It has been a while since we were legally allowed to step foot in a Smyths toy store but when we did in the past, my kids would always linger around the Schleich stand at the end of an aisle. If that name doesn’t ring a bell for you, you’d probably recognise these toys by sight. They’re the solid, highly detailed models of animals, dinosaurs and, more recently, the Eldrador Creatures. This latter collection is a fantasy based line of creatures that hail from elemental based sections of the imaginary world of Eldrador. Polar bears with ice chunks for armour. Armoured turtles with a rock covered shell. Lava dragons. The works. The models themselves are all very cool with some impressive details and imaginative takes on fantasy tropes.
To the point – German developer Independent Arts Software (Bibi Blocksberg, Big Bobby Car) have teamed with publisher Wild River (Crazy Machine VR, The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes) to release a game based on this toy set imaginatively called Eldrador Creatures. In this universe, 4 elemental based forces all fight to take ownership of the Ultimate Weapon, a magic sword, which will give them the power to rule over the rest of the lands. In the game, the player gets to choose which elemental area to align themselves with – lava, ice, jungle or rock – and then set out to conquer the rest of Eldrador with an evolving team of creatures. It’s not the most imaginative set up for a game but as a window dressing that draws in its target audience, it does its job.
That target audience isn’t me. According to the press release, Eldrador Creatures is aiming to be “Your Kid’s First Step Into Turn-Based Gaming”. This title is specifically designed for children and wants to be their first foray into the TBS genre. That means I’m about 20 years outside of the target demographic (*crumbles to dust*). Thankfully, I’ve got a house full of kids that are bored to tears by the lockdown and wanted to get stuck into this game. I’ve sat and played this game through with my 8 year old twins, watched my 11 year old play it through to completion and even helped my 5 year old have a go (important to note that Eldrador Creatures has a PEGI rating of 7 and I’m just a terrible dad for letting him play). They’ve all had quite a lot of fun with this game.
There’s just one single player game mode in Eldrador Creatures which encapsulates the whole experience. Upon starting this mode, the first decision the player has to make is which kingdom they’re going to fight for. This choice is made on a map divided into 5, each corner of which has the thematic look of that area’s element surrounding a central area which contains the Ultimate Weapon. No matter which team you choose, you start the game by repelling invaders from your home turf before moving onto other sections of the map as an invader.
The first chapter of this game is an in-depth tutorial which is contextually identical no matter which tribe you choose with just the visuals changing. At each node along a path on the map, a battle is triggered and the game hand holds the player through the mechanics. The aim of every fight in Eldrador Creatures is to defeat the opposing forces before they can destroy your own. The battle ground is grid bound and the play is turn and round based with the order in which units can be used displayed at the top of the screen. In every scrap, the player is allowed to take three of their own creatures into battle. During a unit’s turn, they’re allowed to move and attack once and can do so in any order. Once very unit has had their turn at the end of a round, the player gets the chance to use single use Mini-creatures which can buff or nerf a units abilities. The maps that the teams fight on take various different structures and eventually include things like impassable barriers linked to buttons, mobile hazards that damage units, spike traps that can be triggered from a different part of the map and destructible barricades which can be used to funnel enemies. This tutorial area does a fantastic job of explaining its turn based game play in step by step terms which are easy to understand, even for a 5 year old.
Each faction’s army grows and evolves as the player progresses through the game into new areas. While each army looks wildly different, they all develop to have 5 classes of fighter which are mechanically all the same. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses to use or exploit in a fight. The basic infantry type unit (a lava golem, a polar bear, a jungle monster or a skeleton warrior depending on your faction) does a decent amount of damage, can move a reasonable distance and has 3 hearts of health. They’re dependable but will crash out if they come up against stronger foes alone. Compare that to the tank type units (A sabre tooth tiger, a lava scorpion, a turtle or a gorilla) who can’t cross a battle field quickly or deal out lots of damage but can absorb a lot of punishment before falling or the scout style creature that can travel long distances each turn but isn’t particularly handy in a fight. The last unit type to unlock to each faction – a dragon – is their strongest but can be defeated with coordinated attacks. Pitting your own forces against the appropriate enemy creatures in order to exploit their weaknesses is a tactic that Eldrador Creatures doesn’t explicitly teach but certainly guides the player towards.
While the steady drip feed of new unit types was the most exciting aspect for some of my kids, my Pokemon obsessed 11 year old enjoyed a different aspect of Eldrador Creatures – their evolving skill sets. When they first arrive, each unit only has a basic attack to use but after some use, they develop a special power. This power can be activated in lieu of a normal attack and is unique to each class. The tank enemies can repel all damage taken during a single turn. The infantry type can go into over watch and will damage any unit that steps into any grid space surrounding it for a turn. The scout can create a duplicate of itself to confuse the enemy. Each unit will also gain passive abilities as the player progresses around the map including a chance of landing a critical hit during an attack or the ability to counter attack.
Each node battle on the Eldrador Creatures map will judge the players performance based on the number of turns taken in order to win the battle. Beat or match the par number of moves for that match and you’ll get 3 out of 3 stars. The more turns you take to win, the fewer stars you get. This is an aspect that drove my eldest child in the game to really explore those special powers. Towards the end of the game, he’s suckering in enemies by placing duplicates near spike traps than activating them with another unit like he’d been playing turn based strategy games for years. This was his first TBS game and I doubt it’ll be his last based on how much he enjoyed this game.
Eldrador Creatures is really smart in the way that it makes what is traditionally a complex game play style palatable for children. All of the tutorial steps are both shown in text and are fully voiced. This is incredibly helpful for younger players who just want to play rather than read what to do before getting to do so. The UI is very easy to read and intuitive to use, explained thoroughly via the narrator. The structure of play and aim of each battle is defined really early on and doesn’t change. The maps on which you do battle are always 2D and while they become ever more complicated as you progress with walls and traps that require some coordination in unit placement, they’re never too complicated for kids to grasp. The proof is in the pudding as my 11 year old managed to complete the game without any help at all, the 8 year old twins got 3 quarters of the way through the game (about 6 hours of play) before needing some help from me and my 5 year old was happy plodding along at his own pace with the occasional helping hand.
What’s more, you can see the effort that has gone in to making turn based strategy fun for kids here. The classes for all 4 of the available armies all look really cool. Each unit has their own defeat animation which ties into their visual style. The lava golem, for example, looks like it’s having a tantrum by throwing its sword into the ground and screaming before it explodes. When you do manage to destroy an opponent’s creature, you also get a little sound bite from the narrator. Some of these are contextual based on the opposing faction too, such as “we sure got to the root of that problem” when facing off against a plant based jungle creature. Sure, a lot of these are delivered with the same level of corniness as Arnold Schwarzenegger dropping ham fisted one liners in Batman & Robin but my kids sure got a kick out of them. Then there’s the way you receive the Mini-Creatures which are awarded after winning a battle. These arrive in little virtual blind bags which open up with a press of X. My personal feelings on blind bags aside, the anticipation on what powers they get from these packages when they win was palpable from my elder children.
There are a few things about Eldrador Creatures that my kids pointed out could be improved. My eldest son was disappointed that there was no type of multiplayer options or content beyond the main mode. The ground work is certainly there for a local ‘pass the controller’ mode but it’s not included. All of my kids initially had an issue with one of the special abilities too – the recreation of a decoy unit by the scout type – as it has the possibility to block off the only way forward. Place the decoy in the wrong place and there’s no option to destroy it until it has cooled down and you’re able to use the power again.
These issues didn’t do much to cool my brood’s admiration this game though. My youngest son asked me to quote them directly – “This game is really cool and good and I hope there’s another one because the lava scorpion is cool. It’s not too easy but it’s not hard and I like the dragons. I give it 15 out of 10″. So, there you have it.
My personal thoughts on Eldrador Creatures are a little less complementary. If you’re an adult with any experience with turn based strategy games, this title will feel incredibly basic. But this game wasn’t designed for us. It was designed for children and if your own kids are anything like mine, they’ll get a kick out of this game.
A great introductory game to the turn based strategy genre for younger gamers, Eldrador Creatures puts kids at the centre of its design. It probably could and should have been more than it is and this game won’t entertain TBS veterans but if you’re looking for something to entertain the kids in what remains of the lockdown, this game is worth a shot.
Eldrador Creatures is available now on PS4 (Review platform), PC and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Independent Arts
Publisher: Wild River
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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