The Great Whale Road on PC
All of us, I think, come across those games every so often that are good, and built on a great idea, but feel like they come up a bit short. The Great Whale Road, a tactical/simulation RPG following the Medieval coasts of the Northern Sea, feels like it falls here. The game has a great foundation and plenty of positives to build on, but feels like it’s lacking polish. Of course, it’s still in Early Access, so take that for what it is, and developer Sunburned Games may yet get that final touch.
The Great Whale Road puts players in control of their clan amid the unforgiving reaches of the Northern Sea. For now, the Danes are the only playable culture/clan for players, with future plans to include the Northumbrians, Franks, and Picts. Despite the title’s current limitations, there’s still plenty to experience here that’s bound to give players a good taste of things to come.
Gameplay in the Great Whale Road is divided into two major portions. Players begin in the first winter, when the seas are too cold and violent for sailing. During this phase, players decide their people’s focus, dividing up available points between tasks such as farming, hunting, diplomacy, and more. How you proceed is entirely up to you, but it’s important to find a balance between keeping the people happy and keeping food in the storehouse, among other resources.
The other half of gameplay in the Great Whale Road takes place in the summer months, as your leader and their warband set sail. After loading up the ship with food for the band and goods for trading with neighboring areas, players will head out to complete a mission and help ensure the legacy of their people. This is where most of the real gameplay takes place, and more events unfurl which may lead to combat.
Speaking of combat, I think this may be the Great Whale Road’s weakest point. A simple hex-based board setup is used, and players will have to maneuver their warriors against enemy forces using a mix of tactical strategy and a card system. The shortcoming, really, is in the reliance on this card system. Players may hold up to three cards, which are mostly either short-term stat boosts or represent your warriors. If you want your leader to have any backup in the fight, you can end up waiting quite a while for another fighter’s card to show up in your hand – and the enemy certainly isn’t going to wait for you as they build up their forces.
That’s not to say that the Great Whale Road has a flat-out bad combat system. If luck is on your side, and you’re attentive to the strategic aspects, it plays out pretty well. Unfortunately, such a reliance on luck just holds things back, and often you’ll find yourself spending turn after turn simply moving around the board and trying to keep out of harm’s reach until your heroes arrive to give you a fighting chance. Sometimes, they may not show up at all – I lost a battle when my leader, swarmed by enemies, ran out of cards to pull from with none of my heroes having shown their faces.
Combat trickiness aside, the Great Whale Road shows a lot of promise. The story unfolds slowly, but does quite a bit to pull the player into their clan’s yearly struggles. Resource management and keeping things secure at the homestead are mechanically simple, yet effective. A hand-drawn style throughout is consistent and, while it may not be winning awards for breaking ground, fits the theme very well and brings the world to life.
It’s hard to really come up with a final word on the Great Whale Road while it’s still in early access. There’s a lot to enjoy, however still plenty of work that lays ahead if Sunburned Games wants to truly make it great. That said, a very good foundation has been laid, and the plans that the developers have laid out sound very promising, including new clans, character progression, and plenty more. If it sounds up your alley, head on over to Steam tosupport the game’s Early Access, and it may just become something truly remarkable.
Score: 3/5 – Fair