems, as far as I could tell. As for my gripes, I only really have one: I definitely would’ve liked an undo button for movement at least. I’ve definitely misclicked a few times. I also kinda didn’t like how the grass makes some enemies a little hard to see. Yeah, I’m sort of grasping at straws, trying to remember if I seriously didn’t like something. I was just so focused on playing the game.
AETHERIS is a very thoughtful RPG where every move you make has a purpose. Nothing feels wasted here, and what you do and what you risk will affect each and every fight you go through. If you love strategy and tabletop games, this game is for you.
AETHERIS is available on Steam right now.
AETHERIS (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
AETHERIS is very thoughtful where every move you make has a purpose. Nothing feels wasted here, and what you do and what you risk will affect each and every fight you go through. If you love strategy and tabletop games, this game is for you.