Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire
Game title: Tahira: Shadows of the Astral Empire
Hilarious Horse - 8/10
Female Lead not wearing boob armour - 10/10
Use of swearing - 10/10
Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire is has two main components; a strong female lead, and a funny animal companion. Together they lead an army against brutal genocidal empire. Simple right?
Tahira is the daughter of the current ruler of Avestan who struggles with the distance and duty of her father the king. She finds companionship in her horse Iba who provides a modicum of lightheartedness through his disgruntled whinnying and love for food.
Cue loss and heartbreak which leads to the inevitable vengeance story. During the prologue — during which a farmstead belonging to beloved friends is ransacked — players get their first taste of the warlike Astral Empire. The liberal use of expletives was at first a shock, but it fit with the overall tone and demeanour of the Empire. Battling these warmongers is what much of the title consists of. A turn based system with a distinct grid is how these encounters play out, using a variety of actions to engage the foe. Later, with more soldiers in my command, more tactical choices became available bringing out the seasoned tabletop, wargamer in me.
The combat system is generally very impressive. Just one small aspect that appeaed to my sense of strategy was how the Knights of Avestan gain a bonus if they are flanking. Tahira isn’t just another standard solo adventure. Players must use their available units to the utmost in order to succeed. That being said, our hero Tahira is no slouch in battle either. Able to command abilities with her staff, she can lay waste to numerous foes if positioned correctly and well protected.
There are multiple missions and encounters to tackle, including pitched battles, civilian rescues and more which keep things from getting stale. Oftentimes, battles didn’t play out at all how I expected them to. A notable example was during a raid by desert barbarian tribes on my soldiers’ camp. Instead of killing the grunts and saving the hot headed chief for a juicy last trophy, I went straight for the head honcho. The remaining barbarians lost the vigor and remarked that as the dead chief no longer spoke for them, they did not wish to fight. An excellent and unexpected touch.
The events of the game take place over what seems to be the course of a night, bringing many frantic elements to the fore. It does seem a little odd that everything occurs in such a short period of time though. Setting the story over the course of a campaign appeals to me more on a sense of realism.
The character models and art style are definitely something to behold, being animated by the tremendously laborious rotoscoping technique. Each character has roughly 450 hand drawn frames. This is quite a feat and as such it’s easy to overlook the reuse of character assets. In fact, after my first kill I said to myself “Wow that guy’s death animation was really smooth.” Maybe a little morbid, but with the overall tone, can you blame me?
A small downside of visuals, are the character portraits. The character portraits seem ugly in comparison to the gorgeous animation. They’re flat featured and roughly coloured and share a style with the static backgrounds share, but where the backgrounds are merely window dressing, the portraits are critical and some detailed illustrations would not have been wasted. Admittedly, I had a hard time developing an attachment to the characters because of the roughness of the portraits.
On a different tack, the sound design is remarkable and definitely hits the right notes. The music swells and transports you to a desert consumed by conflict. The full range of sound effects and sombre atmospheric backing music of the Middle Eastern engage the player and bring them along for the ride. It’s unlikely that Tahira: Shadows of the Astral Empire appeal to the every gamer, but for indie enthusiasts it would be worth a look in.