Fat Dog Games’ Exorder has two main selling points. Firstly, it intends to provide newcomers to strategy an accessible entry point. Secondly, it boasts a bright, vibrant look – what the Steam page calls ‘Anti-Depressant’ colors. Exorder’s glib and goofy world provides the occasional grin, and some interesting unit abilities set it apart from similar games. But a cut and paste high fantasy setting offers little reason to become invested, and its plodding pace is more likely to drive you to a state of permanent ennui than cure your depression.
Although most of my time was spend with the 12 mission campaign, the skirmish mode is the purest representation of Exorder at its best. Free of the events and special win conditions that make so much of the campaign a chore, it’s a simple head to head of map control, point capture, and force building.
You’ll start with a hero unit, a castle, and a small gold income each turn. The hero has no special abilities – they’re just a bit tougher than anyone else. You train units instantly at your castle, only restricted by your gold supplies. Once trained, certain units can capture houses on the map, which increase your income. Capture the enemies castle, and you win the match.
The time between is spent building a force of units with complementary abilities, and then attempting to avoid those units blocking each other in the extremely narrow walkways that the maps consist of. There’s also some fighting in there somewhere, I guess. Pick a dude, pick an enemy dude, tell your dude to hit their dude. I’m sure you know how this works by now. BUT WAIT. In a slight twist on standard turn based, most units have a counter-attack ability. This means that wounding-but-not-killing an enemy unit is going to get you hit back, making you more likely to lose units on your opponent’s turn. It adds an extra layer of consideration, but stops attacks from ever truly feeling satisfying, since there’s almost always a downside to everything you do.
It probably makes sense at this point to have a quick roster rundown of the sort of units you’ll be commanding in Exorder, as this is where all the variety comes from. I may have forgotten some of the actual names of these units, so don’t quote me on anything.
Basic McArmour: Your bog standard, budget footsoldiers. Moves. Hit things next to him. Cannot, for some reason, move his sword far enough the left or right to hit diagonally. Must be the armor, I guess.
Sir Crossbow: Extremely fragile. Has a two tile range. Has the exciting ability to point his crossbow diagonally.
Rick Shithouse: Big lad, this one. Hits hard. Shrugs off damage with a hearty chuckle, though by no means invincible. Proud owner of a large shield. Can push friendlies or enemies back a few tiles.
Bomb on Wheels: A bomb on some wheels. Blows up self. Hurts nearby units. Fearless lad. Dedicated to the cause.
Beetle: Some sort of large, beetle-like creature. Most likely a beetle. Big. Slow. Attacks at range for heavy damage. but is vulnerable close up.
Illusionist: Ah, the illusionists. These guys are the most interesting thing in all of Exorder. Using their illusionist powers of illusiony illusion, they can create – wait for it – illusions of other units. These doppelganger troops can still deal damage, but disappear after taking a single hit – usually a counterattack. So, the idea is that you stick a couple of illusionists in your back row, weaken an enemy mob with illusions, then move your main troops in for the killing blows before they get off any counter attacks. It’s fun. But this is as interesting as Exorder gets.
It’s hard to define the magic formula that makes the best TBS games so compelling, and as such, it’s difficult to pinpoint why Exorder feels so flat in comparison. You’re always aware of the enemies capabilities, and attacks never fail or provide any unexpected effects. The AI’s one difficulty setting is predictable enough to counter, without being defined enough to for you to create well-honed, multi-move tactical advances. The enemy’s resources are obscured, although you can weaken their unit building capabilities by controlling the resource providing structures. It all coalesces into something that’s never random enough to be truly unpredictable, but never so clearly defined to create tight, puzzle-like dilemmas.
The setting, too, never takes itself seriously enough to emotionally invest in, but presents its central conflict too earnestly to ever be genuinely funny. The campaign darts between cartoonish melodrama and high adventure, but fails to enliven the whimsical setting with any real stakes. There’s some charming creature designs, to be fair, and the occasional one liner is good for a laugh. Overall, though, Exorder just feels bland, with nothing to separate its fantasy world from any other.
Stripped away of any compelling story or setting, then, it’s left for the campaign to provide variety through its missions, and it does. The problem is, the further it moves away from the standard skirmish formula, the weaker the missions become. A good third of the missions are tutorials, meant to acquaint you with various unit abilities for multiplayer.
Another third are the larger battles, and these can be fun, providing you can put up with Exorder’s painfully slow speed. (There’s a menu option to speed this up, but even so, waiting for 10 or more units to take their turn is never fun). The remaining third are escort missions, where you’ll have just a small handful of units, and usually end up with you working out how best to cheese the AI to slip past them. Even in victory, these missions never felt anything close to satisfying, just painful, trial-and-error slogs I was relieved to be done with.
Should You Buy It?
I honestly wish I could recommend Exorder, in some way. It’s another small project, with a team of just three developers, and there’s very little that’s actually offensive about it. But, perhaps by trying too hard to make a game for everyone, they’ve made a game for no-one. If you’re an experienced strategy player, there’s nothing for you here. If you’re new to the genre, a much better start would be spending time with a more complicated title on an easier setting, or just learning as you go along. What small moments of fun Exorder provides are, unfortunately, drowned out by drudgery. There’s just no reason to spend your time, or your money here, when there’s so many other titles more worthy of your attention.
Available from Steam