I’ve been a fan of turn-based roleplaying games for decades now, falling in love with them around the release of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and was extremely pleased when TRPGs were made popular by games like Divinity: Original Sin. While I was waiting for Larian’s take on Baldur’s Gate, I was looking for a roleplaying game that could scratch that itch. Iron Danger immediately stood out for a number of reasons—tactical and turn-based being two of them. But its unique time rewind mechanic had me intrigued. There have been so many times I made a small miscalculation in past TRPGs due to impatience, and so often I wished for an undo button. Iron Danger’s rewind is the ultimate undo.
While Iron Danger bills itself as a tactical combat game, it’s really a mix of adventure and CRPG style roleplaying. You play as Kipuna, a girl thrust into adventure when her town is destroyed by the army of a vengeful witch queen. Kipuna falls onto a crystal shard, but instead of death, she is granted the ability to rewind time, which she will use to her advantage as she adventures across the land in search of more fragments. While so doing, Kipuna will meet different companions and overcome obstacles in her bid to survive the war between the forces of the witch queen and the kingdom of Kalevala.
Kipuna has the ability to, at any point, enter into a mode which allows you to rewind time up to five seconds. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s almost an eternity in combat, when lots of actions happen quickly. But this time mechanic isn’t just used in combat–it’s also used in the avoidance of hazards and the clearing of obstacles, which is usually some sort of puzzle to be solved. In fact, even combat feels like a bit of a puzzle in Iron Danger.
At first, I was enraptured by the time mechanic in combat. I found the time rewind to be completely engaging. The perfectionist in me wanted to end every encounter without taking a scratch. It was best when there were no wasted movements—like a machine assisted speed run, with pixel perfect accuracy—something I felt like I was doing when first playing Iron Danger. You can control each member of your party of two independently, and I had the most fun creating synergy between the two—like having one toss a barrel of oil, while the other ignites it for maximum effect. I wish there was a way to replay battles at full speed afterwards, to see how badass (or ridiculous) the battles looked, but alas, you cannot.
Using the time mechanic is relatively simple. It reminds me of simple video editing software—there’s a bar on the bottom of your screen with each row representing a character. Annoyingly, these bars aren’t labelled, and somehow I would lose track of which was for what character. Getting the characters to be helpful to one another is a little bit more complicated than you would imagine, too. Moving one character to avoid an arrow may make the NPC then shoot at the character you have in the middle of a spell cast instead. It was interesting to see how changing one thing as simple as the position of a character can change so much that comes after. But then, as combat encounters became more complicated, with more moving pieces, it went from interesting to tedious. And since you can’t save your progress in the middle of a level, making a significant mistake might mean losing twenty minutes or more of progress.
Iron Danger’s story takes you down an incredibly linear path. There are no story decisions to make, no gear to collect, and the only choices you make are which ability you want to upgrade for your character. There aren’t any side quests to accomplish, and most extracurricular exploration yields nothing more than bread and barrels. There is no party optimization, min-maxing, and no dialogue trees to attempt a different way. There is no replayability whatsoever, making Iron Danger a surprisingly shallow game.
My first few hours with Iron Danger were magical. But the longer I played the less patience I had for the time rewind mechanic. And while the story and setting are engaging, you’re forced down a linear path without the ability to make any significant choices.
Iron Danger is available now on Steam.
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