Disciples: Liberation preview (PC)

The Disciples series is a familiar one to PC gamers who’ve been around a while. Today we’re taking a closer look at the upcoming revival of the franchise – here’s Disciples: Liberation.

What we know

Disciples: Liberation brings back a franchise that started over two decades ago in a pre-Steam era where PC games were still being installed from CD-ROM discs. While the first two games in the series were very well received, the third one (which launched about ten years ago) didn’t fare as well, so we’re hoping this is a return to the Windows 98-fueled glory days of the series.

Frima Studio, which is based on Quebec, is on development duty for Liberation, while Kalypso is publishing. As with previous games in the series this one’s a turn-based strategy title set within a dark fantasy world called Nevendaar, which you can help shape through a campaign in which your choices affect the balance of power in the world and your team’s ability to perform in battle. You’ll also have to engage in a bit of base management, which of course can also affect your performance in terms of recruitment options and battle.

Promising a campaign that’s over 80 hours long with almost 300 quests spread across three narrative acts with five endings, the scope of Disciples: Liberation is daunting. You’ll play as protagonist Avyanna, and can switch between character classes at any point during the campaign as well. This won’t change your standing with others, but will affect your combat skills and the spells and skills you have access to and can develop over time – so your choices early on are still important ones if you want to avoid spreading your skill tree resources too thin.

Although the game has firm roots in PC gaming, Disciples: Liberation will also launch for consoles, with the release date set for October 21st.

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What we saw

This is a title we definitely would have jumped on in a regular trade show season, but with the situation being the way it is we were fortunate enough to be invited by Kalypso for a developer session with Frima Studio, in which we were talked though a live gameplay demo for Disciples: Liberation. Afterwards, we also received access to the current beta build of the game, so we could go hands on with it.

What we thought

Not having played the third game in the series, it had been almost two decades since I played a Disciples game so perhaps that is part of why the experience felt fresh, but even without that background this feels like a modern approach to the genre even though it sticks to some familiar mechanics.

Combat is still grid-based, and your troops will have different units – all with their own abilities, stats and action point types. While you have two to spend each turn (per unit), some units are requires to spend at least one on a move order, whereas others are more free in how they play their turn. With color-coding, it’s an accessible gameplay element that gradually gets more complex as layers are added to it. Another interesting mechanic that is unique is the “back line”, where you can place characters who aren’t active on the battleground but who will provide boosts to the units who are. Since you have a free choice for who you’ll place there, this opens up a lot of tactical freedom.

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Of course some units have special abilities that are unique to them, and in some cases the terrain can also become a factor. How you align yourself with the different factions in the game also determines who you can recruit and how well they’ll perform, so the overworld game also factors into your battleground performance. This is where Avyanna’s actions in the city of Yllian come in, where you can place and upgrade buildings that help shape those alignments.

It’s that system of alignments that’s also going to be a driving force for the narrative, though our playthrough didn’t reveal any major changes in how the story branches just yet. We’ll assume that’s because we played an early part of the narrative, and most of the branching will happen later on to make sure you don’t end up with more than the planned five endings for the game. A similar design choice is the fact that strategic points you claim are yours to keep and aren’t lost again later – a way to keep the game moving forward through a campaign that is slated to be 80 hours long.

And this one isn’t short on content. The final game will have 41 main quests and 56 side quests, and you can add companion quests and optional ones to that list as well. All of the main characters are also fully voiced, which helps with story immersion. Because of that and the interesting combat mechanics, we can’t wait to rediscover the world of Disciples come October.

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