Oaken – Preview
Follow Genre: Roguelike, Deckbuilding,Strategy, Turn-based tactics
Developers: Laki Studios
Publisher: Goblinz Publishing
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested on: PC

Oaken – Preview

Good: Good ideas, deep systems
Bad: Temporary lack of content
User Score
8.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)

The deckbuilding and strategy genres tend to go hand in hand. More often than not this is due to the nature of card games themselves, where players take time to think about what they should do next. However, a more particular subgenre fuses both of these with turn-based tactics in order to create something completely unique. A pair of good examples of what can be accomplished with such a system would be Armello or Duelyst, whose ranks Oaken is now joining.

As is often common with roguelike games, Oaken’s story is not its main focus. The game takes place in the Great Oak, a world of tree spirits where the magical energy keeping everything alive is waning. Players see themselves as The Lady, as she pilgrimages to the center of this world in order to restore its life source. Along the way, she’ll also meet several companions who will provide her with more information about the Great Oak and its inhabitants. However, these conversations are shallow and only occur before boss fights, only really adding snippets of lore to the experience.

The game’s graphics are a rather good combination of 2D art for the cards with 3D models for the tabletop models. Alongside these, there are also a handful of cutscenes featuring short animations, although these are rather few and far between. The main drawback the game currently suffers from is the lack of creature variety, which is limited to a handful of spirits and their dark counterparts. However, this is rather understandable due to the Early Access state of the game, with more areas and creatures to come later on.

Oaken’s sound design is also rather good, with a great soundtrack and alright SFX which are also somewhat limited in the game’s current state. Other than that, there isn’t much else to mention about this part of the game, with no voice acting or other remarkable traits to point out. Similar to the spirit designs, the soundtrack is also slated to see an increase in the number of songs featured.

As previously stated, Oaken’s gameplay is a combination of deckbuilding and turn-based tactics arranged in a roguelike structure. The game is currently divided into three acts, each subdivided into several different kinds of levels which players may choose in a path system akin to that of Slay The Spire. These levels can be broadly classified into battles and events, the first offering rewards based on objective completion and difficulty, while the events provide a few options to choose from.

During these battles, players will have a hand of four cards to deploy and a bar of Lumi (the game’s mana) which these cards require to be cast. Additionally, The Lady will always be in play and serve as the origin point for any cards played. Out of the cards players will be able to play, there are two kinds, creatures and spells, with their range depending on where The Lady is positioned and other factors.

Out of these factors, the most relevant one is the “frontal arc”, which all creatures have and which, in the case of The Lady, specifies the range of certain spells.  This frontal arc determines which tiles a creature can attack and if they’ll retaliate against incoming damage. In order to change the positioning, players will be able to move their creatures as well as rotate them. Certain creatures with special traits will also have an extended frontal arc or other effects reliant on it.

Besides this, Oaken’s combat system also includes a few other noteworthy items, such as creature abilities and tile effects. These tile effects come with specially marked tiles and may provide bonuses or disadvantages to creatures standing on them. The best example would be grass tiles, from which ally creatures often benefit by gaining power, healing, and more. Besides these, other tiles such as runes or amber exist, providing even more effects to play around with.

One particularly noteworthy gimmick in Oaken is its card exhaustion system. This exhaustion can come due to two factors: fatigue or overplay. On the one hand, fatigue can be applied to creatures by certain enemies known as “voiceless”, temporarily reducing their hp and making them unplayable should it equal their maximum. On the other hand, overplay occurs if a player utilizes the same card twice in a single battle. Should a card be played once, it’ll enter a “blurry” state, indicating a second cast will exhaust it until the end of the act. Overall, this exhaustion system forces players to play more carefully, although the lack of countermeasures can often make a run a certain loss should too many cards be affected.

Besides exhaustion, the player’s cards can also be affected in other ways outside of combat, namely by upgrades and wisps. Upgrades simply increase the stats of the cards in exchange for some of the game’s currency, while wisps provide unique effects to a single card before being consumed. These wisps can mainly be obtained in event tiles and rest areas, although combats will at times also provide them. However, both of these systems only apply to creature cards, with spell cards having their own unique upgrade system, reliant on “Lumi Orbs” to obtain better effects.

Other than these systems, Oaken also allows players to choose a loadout before each run. Here they’ll be able to select their “guide”, which will determine some of the starting cards in the deck as well as one of the Lady’s skills and her starting trinket. These skills also require Lumi to be used, providing effects such as heals, buffs, or creating grass tiles on command. Similar to spell cards, these abilities can also be improved by consuming two Lumi Orbs in order to obtain a more powerful version.

Conclusion

Oaken is an entertaining and unique take on several genres with deep systems which will only see improvement as time goes by. In its current state, the game is already more than enjoyable enough for those who know what to expect. The game simply lacks some more variation and content. Sold for €16,99/$17.99/£15.99, the game is reasonably priced, although perhaps waiting for updates or a sale would be a good idea.

Personal Opinion

“I’ve quite enjoyed my time with Oaken, although I did have some qualms with its systems. At the moment, the game is simply too easy to beat, although it still manages to suck up a decent amount of time due to speed of combat. While the encounters themselves don’t tend to be particularly hard, they feature a LOT of enemies with which the player will have to deal, with only a few cards. Although the deck can be expanded, finding new cards isn’t as common as one could expect, on top of the exhaustion system already limiting the amount which can be used. Although I agree being forced to play more tactically is not necessarily bad but being almost constantly handicapped tends to slow down the game’s pace to a crawl. Simply put, if I need to conserve my units in order to deal with ten enemies while only having four myself, each turn is going to drag on as I try to find the most optimal thing to do. Other than this, the game is pretty fun and recommendable to fans of the games mentioned in the introduction, especially once it receives more content and other improvements.”

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Oaken - Preview, 8.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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