Alder’s Blood is an interesting beast (or should I say archaic horror). One part Darkest Dungeon, one part XCOM, two parts Bloodborne. And it is just as hard as that sounds.
One of the most fascinating elements to Alder’s Blood is its story and general theme. Set in a half-dark world where their God has been killed or perhaps worse, hunters, scavengers and survivors must venture out to grow stronger and unravel the mystery of Alder’s Blood. So far, so Bloodborne. This is the elevator pitch, but does it live up to this interesting premise?
The central gameplay in Alder’s Blood is intriguing. It takes that classic XCOM style and translates it to a mostly stealth based system. You have a lot of time to plan out moves and you have limited movement space per turn. You may forego your next turn entirely, exhausting your character in return for another attack or more movement.
Every moment in Alder’s Blood promotes a risk-reward system. You may attempt another attack on an enemy to avoid its payback, but if this doesn’t kill it you take two hits in return. You may rush past an enemy to find a bush to hide in, but if an enemy sees you you will take damage. This, of course, would be pointless without a central objective and the objective is rarely based around actually hunting.
In Alder’s Blood, you and your party of hunters must travel through environments, investigate or grab important items needed to progress. Often at times, you are much better just letting the enemies pass rather than engaging or perhaps taking out a single straggler. It flips the meaning of “hunter” on its head in interesting ways. You are the hunted cowering in fear of what horror an old God might bestow on you next.
The stealth systems often have interesting depth to them. You have the staples of stealth such as a wide depth of view and rocks that can be thrown to grab attention. Where this is made interesting is in its weather mechanics. You have a scent which is carried by the wind – if a creature happens upon that scent, it finds you.
This is an occasionally obtuse system as creatures right next to you might miss you whilst those who happen to be on the right change of the wind find you. The wind that can carry your scent gives no indication beforehand and often arbitrarily gets you involved in combat which occasionally ruins the game’s own stealth mechanics.
When it comes down to hard games, the best thing it can do is make you feel like your deaths or the damage you take is your own fault. In Bloodborne, your own mistake is often clear for you to see and avoid next time. This wind system of Alder’s Blood forces a level of RNG that is ultimately rather frustrating.
When combat does happen, there are two distinct ways of engaging and different characters favour certain styles. The stealth combat is very singular and based on having a lot of actions to use, while the standard combat favours heavy weapons and tanking some damage.
In the stealth side of things, you may sneak behind an enemy to bring them to their knees. They may then be smited with a single blow, effectively using the majority of your action. This is often better saved for the big creatures whilst standard combat is better for multiple creatures. Occasionally you find yourself with little option but to attack. Guns and heavy weapons are greatest here. Doing large damage to small creatures while stealth killing big ones is what worked best in my playthrough.
This naturally brings our band of hunters to what happens after combat. There are a handful of key areas through Alder’s Blood that you must travel between for most of the main quest. You must first rest up and gain necessary resources through your mobile camp. Yet every time you do so, you run the risk of ambush or much worse. You will then need to take the necessary provisions and travel to the next area. It is a fairly simple resource management system but works well to stop you from over farming resources, perpetuating that risk-reward system once again. All of the resources can be very difficult to manage. For instance, silver is needed to hire new hunters when they die, you can’t move without food and you need a multitude of other resources for crafting, making the very hard combat just a little easier.
One final management aspect in Alder’s Blood comes in the form of corruption and it is perhaps the most interesting. Corruption is something that every hunter has innate in them. Most start negligible but the more horrors they see and longer they last, the more corrupted they become. This often makes you afraid to use your camp for fear of losing your best member. It is a wonderfully grim mechanic.
What makes this just that little bit more evil is the sacrifice mechanic. You may choose to sacrifice a hunter who is corrupted, or perfectly healthy if you’re a sadist, to bolster another with experience necessary for getting stronger.
Fundamentally, like XCOM, Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon, Alder’s Blood on Nintendo Switch is a game for masochists. Its punishingly difficult combat systems and brutal resource management often make it a chore to play. Luckily, also like XCOM, Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon, it is great, dark and will stick with you well after its play time.
Release date: March 2020
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks to: No Gravity Games