I felt kind of bad about criticizing the Demon’s Rise games because I knew that they had a lot of potential and I could tell that the developer(s) really tried. That’s why I wanted to give Wave Light Games at least one more shot to prove themselves… and to hopefully vindicate my suspicions that the studio was capable of making great games.
Today, I’m happy to report that those suspicions have indeed been vindicated. Shieldwall Chronicles: Swords of the North is an improvement upon the Demon’s Rise games in every way. If you played the Demon’s Rise games and already enjoyed them, then you absolutely must play Swords of the North because I guarantee you’ll enjoy it even more.
Everything in Swords of the North feels a lot better and smoother. Text is larger. The UI is cleaner and more colorful. Controls are slightly faster. Characters move more fluidly and no longer flail around while trying to counterattack. The speedup functionality is now integrated within the game itself, rather than being placed in an inconspicuous corner of your screen where you’re likely to miss it.
Swords of the North still has a few bugs here and there, which is I guess to be expected, given that it’s an indie game. The worst one I found is when my game crashed: somehow, I was unable to load my save file once I booted up the game again. This was quite perplexing because I remember the Demon’s Rise games had an autosave feature which would safeguard against this exact issue. Fortunately, aside from this bug, nothing about Swords of the North is crippling or unbearable.
Once you finish the tutorial and get into the game proper, you’ll be able to create your team. Like in Lords of Chaos, there are no preset options here. Instead, you’ll need to craft your team from 32 selectable classes. In reality, this is 16 classes which each have a male and female variant. Males and females of the same class will learn the same skills; they are only differentiated by having slightly different stats.
Compared to either of the Demon’s Rise games, Swords of the North offers a lot less in the way of teambuilding. This may be a turn-off to some players, but if you ask me, this is still a fair amount of freedom with teambuilding. Given that we have 16 playable classes, 6 unit slots, and can include multiple of the same unit (e.g. I can use 3 spear wardens on the same team), this should total out to 54,264 different permutations.
Teambuilding was one of the things that I thought the Demon’s Rise games did very well, so it’s very nice to see this feature return for Swords of the North.
Battles themselves are done a lot better here than they were in the Demon’s Rise games. Accuracy now caps at 95% instead of 85%. In addition, most characters have ways of increasing their accuracy or evasion. There’s a standard “aggressive stance” which increases accuracy by 50% and decreases evasion by 50% for 2 turns; inversely, there’s a standard “defensive stance” which increases evasion by 50% and decreases accuracy by 50% for 2 turns. Certain characters also have access to targeted buffs which can raise evasion or accuracy. Needless to say, many enemy units have access to these same stances and abilities.
With this system, Swords of the North not only completely eliminates the biggest flaw with the Demon’s Rise games, but it also handles luck in a dynamic, interactive, and unique way. I’m a big fan of this system and hope that it makes a return for Wave Light Games’ next game. The system forces you to pay attention to accuracy rates, your own cooldowns, and your enemies’ cooldowns as well.
In case that wasn’t already great enough, you can now buy items such as reusable potions and enchanted belts which can be activated (by using spell points) for temporary buffs during combat. The list of usable effects is somewhat limited, but it still adds another layer to the game’s customization and teambuilding. Given the existence of items, you’re now given additional options within combat: for example, do you want to use your spell points to execute a powerful attack instantly, or would you rather use those spell points to buff yourself for a few turns?
Despite my praise of it, Swords of the North is not exactly a perfect game. It is a very good game, but there are a couple of things which hold it back.
The first of these would be its rather bland and generic story. The game is told from a first-person perspective where you travel the lands and fight various types of enemies with your army. But you never really have any dialogue. Your characters (the ones you use on the battlefield) never talk either, so the story feels flat. Because of this setup, there’s no potential for character development or immersion. Resultingly, Swords of the North makes you feel more like an outsider looking in, rather than a dynamic entity who is actively shaping the world as s/he travels through it.
The second problem is its balance. In fairness, Swords of the North is a lot better balanced than the Demon’s Rise games. And in fairness, the balance problems mostly work out in the player’s favor. Yet, I must criticize the game for its inverse difficulty curve. This is mostly because of how easy it is to create “uber units.” Because there’s no level-gating behind any equipment, I can simply save up my gold to buy the best equipment for one single character, while ignoring every other character. Early on in the game, I can easily deck out one character in uber equipment which will make him viable until the endgame. Then, he can singlehandedly curbstomp every battle, even on Extreme difficulty.
This issue probably could’ve been alleviated if there were some level-gating behind more powerful equipment, or if certain equipment past a certain gold threshold were unavailable until after a certain battle had been cleared. As it stands however, it’s very easy to grind out a few battles on Extreme difficulty, accumulate a boatload of gold, and then use that gold to buy the uber equipment to trivialize the rest of the game. One particularly effective grind spot I found was Battle 16, which is easily doable in under 3 minutes on extreme.
Aside from this, Swords of the North is mostly playable on Hard difficulty. I must commend it for this; it’s a lot fairer than the Demon’s Rise games were. Yet, I’m not a fan of the way the game tends to throw large waves of weak enemies at you in some of the later maps. It can end up feeling more tedious than challenging:
In total, there are 59 battles in Swords of the North, though you can only experience 43 of them on one single playthrough. The remaining 16 are locked behind different routes you can take at certain parts in the story. It’s a nice little bit of replay value, alongside the aforementioned teambuilding.
Like I said earlier, Swords of the North is not a perfect game. However, it is still a very good game and a marked improvement over the Demon’s Rise games. It took the good parts of the Demon’s Rise games – namely the teambuilding and itemization – and dispensed with the flaws. It’s a textbook example of how to make a good sequel and importantly, it gives me a lot of hope for Wave Light Games. I always love seeing a studio which learns from its mistakes and knows how to improve.
On that note, I’m very excited to see what Wave Light Games has in store for us with Shieldwall Chronicles: Realm of Madness.
Console: PC, Mac, Switch, Android, iOS
Developers: Wave Light Games
Wave Light Games’ website: https://wavelightgames.com/