Telepath RPG: Servants of God

I've been following the development of Telepath: Servants of God for a few years now but actually not checked out the demo seriously before. Sinister Design's ambitious upcoming game combines a strong emphasis on story and dialogue with top-down turn-based combat. The battles take place on differentiated grid-based maps similar to what you'd find in an isometric SRPG like Tactics Ogre (and the Japanese RPG tradition is referenced explicitly by the developer), but still on a small enough scale that more Western-oriented fans of PC classics like Pool of Radiance or Betrayal at Krondor should feel right at home. I played on Normal difficulty in the demo and even early on the combat design and enemy AI was challenging enough that I was rewarded for thinking ahead a few turns and paying attention to tactical aspects like flanking and unit direction (most party members can be revived between battles, but the playable character's death results in instant Game Over). A noteworthy feature of the battle system is that various individual unit abilities work at very specific ranges - such as one, two or three grid squares away from the character in any of the cardinal directions - which obviously makes unit positioning even more important. Apart from some neat portraits the game's graphics are best described as functional, but the music is nicely atmospheric and adds a lot to the experience.

Narratively speaking the writing seems very good so far, and it's clear that a lot of work went into characterization (as evidenced by the voice actor interviews on the developer's YouTube channel) as well as the game's intriguing and original Middle Eastern/Steampunk setting. The plot revolves around a classic "religious fanatics vs the good guys" conflict, which the main character is immediately drawn into at the start of the game. In general I'm tired of seeing such a complex and multi-faceted social phenomena as religion being reduced to irrational totalitarianism in the vast majority of pop cultural works, but Sinister Design's Craig Stern appears to have crafted a distinct and believable socio-political context in which this age-old drama takes place and I very much look forward to seeing where the story goes in the full game.

Telepath RPG: Servants of God will hopefully be released by the end of this year (2011), and is available for pre-order here (where the very generous demo version is also available for download, as well as earlier freeware titles which can be viewed as less ambitious predecessors to Servants of God).

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