Live By The Sword Tactics proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a throwback to old-school tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics. I do think it captures that essence rather well. But let’s dive deeper into this homage to games past and see what it’s all about.
You have my sword!
One of the standout aspects of this game is the pixel art. Character portraits are nicely detailed, and the sprite work is also well done. I wish there was more variety in the environments. The battlegrounds are pretty to look at though, and it’s very satisfying to spin the camera around them.
There is an impressive amount of content to play through when eventually unlocked. The story is available right from the start, along with Multiplayer and Skirmish modes. Adventure and Tactician both unlock after finishing the first and second acts of the story respectively. There’s also a battlefield board creator that will be available in a post-launch update. If players are familiar with any kind of turn-based tactical type gameplay, then battles are easy to follow.
For those new, the tutorial is mandatory before playing the story mode. It’s fairly in-depth when explaining the mechanics, and there’s even a little pop quiz in there too! Overall, the story didn’t seem to pose much of a challenge for me. Unless you count the annoying difficulty spike around the 5th mission. This made me have to play the scenario again and again. It did cause me to change up my tactics and actually think about where I put my man. In the end, I felt like it was a fluke that got me through. One of the enemies missed me at a critical point in the battle and that helped turn the tide. There are a few more difficulty spikes, mostly involving a heavily reduced combat team. For the most part, the story seemed pretty easy.
No progression by design
You see, Live By The Sword is a tactics game without a progression system. No experience points or levelling up. This means if a player is stuck on a certain mission, there’s no option to replay a previous one or fight some extra weaker enemies to build up stats. No cheesing through with higher levels. If the player loses the battle, it’s because they are going about it the wrong way. They need to strategize their way to victory, with the tools and team given.
When I first saw this was a feature and played through the game, it did put me off. While there are a few extra abilities available for each character outside of their initial set of four unique abilities, it quickly gets repetitive using the same actions each battle. I could switch up my roster of active battlers and shuffle up what moves they had, but it sometimes felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall. There is obviously a variety of enemies to go up against to mix things up. New members of the party are drip fed throughout the story to keep things fairly interesting too.
I know that a lack of character progression is an intended feature, but it made it very hard for me to become invested in my team. This becomes even more apparent in other modes.
A variety of modes
Tactician mode tasks the player with defeating each group of enemies in as few turns as possible. Each mission is endlessly re-playable and is scored with three possible rankings. There are unique rulesets to some missions too, giving an extra twist to the challenge. This mode really highlights the idea of replaying missions and trying to get the best possible outcome by modifying your tactics.
Adventure mode is essentially the game’s roguelite section. The player starts with a random selection of characters and must use their wits and the gold they amass to clear out increasingly challenging enemy encampments. It’s worth noting that each of the character’s four abilities is also randomized. This mode really drives home how expendable each of the characters really is. It doesn’t help that the portraits are the same as those in the story mode. One of the best parts of this mode is the ability to place locations on a world map. This essentially creates your own adventure as you go.
It’s probably better to think of them as merely a representation of a class rather than a truly fleshed-out character, with individual levels and progression. Having said that, there’s a good variation of job classes, with more coming in the future.
Now I do want to quickly mention post-launch content. At the time of recording this video, there is a pretty substantial road map over the next few months. As I mentioned before this does include a board builder, as well as ranked online matches. Adventure mode updates are also planned, along with at least 9 other character classes. That’s a fairly decent offering to look forward to. I’m not sure if they will make it compatible with the Steam Deck, and it is not something I can currently test out.
Overall Live By The Sword Tactics seems to be a game that is wider than it is deep. There’s a wide variety of playable content to experience, which is accompanied by a competent battle system. As an RPG fan, I enjoy having ever-increasing stats and numbers thrown my way, so the lack of this hurt my enjoyment. Aside from that, I think this game is a solid little tactics game, one that I would like to jump back into once more content is available.