Hybrid genres are a risky business. On one hand you can get fantastic, unexpected combinations like Battle Chef Brigade. But you can also come up with games that are so middle of the road they become bland and unremarkable. Beastmancer is a strategy RPG, a common and, typically, successful combination. Unfortunately, Beastmancer seems to be the outlier from this rule. It’s not a bad game but it isn’t great.
A Monster Catcher for Adults
Beastmancer’s primary gameplay includes catching monsters, battling other beastmancers, and side quests in typical RPG fashion. To address the elephant in the room, yes, a lot like Pokemon. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say Beastmancer makes important changes to this formula, notably in tone and mechanics.
Beastmancer opens in typical RPG fashion. A little bit of exposition and then you’re dropped right onto the field. The tutorial is short and sweet, with unobtrusive pop-ups just detailed enough to warrant reading.
You play as the titular red headed protagonist – male or female – as they set out on their journey to participate in a beastmancer tournament. But worry not, this is not the story of how you become a beastmancer master. The game makes an unexpected pivot in its early hours. This is for the best.
Among the things I like about Beastmancer, its tone is near the top. It is meant to be enjoyed by a mature audience, dealing with death, cults, intense rivalries, and a fair bit of mystery. It’s a welcome change from the wretched coming of age narrative in most similar games. But Beastmancer fails to capitalize on a major opportunity to create a complex narrative. Instead, it reads more like a YA fantasy novel.
Beastmancer is a traditional game. There is a hub town and an overworld littered with unique interconnected areas to explore. You’ll spend time searching catacombs, caverns, beaches, and battling and catching monsters. These areas are fantasy cliches but the art is good. The map design is not overly confusing. Happily, there are no random encounters in the game, you’ll have to chase down monsters or be chased down in order to start a battle.
Combat is grid and turn based. Monsters have many types of moves and using them requires proper planning and positioning. This being said, the game isn’t terribly difficult.
My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t turn off the combat animations, and they are very slow by default. But you can change the speed in the options setting if your rig can handle it. Although, this does make the game look rather comical.
The main difference between Beastmancer and similar games is how many monsters you control at once. Players can summon as many monsters as their amount of control points (a basic stat) will support. Monsters come in two sizes, big or small. Small monsters use one point, and big monsters use two.
So 7 control points would let you use 7 small monsters, 3 large monsters and a small, or some other combination. There are a commendable number of configurations but as you get further in the game, small monsters outlive their usefulness, as most have less latent potential than their larger counterparts. Also, all legendary monsters are large.
Catching monsters consists of beating them up, without killing them, and throwing control crystals to attempt to catch them. It’s helpful that the chance of catching them is listed so, you can see if its worth using a crystal.
After you catch your beasts there’s basic leveling system with randomized growths and a couple unlockable moves, though nothing beyond level 10 to my knowledge. Raising monsters involves grinding, there’s no way around it, until later in the game. After that you’ll be extremely overpowered.
Raising a Beastmancer
Surprisingly, the more interesting leveling system is attached to the player character. Every level you can invest one point into one of six stat pools. These control how many control points you have, the chance of catching monsters, and global buffs for your monsters.
As you go, you’ll also unlock powerful spells which can heal your monsters, do global damage to enemies, and apply buffs. Standard stuff but the focus on player growth is out of place in a monster catching game, especially considering how hands-off raising a monster is in Beastmancer.
Hey, Want Some Crafting
RPGs these days have a tendency to have a lot of game systems and Beastmancer is no exception. Among the many addons, there’s a crafting system with no reason to use it.
You could grind out materials, investing a lot of time, or you can just buy what you need because you’ll be rich after training your monsters anyway. The game invalidates the purpose of many of the systems the developer bothered throwing in. I hoarded tons of materials the game told me were used in crafting, but I never found the recipes that used them. Granted, I probably didn’t do every side quest. This doesn’t really take away from the quality of the game but it also doesn’t add to it. Truthfully, I like crafting systems so I was a little disappointed that, even as a very motivated player, I found no reason to use it.
Out of Many None
There isn’t any one thing that makes Beastmancer an average game. The combat is serviceable, the writing is good enough, everything looks decent, and works well. But nothing stands out as particularly good either. Beastmancer has good ideas but there’s something missing. Nothing bonds these systems into one solid game. That’s a big problem in a review. I can’t fault the game on anything huge but I can’t give it a great deal of credit for being average either. It was a struggle to stay motivated enough to play the game all the way through. I definitely wouldn’t have completed a playthrough if I didn’t have to write this review.
Should You Buy it?
Beastmancer is an okay game. I don’t want to go as far as to say don’t buy it. But we live in a fantastic time for indie games and there are way better games to play out there. It’d be hard to justify buying this unless you really have nothing else you could be playing.
Beastmancer is available from Steam