Lornsword Winter Chronicle is a story-driven action strategy with elements of RPG by Tower Five, currently in Steam Early Access. You have direct control of your hero and can command soldiers to gather into troops and lead them to battle as well as set up your economy, build your bases and use magic that allows you to teleport, summon powerful spirits into the thick of the battle. I had an opportunity to play the game for a couple of hours across the prologue and a couple of first chapters.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle is meant to be played with a controller – Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam controllers are fully supported. While playing the game using just a keyboard (the mouse is not used at all) is possible, I would suggest staying away from the game at its current state unless you have a controller to use. My keyboard skills have not been challenged in this way since the time of the original Witcher. Below you can find the default control scheme for keyboard and for a controller:
It is possible to change the keyboard bindings according to your wishes.
Having cleared up controls, let’s dive into how the game actually feels like and its gameplay features:
Lornsword Winter Chronicle features a beautiful aesthetic, remindful of stained glass and seemingly a mix of Banner Saga hand-drawn way with Tyranny’s stylization. The game does not shy away from bright colors and paints an amazing picture both in cut scenes/cinematics and during the gameplay itself.
The game starts with a nightmare of the protagonist: a horde of zombie-like humanoids slowly but inescapably destroying a random base in the middle of nowhere. Our hero awakens with a gasp to exchange words with his wife and send his children to sleep.
The writing quality is decent; however, some choice of words had me confused:
Expectedly, the protagonist receives an answer that he would stay dead to the lamentations of his wife and daughters. I understand the need to let new players know that dying means restarting the game, but looking at this particular dialogue from the standpoint of a veteran at war rather than your in-game avatar at the very beginning of a new campaign is plain weird. There are a few moments like this throughout the first two chapters of the game.
There has been a fair number of RTS utilizing hero units and elements of RPG, such as SpellForce 3, but Lornsword Winter Chronicle chose its own path, unlike any before. While the game gives you an opportunity to control your forces, you do not have direct control over their actions. Instead, you gather nearby idle units in groups, where they are bound to follow your character, and then release them where you want them. If there are hostile NPCs or buildings, your units will attack them and continue doing so until the threat is dealt with or your squad has been killed. Afterward (or if there was no threat, to begin with), the units will follow a pre-decided path and look for enemies tackle.
The only way to make sure your armies are where you want them to be is to manually grab the units and move them to the place of action. With battles happening all around the map, it feels a bit like herding sheep.
Your hero also has access to some magic abilities, with the prime one being summoning powerful beings of one of the four elements (Water, Earth, Fire, Air). Summoning requires having an altar of that element built and an excessive amount of mana. That summoning then goes on a lengthy cooldown. Roughly saying, you can allow yourself a single summoning spell before having to restore the fickle mana/stamina (you spend in on running around as well).
The only direct way of doing so is collecting spheres of mana from the very altars that give you an ability to summon elementals. This is where your character’s ability to teleport back to base (default: Backspace) comes very handy.
The gameplay loop quickly becomes the following: grab a bunch of minions off your main base, march them nearby one of the enemy’s bases and release, summon whatever you can that is not on cooldown, teleport back to base, rinse and repeat until the enemy is defeated.
The hero also has other, non-combat magic abilities, namely Farsight and Blink. Farsight allows you to scout what is happening around your buildings located some distance away. The areas outside of the ones directly surrounding the current location of your buildings, hero, and armies remain covered by a Fog of War. Lornsword Winter Chronicle doesn’t have a minimap so using Farsight to keep checking on your distant camps is the best way to keep them from enemy’s hands. If a camp is attacked, you will have an icon on your screen that leads to the location, allowing you to pick up more troops and dash there.
Your avatar is also a very fragile unit with limited offensive capabilities. Even a few arrows fired at the hero’s retreating back take noticeable chunks of the HP bar. The only HP bar around, by the way. Neither the buildings nor the units spot HP bars.
The RTS part of the game – building and upgrading – proved to be more interesting than the action RPG but was not enough to lure me in for a longer stay.