A few weeks ago, I wrote a preview of the game Ronin, developed by Tomasz Waclawek and published by Devolver Digital. The game is a turn-based stealth action platformer where the player plays an assassin trying to kill the heads of a major corporation who killed her father. Overall I said good things about the game, and after playing it again since its release, my opinion hasn't really changed.
When the player is out of combat, the game is in real time. Player movement is simple – you can move with the left stick (or WASD) and jump by angling the right stick (or LMB). If the player jumps and it takes a second turn to land, the player may use the right stick in the air to change their trajectory with a grappling hook. Other actions are controlled by the other buttons on the controller. Once the player enters combat, which begins when the player is spotted by an enemy, the game becomes turn based.
The turn order is always the same – the player goes, then after the player turn ends, all of the enemies perform their actions simultaneously unless the enemy's attack lasts for two turns, as is the case with machine gunners. Where the enemy will attack is marked with a red line, but are not all pointed at the player. Usually there will be one enemy that will kill the player if they stay where they are and the rest are aimed at cutting the player off. The combat is about maneuvering past the lines until the player is able to find an opening and pick off the enemy soldiers one at a time.
There are three types of enemies – regular soldiers, machine gunners and future tech samurai. Regular soldiers fire one shot per turn and reload after a number of shots, which takes about two turns. Machine gunners will fire for two consecutive turns, cutting off a route of escape for the player. Both of these enemies can be knocked over and are killed in one hit. Future tech samurai take two hits to kill and will kill the player if they get too close to them when jumping over them. The samurai don't have guns, but they move across the entire room and kill the player if they are too close to the line.
The combination of the different enemy types creates an adaptive and fluid combat system. The player's approach to a room full of enemies will change according to the room's layout, what enemies are attacking and where they will strike next. It feels tense, tactical and extremely satisfying when you finally gain the upper hand in the fight, and when you stop running away from attacks each turn and finally begin to chain kill people. The variety and tactics of the combat system is also enhanced by the upgrades available to the player.
There are a number of different upgrades the player can unlock. None of them are passive abilities and each one of them adds an additional layer of depth to the combat or stealth. Abilities range from stealth kills, which hang enemies from the ceiling, to decoys to draw fire, to the ability to throw and call back your katana to kill enemies from a distance. All of the abilities are interesting, however sometimes they can be slightly overpowered.
To unlock an ability, the player must complete a level and kill all of the enemies without triggering a lock-down or killing a civilian. This makes civilians extremely dangerous, as they can trigger a lock-down and the only way to stop them from doing so is to kill them.
Ronin is a simple game when it comes to its art style. All of the character models are nondescript and the environments are very rectangular. The simplistic art direction compliments the mechanics by creating simple flat surfaces to grab onto and making it simple to move around and hide. Just because it is simplistic doesn't make it boring though. The level design and some of the backgrounds make each level feel unique and interesting. The best example of this is one of the boss' levels, which takes place in a nightclub called "Swordpoint."
However, the simplicity of Ronin's story does not help the game in any respect. What the game has in mechanical depth, it lacks in story depth. The story of Ronin boils down to "These people killed my father, I shall kill them." All we know is that the bad guys are in charge of a corporation and they're apparently bad guys. The descriptions of the bosses are their head circled in a photo and a four line anecdote about them from the player's childhood.
While Ronin isn't for the lore junkies, it takes a great premise for combat and executes it perfectly. Considering the team mostly consisted of one person, it seems that they allocated their time mostly to polishing the combat system to a shine. Ronin is at its best when the player finds themselves swinging past bullets and planning their next move to take out a room full of enemies. Ronin comes recommended to those who are looking for a game with incredible turn based combat mechanics.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed on PC with a free copy from Devolver Digital and Tomasz Waclawek.