Stoneshard is a brutal turn-based RPG, available now on Steam in Early Access
Stoneshard only improves in the future and will eventually leave Early Access as a robust, feature-filled experience. For now, I would probably steer clear however and wait for the improvements to come first. Stoneshard is a brutal turn-based RPG, available now on Steam in Early Access, that combines an open world fantasy setting with rogue-like elements. Developed by Ink Stains Games, Stoneshard is the answer to the question “What if the Dark Souls developers made a 16-bit rogue-like version of Diablo?” It’s a beautiful yet challenging RPG that offers a lot despite missing a few key features. But does it scratch the itch that hardcore players crave? Stoneshard’s prologue introduces you to a key character that will play a big role later on. The prologue does a fantastic job of showcasing a lot of the features available as well as introduces several different aspects of combat, including melee, ranged and spellcasting. I was disappointed that this wasn’t the main character to play after the prologue, unfortunately. So, every piece of gear and my decisions when leveling up were moot. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have spent so much time playing Tetris with the loot in my inventory. The boss fight at the end felt satisfying and had just the right amount of challenge. I died a couple of times before finding a tactic that worked, and I liked that when I died, I just respawned at the beginning of the level as if it were a checkpoint. Unfortunately, the main game is not nearly as forgiving as this prologue, and I was lulled into a false sense of security before really getting into the gameplay proper. For anyone interested in what Stoneshard has to offer, there is a free version where this prologue is completely playable. Be warned, however, that this is markedly easier than the main game.
The actual beginning of Stoneshard starts off in an unassuming countryside village. There are four different character archetypes to choose from: Reaver, Maiden Knight, Woodward, and Sorceress. Each class is free to eventually use any weapon and spell in the game, but they start off both with gear and stats favoring a specific playstyle. I tried each of these classes – several times – before finding one that I jived with. There will definitely be experimentation involved for each player to determine which one’s playstyle suits them the best. I thought I would try the knight path at first since the character in the prologue was primarily a warrior as well and he seemed pretty powerful. Unfortunately, my times playing as the knight always ended abruptly and very painfully. It seemed like if I was ever outnumbered, it would pretty much end in my death. The knight just didn’t seem tanky enough to survive the beginning levels. Next, I tried the stealthy Woodward, who is an archer type, to try and pick off targets at range with my bow and arrow before I could get outnumbered. Fighting at range felt a lot better to me, and I survived considerably longer every time I tried the Woodward. It seems as if he has a natural boost towards accuracy as well since I was never able to hit anything with a bow on any other character. This time, however, my archer sprang a trap and injured his leg – resulting in my eventually bleeding out to death before I could escape the dungeon I was in. This stressed the importance to always carry around several types of healing items. Unfortunately, these items are both expensive and pretty rare in the beginning. So on my next character, I rolled the Sorceress to see if there was any healing spell I could use in such situations. Alas, there are no such spells in the game as of yet. Since Stoneshard is still in early access, there’s a lot that seems to be missing. Available to the mage right now is only Pyromancy and Geomancy type magics. I find the Sorceress to be my least favorite class to play. She seems extremely weak, and the beginning magic has a fairly short range and a relatively long cooldown time. I have yet to even clear a single contract with her, and I spend more of my time running away from enemies than I do fighting them with the Sorceress. I am excited to see what new magic gets added throughout this Early Access period, but I don’t think I’ll re-visit the Sorceress until then. My most successful runs have always been with the Woodward character, but I’ve actually had more success dual-wielding daggers than I have at being strictly ranged. Like I said, it’s going to take some experimentation to see which class works for you – and even which combination of their skills to be utilized as well. The maneuverability offered by some of the dagger skills as well as the option to pick targets off at range gave me the tools I needed to survive the initial dungeons. Stoneshard is by no means an easy game. In fact, only the most avid rogue-like fans or hardcore masochists would really enjoy this. I struggled with a lot of the mechanics in the game that are not player-friendly, such as only being allowed to save when you sleep in a bed. Gold is precious, and renting a room for the night just to save seems overly brutal. I wish there was just a permanent house I could sleep in, instead of paying the innkeeper every time. Since Stoneshard launched in Early Access, there have actually been a number of improvements to some of these quality of life features, including how many possible places there are to save. Before, you could only sleep at the inn in order to save, but now there are outside camps as well as beds when a bandit camp has been cleaned out that I could save at. There have also been a number of small tweaks and bug fixes since Early Access launched as well. I really appreciate that the developers are so committed to improving Stoneshard and really making it a better experience, slowly but surely. There has been ample communication between the devs and the players regarding upcoming features, changes, patch notes, etc. I can’t help but make constant comparisons to other notable titles. There seems to be a lot that Stoneshard borrows – if only in tone – that really pulls together a level of polish and design that few games can offer right now. First, there are a lot of similarities to Baldur’s Gate that I see. From the innkeeper to the way that travel is done between maps, to the dialogue system, and certain functions like Detect Traps skill and lockpicking that is very D&D centric. It all feels heavily inspired by the famous old-school CRPG. Likewise, there are some Witcher III similarities that I can’t help but make, like how I am a mercenary taking on contracts for random jobs. The starting town and a lot of the world-building discovered through talking to townspeople also feel like it’s taken a page out of the Witcher’s playbook. Lastly, it’s hard not to see the Diablo comparisons that so many will immediately notice. The inventory management system is the biggest influence from Diablo, with even the UI and art looking directly influenced by Diablo’s style. Magic modifiers on items are also present, including White for normal items and Blue for rare items. With certain scrolls, you can even re-roll the stats on an item by enchanting it. There are more influences present in Stoneshard, but those are the biggest three that I feel really bring the overarching tone and world-building into perspective. The game is uniquely its own without borrowing too many ideas from any one source, unlike how Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem almost directly ripped off Diablo III. With Stoneshard being in Early Access, there is a noticeable lack of content available right now. I can’t wait for certain features, like the character creation allowing customized characters instead of the four archetypes, that I think are really going to open up the possibilities in the future.
Additionally, I am excited about the bartering system that will be implemented when I am trading with different vendors. But what I am most excited for are all of the new abilities and spells that will be added into the game. Currently, there are plans to add Greataxes and Greatmauls, Polearms, and Wands as different weapons. As well as a whole skill tree for dual-wielding – which I always use on my Woodward – and new magic that includes Cryomancy, Venomancy, and Psymancy. Maybe then I’ll give the Sorceress another shot. There’s also a significant lack of content available right now in Stoneshard. There doesn’t appear to be any progress to the story that gets introduced at the end of the prologue, and most of the gameplay involves completing contracts for the town mayor which don’t impact the main story introduced at all. It almost feels like the difficulty is engineered in the beginning to prolong the first few hours of a game. Although I enjoyed a lot of my time with Stoneshard, I think that the difficulty curve is way too brutal starting out and doesn’t adjust well as characters become more powerful. The hardest part is just surviving in the beginning until you get a few more skills under your belt and have an arsenal of combat abilities to select from. There are some significant quality of life features that are simply nonexistent, like the ability to save and exit, that artificially increase the difficulty for no discernible reason. Having such a limited save system is archaic and just made me want to quit playing every time I lost hours-worth of progress because of one bad RNG run. I think fans of rogue-likes will have a blast with Stoneshard, as well as people looking for a more hardcore and brutal experience. But I think those players will quickly dissipate if there isn’t more content added to Stoneshard soon. I understand that it is currently in Early Access, so there will undoubtedly be additional content incoming, but I worry that it might be too little too late to change the perception. For most gamers however, the difficulty spike from the prologue to the main adventure will be too much to handle and ultimately will prevent new players from getting in.
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