After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hyperkinetic Studios has released their high-fantasy management sim, Epic Tavern on Steam Early Access. From it’s early days the game looked to be a fun mixture of storytelling and resource management. Players take on the role of a tavern owner who recruits bands of adventurers to complete quests and gain renown (as well as coin) to upgrade their establishments.
With the recent introduction of an autumn themed “Harvest Update” I got the chance to preview the early access release of the game. While I found plenty to enjoy about Epic Tavern’s awkward prepubescent debut, it still has a noticeably long way to go. Particularly for its current (full) price.
At the start of the game, players get a brief tutorial to familiarize them with the basic UI controls. The party of heroes is controled through the roster tab. This is where you level up party members and equip gear. From there you shift to the map tab where you can select quests and assign adventurers.
Getting to Work
Apart from tending to your team you also have to keep the tavern stocked with food and drinks each night. To do this, you’ll need to open another tab. With so many different tabs and functions the interface quickly becomes cumbersome. It’s difficult to get a decent overview without cycling through several unnecessary tabs along the way. Since so many gameplay elements rely on navigating the UI, it’s not easy to overlook this problem.
Once the night has ended your selected adventurers will embark on their quests. Players can observe the party’s actions as they roll against random encounters and complete missions. There are a good number of quests available with interesting story beats sprinkled throughout. The random encounters, on the other hand, tend to repeat themselves to the point of feeling like filler material. It might be tempting to ignore them altogether, but doing so hobbles the storytelling elements of the game. Basically, you’ll be skimming a lot of text to find the important lore bits.
A Round for my Friends
After a hard day of adventuring the party returns to the tavern to tend wounds and fill their bellies. Here players are able to carry out a set number of actions per night to take care of their patrons and learn more about their heroes. Becoming better acquainted with those in your employ can unlock more quests with greater rewards. This was especially welcome since up to this point I’d begun to think all the adventures were completely generic and interchangeable.
Part of my confusion was due to the game’s limited character models. With only so many body types and outfits to share around it’s difficult to distinguish your BFF fire mage from every other skull wearing orc that turns up for a sip of ale. If the heroes were all randomly generated (as I’d initially believed) this might be easier to forgive. However, after seeing other player’s screenshots I realized these same characters are used over and over. Which begs the question, why aren’t these characters more developed?
Early in my playthrough two party members met an untimely demise. Aside from the game seemingly unable to adapt to this loss, there weren’t any apparent penalties for my mistakes. None of the other characters grew somber or even acknowledged the pile of corpses stacking up in the corner. Hell, the roster tab still gave me notifications when the dead had gained a new level. This vital lack of feedback or consequence is an especially noticeable oversight in Epic Tavern.
As a management game that promises RPG elements it does a sadly lackluster job of developing its characters. Rather than building relationships with those you employ it quickly feels like you’re just going through the motions and re-used dialogue to unlock quests. If one of your team falls in combat you just recruit the next barfly who walks through the door and pick right back up where you left off.
The Life of the Party
This is where the early access build of Epic Tavern really misses its potential. It already functions well (minus bugs and glitches) as an addictive management simulator. Players are encouraged to unlock and upgrade the tavern, even if some features aren’t quite up to par yet. Meanwhile the RPG elements in Epic Tavern just seem to fall flat.
Hopefully the team at Hyperkinetic has plans to correct this oversight quickly. Despite playing more like a beta release, Epic Tavern currently costs $24.99 on Steam. While a more fleshed out version certainly has the potential to be worth the price, it’s current iteration still leaves much to be desired.