Oakenfold (PC) Review

Climb that procedurally-generated ladder!
Oakenfold Header

Oakenfold is a passion project developed by Rutger van Dijk and the results are impressive. Playing out like the lovechild of Into the Breach and Slay the Spire, you are tasked with helping Asha save humanity – by protecting some crates required to launch humanity’s last hope away from a planet under attack. While that sentence is all you need to summarise the entirety of the game’s narrative, it belies the complexity of the gameplay and the number of hours you’ll lose to puzzle-like battles.

Tactical Battles

Battles take place in a small arena, set on a grid-based map and presented from a three-quarters perspective. Much like Into the Breach, you first survey the map and whether attacks from the bug-like enemies each turn. Manoeuvering around the map requires you to think three or more moves ahead, as each decision has a number of possible consequences. Now while you’re limited in how much you achieve each turn, Oakenfold offers up a couple of mechanics to aid you.

The first is the generous number of actions per turn that you can take. When I initially booted up the game, I was expecting a three-point system to be rationed between movement, attack, and item usage – standard fare in tactical turn-based games. Instead, I was faced with more moves than I knew what to deal with. However, these “bonus” actions do not make the game easier. In fact, things are more difficult as you try and work through all the possible permutations and consequences. Planning your moves and deciding which enemies to attack and kill all play into your mission to protect and recover as many crates as possible.

The second mechanic, again reminiscent of Into the Breach, is a time travel one. In each stage, you can rewind your actions to see how differently things could’ve played out or, as was most often the case, use it to fix the mess I made of the stage. Think of it as save scumming in XCOM – just not one as frowned upon by “purist” gamers. The mechanic is something you will be using a fair bit as if you lose too many crates, you lose your current run; something you can expect to happen a few times.

To help you on your journey, you’ve got access to three abilities: a simple melee attack that requires you to be on the adjacent square; a whip-like attack that you can only use from a distance (two squares away); and an area-of-effect grenade attack. Naturally, you acquire more abilities later in the game as runs and stages become increasingly difficult. On the map screen that tracks your journey, you’ll find a crafting table allowing you to spend time upgrading these abilities. You’ll want to think carefully about these abilities and upgrades with some forward planning. Use them at the wrong time and you might lose a crate; put it off for too long and you may not be strong enough to win the stage. The environment also plays a role as littered across the stage are obstacles that you can knock enemies into for extra damage.

Strategic Gameplay

All these elements create a puzzle-like environment you must battle through, rather than the traditional tactical battles of an XCOM game. If you had played the excellent Hitman Go games on mobile – or the Tomb Raider/Deus Ex variants – you will fall into the rhythm of Oakenfold quite quickly as you adjust to thinking about how the pieces on the board can move and how you can react to the consequences. Before long, you’ll find yourself running through the permutations of all possible moves like a seasoned chess player before making your next move.

The aforementioned Slay the Spire influence is seen in the ladder system, where you start at the bottom, or rather on the left in this case, and move along a branching path choosing the battles you wish to take part in. The route you take plays a part in how ready you’ll be to defeat the boss at the end of the ladder. To aid you, you can always see what’s in store at each battle, allowing you to assess the risks and the rewards of each encounter. It is a system that, on the plus side, lets you see exactly how far to go to reach the end, but it can be frustrating when you fail near the end and have to start at the beginning – something you will do often.

Repetition, unfortunately, highlights the lack of enemy variety. In the early stages, you will take on the entirety of the enemy roster and that can make the later levels a bit boring when you know their move-set and how to deal with them immediately. Thankfully, the bosses are a saving grace, adding that bit of spice to the end of every ladder.

Testing this game on both a desktop PC and a Steamdeck was a lot of fun. It runs flawlessly on both systems but is better suited to the PC. It is playable on the Steamdeck but doesn’t map to the analogue sticks and face buttons. Instead, you have to use the right touchpad as you would a laptop touchpad and use the right trigger as the left mouse click. You can get used to the unusual control scheme quickly, but I hope proper gamepad support is patched in – especially as Oakenfold is a perfect on-the-go game and deserves a Switch port in the future.

Final Verdict

Overall, Oakenfold is a worthy entry into the tactical puzzle gaming genre and is a testament to the skill of the developer to code and release such a polished, fun, and intriguing game. If you enjoyed Into the Breach or turn-based puzzle games in general, you should be playing Oakenfold.

A review code for Oakenfold was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Oakenfold (PC) Review

Oakenfold (PC) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Gameplay
    9/10 Amazing
  • Ease of Play
    9/10 Amazing
  • Longevity
    8/10 Very Good
  • Graphics
    8/10 Very Good
  • Sound
    8/10 Very Good

Pros

  • Each stage is a well-designed puzzle
  • Mechanically one of the better games in the genre
  • Perfect for bite-sized gameplay sessions

Cons

  • Enemies lack variety
Total
21
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