Oaken is a deck-building tactical turn-based game with roguelike mechanics. It’s been a while since I played a turn-based game so trying out this game got me really excited.
Being a newcomer in the genre, I knew very little of Oaken. Just a heads up, the only thing that I am aware of in the game are the things written on its Steam page. That’s it.
Visuals, Music, and Audio
Going in blind into the Oaken Early Access, I was welcomed by great music and stunning artwork. The spirits, pathfinder, and the lady look great. Surely, the developers did a great job in the character design.
Moving on to the tiles or cards, the design looks gorgeous. It works really well with the rounded hexagon cards. It even looks greater once it is laid out on the deck. The cards reminded me of NFTs – templated yet having their own character.
The music, as mentioned earlier, keeps up the vibe and pairs well with the environment that the developers wanted to convey.
However, there is one problem with the audio. The characters have no voice. It gets irritating as they grunt and breathe with every word.
The game starts with a quick tutorial that provides an overview of the game. For beginners like me, it is a nice touch. But it is not enough to get good immediately.
The cards show the attack and health stats. Once the health drops to zero, the character dies.
Moving through the hexagonal map is easy. It is just drag-and-drop. The same mechanic applies when attacking or using a spell. There is also an undo button too if you miscalculate your move.
The beginning games introduce the different skills and effects too such as Haste – which allows one character to move twice. Impale is also a spell card that can be used early on in the game.
Counter attacks are available too. The tooltip shows that if an attacking unit hits an enemy from its frontal arc then a counterattack might happen.
For strategists, hovering over an enemy will show their capabilities and skills. This information may then be used to think of ways to defeat the enemies.
Another thing to consider is the Lumi – the equivalent of mana, which is used for skills.
Once you are further into the game, the map is introduced with legends showing what to expect in certain areas.
There are areas with events, refuge, battle, encounters, elite, or bosses. Some areas are locked and are only accessible once you finish one area.
Every match has certain objectives too which makes me barely pass some levels. I remember one game where I had to kill multiple enemies and I was too focused on that and I forgot the other missions. In the end, I lost.
One thing that I love about the game is the implementation of tile effects like Haste. Some effects power-up or weaken certain cards too, which is great as it adds depth to the combat mechanics.
Lastly, the game mentioned roguelike elements but the game is more on the tactical turn-based side. Surely, there are roguelike features like Slay the Spire yet in the end, the strategy is all that matters – for now.
Like any other deck building game, Oaken offers deck customization. It will be up to you to build your deck to its fullest.
I just stuck with the default one as it felt balanced. But there is an expert too and it requires a better understanding of customizing a deck.
Right now, it felt like the offensive deck is way stronger than the defensive one. Just a quick tip, once you get going.
Prepare for a learning curve
It may be just me, but there is a learning curve to the game. Despite having helpful tooltips, I often find myself winning or losing without a clue of what is happening in-game.
With one step, I can damage the opponents yet with another move, the enemy suddenly wins.
So for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, it might take a while to finally fully understand the game.
Although the game is quite confusing at first, it is safe to say that learning it slowly is worth it because once you get the hang of it, the game gets better and better.
What I want to see in the future
If there is one thing that I would like to see next, then that would be a more in-depth tutorial. Right now, it is fine to get into Oaken early access and start right away. But as the game progresses, it felt really challenging.
No, that is not a bad thing, yet not knowing what to do felt frustrating at times, especially during the early parts of the game.
An in-depth tutorial would solve that problem. Perhaps, an option to disable it if you need some challenge.
Another thing that an expanded tutorial can solve is the confusion with fatigue. I think it is better to introduce these elements during the tutorial and not so sudden in-game.
It is understandable that these mechanics add the element of surprise in-game as it progresses. But for beginners like me, it is frustrating that suddenly I need to deal with fatigue.
Oaken Early Access Impressions
All in all, Oaken is a fantastic game that you should try. The music is imaginative while the art style is dazzling.
It might be confusing at first and I agree if that is your experience too. The game and the elements surrounding it will make you take your time. Understanding the game fully does not happen overnight.
I admit I am not the best at strategy games, but even I am hooked. It is a great way to start venturing into the strategy genre.
For an early access game, the potential is there. It does need some tweaking, especially with the UI – probably larger texts to make some buttons more noticeable and as I’ve mentioned more tutorial options.
Oaken Early Access comes out on May 3 and will be available on Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac, and the Nintendo Switch.