Friends are great. I have this buddy named Frostilyte from whom I have received a number of solid game recommendations over the years. Whether they were games like CrossCode or Hollow Knight that weren’t on my radar at all or titles like Wildermyth and Disco Elysium that I was interested in and needed a final push, some of my favorite games I have played in the last year all came with Frosti’s seal of approval. So when he shot me a Discord message with the link to a Steam demo, I just clicked the link and clicked download. I did not even read the description of the game. So you can imagine the joy that flooded over me when Tyrant’s Blessing began and I realized it was a turn-based tactics game in the style of Into the Breach.
If you’re new here and you don’t know about my intense love for Into the Breach, when I played it at the beginning of 2019 I could barely put the game down. I would stay up late into the night battling Vek and trying to save as many timelines as I could, sometimes losing track of time until two or three o’clock in the morning. While I’m a big tactics fan and I’ve played a number of different turn-based strategy games over the years, Into the Breach set a new standard for me. So you can imagine that finally encountering a game that plays similarly – even as just a demo – was a really exciting experience for me.
So what is Tyrant’s Blessing? The basic premise of the game is that a necromancer lord of some sort – the titular Tyrant – has arrived in a kingdom and made an offer. “Join me and you will live a life free from death.” Turns out the monkey’s paw curled on that one because what the Tyrant meant by “free from death” was “become an undead servant in my skeleton army.” There are few living people left, but those who remain are banding together into an uprising to take down the Tyrant and free the kingdom from his cruel reign. You play as those heroes, working together to travel the kingdom to the royal palace where the Tyrant has settled in and unseat him at long last.
You begin the game as the princess of this fallen kingdom, a young woman named Lyndal accompanied by her trusty dog Spark and a mighty red dragon. She is soon joined by a loyal knight, Borges, and they meet a skilled archer Leland and spear fighter Traegar who bring them to the Uprising campsite. These starting heroes make up four out of a group of twenty or so heroes in the game, and Spark the first of maybe a dozen different pets. Each character has two unique abilities as well as a beneficial passive that helps set them apart from other units; each pet has its own passive as well as one support ability. During any given battle, you can bring three heroes and one pet to make up your crew of warriors, generally pitted against a group of roughly three to five undead.
Combat takes place on a small 8×8 grid – if you’re used to something like XCOM, Fire Emblem, or Advanced Warriors, the scale of these battles is significantly smaller than any of those games. Each map comes with a different mission and mission objectives: save a small child from her zombified mother, protect the Uprising cannoneers and their cannons, recruit a hero fighting alone against the hordes of undead, etc. There are three objectives on each map which generally involve defeating all of the enemies as well as two other tasks such as defeating them in a specific way, only taking a certain amount of damage, or winning within a certain number of turns. Meeting these conditions rewards you with stars which can be traded to merchants for runes that are spent to upgrade your characters. While defeating all the enemies on the field is mandatory, the other two objectives on any given mission are typically optional – manage them if you can.
So what does a typical turn look like in Tyrant’s Blessing? At the beginning of the turn, the enemies on the field will move to a new position and line up an attack against one of your units or something they are intended to protect. You then can move your own units and take actions with them – ideally preventing any damage to your characters while defeating the enemy units. This is complicated by a mechanic called shades – when an enemy targets your unit, a piece of their soul is captured in the process and is left behind when you move out of the way. This means that unless you defeat that enemy or find a way to reposition them, they’ll still hit your character’s shade and damage you even if you’ve moved out of the way. It adds a really interesting layer to the combat because you can’t just run from harm – you have to figure out a more meaningful solution.
Luckily, you’ve got some useful tools in your belt. An important one is the dash mechanic, which allows you to jump to the other side of an inanimate object or duck into an adjacent bush to hide. When you dash, you don’t leave a shade behind, so you can use this to maneuver without leaving yourself in harm’s way. The disadvantages to dashing are the limited opportunities to use the ability (you’ve got to be next to a bush or to an object with an open space on the opposite side) as well as the limited movement – you can only take one more step after dashing, reducing the overall amount of space that you travel. Since the bodies of allies and enemies alike can obstruct the tile you would attempt to dash to, careful positioning is necessary to make this useful technique available to you on any given turn.
Heroes also have abilities to bring to bear. Many abilities are offensive, dealing at least 1 point of damage, but there are plenty which have other useful effects. The princess’s main attack is a fiery blast from her dragon which hits three tiles in a perpendicular line to her line of sight – being able to hit multiple targets is valuable, particularly if they are standing on flammable tiles where they can take additional damage. Her bodyguard can push units adjacent to his target away from the target, potentially shoving allies out of the danger zone – and a shoved ally doesn’t leave a shade, allowing them to move freely for the rest of that turn. Your dog companion can drag a unit backward, pulling an ally to safety or pulling an enemy into something like water or smoke which prevents them from taking their action. Of course, enemies who have been defeated cannot execute their attacks, so raw damage can also be a useful tool for preventing harm to your characters or the people or objects on the field they are protecting.
The tricky thing about fighting undead is that defeated foes don’t stay defeated for long. Each map has a certain amount of void energy, dark magic that breathes life back into the defeated undead. At the end of a turn, any undead who have been taken out are brought back one for one using the void energy that’s remaining. Once there’s no void energy left the enemies can no longer return, and clearing them out after that point is how you ultimately conclude a map. Generally you’re going to see enough void energy on any given map to bring each foe back at least one time, depending on how many kills you are getting per turn. The same enemy can come back as many times as there are drops of void energy if that target is the only one you ever finish off. Enemies have a number of different types with different attack ranges and effects, and they can have varying stats as well – sometimes two enemies of the same type will have different amounts of health and damage, forcing you to prioritize them differently as you make your moves.
This, then, is the gameplay loop of Tyrant’s Blessing: from camp you customize which heroes and pets are in your party and assign them any items from your inventory, you select a mission to complete and deploy your units on the battlefield, and then you maneuver your units as effectively as possible to avoid damage to yourself and your charges while killing your undead foes again and again until the map runs out of void energy. The money and objective points you earn for the mission can then be spent at camp on additional resources to equip and upgrade your characters for the next mission. It’s also worth noting that each time you return from a mission, a couple of your surviving characters will have a short conversation that expands your knowledge of their histories, personalities, or the world at large. The battles and subsequent conversations only take a few minutes to complete, so theoretically you can play Tyrant’s Blessing in short bursts without having to make an hours-long commitment (although you won’t be able to do this with the demo as it doesn’t save progress).
There are a few other aspects of my experience with the demo that I think are worth sharing. The demo has a limited number of missions to complete and while you can technically do them in a different order, the obvious “final” mission is a battle against an enemy that attacks by spreading dynamite on the battlefield. This monster is tough – not only does it have high health and have four different lackeys to deal with, but it spawns dynamite in three different locations on the map. You can’t “destroy” dynamite by attacking it, and when it explodes it does 2 damage (a pretty solid amount in this game) to every adjacent tile. My first time I fought this foe I got absolutely destroyed. Sparky was essentially trapped in a corner the whole match and with few tools for moving the dynamite out of the way, the ghost could essentially surround a single party member with explosives so they couldn’t move and then just watch the carnage unfold. This gave me the opportunity to see what happens when your party is wiped out: the Tyrant decides to toy with you by reviving some of your fallen party, but you lose your mission progress and have to start over. I gave up my spearmaster and returned back to the first mission to fight my way to the dynamite ghost a second time.
During the mission where you get the opportunity to recruit a new hero, I was surprised to find that there was a new, different hero there than during my first time. In a way it makes sense – I still had that first guy on my team – but I didn’t expect that mission to continue giving me new characters. I’m lucky it did because this time instead of a hero, I had an opportunity to get a new pet: Inka the Panda. Inka is damn good – their passive allows any adjacent ally to use Inka to dash, meaning that as long as Inka is next to a character they can move away from a targeted square without leaving a shade. Inka can also push up to four adjacent targets which made them perfect for moving multiple sticks of dynamite at a time during the dynamite ghost fight. Now I had improved in other ways for the rematch as well – while you lose your mission progress after dying, you keep your objective points, so I had been able to purchase a significant number of runes and spend them on upgrades to health and damage for my abilities. When I defeated the dynamite ghost and left the demo victorious, it felt like a hard-earned win, and I had the missing hero from my roster to show for it. In that sense, it seems like Tyrant’s Blessing will have opportunities for the same sort of organic storytelling that Into the Breach featured – the stories of your narrow wins and devastating losses are more significant than the overall narrative of the game.
The Tyrant’s Blessing demo left me very impressed and I am excited to see more from the game. Having another title that scratches the same turn-based tactics itch as Into the Breach – while doing so in a unique way that has plenty of mechanics that make it meaningfully different – is a big win in my book. I can imagine that trying out all of the different heroes and pets as well as experiencing the full structure of the game will keep me quite busy! For now, I’ve wishlisted the game on Steam and will be eagerly looking forward to seeing the full product.