Urtuk: The Desolation -- tactical RPG

I think I started my campaign on the second difficulty, adventurer and am on day 19. So far it’s pretty good. I like the way crits work. So far it hasn’t been difficult…as long as I remain observant. I had a couple guys get injured which I was able to heal with medicine. My big mistake was my last battle where I didn’t pay attention and my guy got pushed onto a death pit…poof gone. That is where the difficulty comes in for me. I just didn’t check to see if the enemy had special abilities / attacks and I got careless with my positioning. The rest of the battle was a piece of cake.

It’s cool how the mutators level up and how they can be absorbed although I’m not sure I understand the mechanics of how that works.

This and Trials of Fire take my votes for the most innovative, slick, compelling tactical RPGs of the decade.

Regarding the Priest, I treat it as an MVP since it has the unique ability to keep other units alive and that is a big deal when you have max 6 units and are often fighting outnumbered. The aegis ability which blocks the next attack also ensures a retailation strike, so you can load this onto a squishy hard hitter for a wonderful synergy. I want a Priest in every warband, so I always pick one among the starting 3 units.

My other MVP is the Javelineer developed with enough agility to raise two tiles and still make an attack. I aim to give him the mutator that triggers a ranged attack whenever a friendly unit within 2 or 3 spaces makes a melee attack. This makes him a fantastic terrain manipulator and damage dealer. Any unit that is 2 levels higher cannot be attacked in melee, so with some time it is possible to set up safe defences for the Javelineer and any other ranged dudes.

After that . . . happy to work with whatever else I get. Berserker has great damage output especially with a Priest support. The uh, guy with the maul has useful stuns, the Spearman is fantastic at pinning opponents (another great recipient of agility points). I am least keen on the Assassin as backstab is very powerful but requires positioning which seems tricky to pull off when you are usually outnumbered.

Hehe, the same in my campaign! That gosh dang taught me a lesson!

I’ve had my eyes on Trials of Fire but haven’t yet felt compelled to take the jump. Is it something that someone who has dozens of hours in Urtuk and liked every one of them likely to enjoy?

What are the innovations Urtuk brings to the table? Honest question


  • The mutators. The way you level them, use them, acquire them is all very different from what you normally do in a tactical game.
  • The campaign. It is like Battle Brother but much more focus. Plus the unlock you get later on are very different.
  • Abilities. Some of the abilities are quite interesting. Even if they aren’t, the resourcing involved are not what you normally see. For instance. Aegis absorbs 1 attack but it takes 40% of the user’s health to do so. The user cannot normally regen health unless they consume an enemy’s corpse.

I’m sure there’s more but that’s what I know on top of my head.

I REALLY like Star Renegades too. Personally I would put it up there.

I haven’t gotten Urtuk yet, I’ve had my eyes on it for awhile but haven’t taken the jump yet. However, as the resident Trials of Fire cheerleader just let me know what kind of things you like about Urtuk and I can tell you how that relates to Trials of Fire.

I think the procedurally generated battlefields are a notch above anything in the genre that’s been done before. They make very credible, tactically interesting maps that aren’t remotely cookie-cutter, and do it across a number of different map themes. To me it almost always feels like you have a truly unique map to fight on.

I particularly like the mutations and the resulting variety they give you in character building, along with those procedural battlefields, and the very interesting interplay of abilities between classes. Pretty much every decision feels like it matters.

The deckbuilding piece of Trials of Fire provides for a lot of variety in builds. Your deck consists of 9 class cards plus whatever cards your equipment gives you. You have a starting set of basic cards for your class, but at every level-up get a choice of 4 random new class cards to choose from that will replace one of the 9 you already have. Instead, you can choose to upgrade a class card in your deck. This already makes level ups an interesting decision. Do I want one of these new cards? If I do, what other card that I already have do I want to get rid of? Or, do I want to make my existing deck a little stronger by upgrading a card? I briefly touched on the equipment, but cards you get from your equipment can have some really big effects on how your characters play too, and I’d classify some of them as even being build-defining.

At a glance, the battlefields in ToF can look like pretty standard tactical hex maps, but the placement of obstacles matters a ton due to ranged attacks often only being limited by line of sight, as well as how good enemies are at surrounding one of your characters if you leave them a little too out in the open. Add to that a fair number of push and pull effects and I’d say that you have lots to be aware of on the battlefield each turn, and that it definitely changes from battle to battle.

With only three members in your party in a run of ToF, the composition of that party matters a lot, and yet I think most class combinations can be viable if handled correctly. The way Powers work in the game is a big part of this. These are buffs during battles that will last on your character until they’ve taken a certain amount of damage. The basic Powers will obviously work well on the class whose deck they come from. However, some class Powers don’t actually make sense to play on that class, but they make a ton of sense to play on someone else in your party to let them synergize with how your class works. Simple example: The first time a Warrior plays a card next to enemy each turn, the Warrior will add 2 defense to every other friendly character. The Warrior also has a Power that builds up +1 attack damage each time you are defended by another character. Well, the Warrior is far more likely to be defending other characters than being defended herself, so that Power almost always makes sense to get played by the Warrior onto another party member. Certainly there are some combos that are more obvious than others, but you don’t need your party to strictly have a tank, damage dealer, and priest(there really isn’t much of any healing in battles even) type of thing.

I’ll quote this separately because I’d 100% say that this applies to Trials of Fire. Keeping in mind that I haven’t played Urtuk, I think I can pretty confidently say that Trials of Fire has the most consistently engaging and interesting tactical battles that I’ve ever encountered. Every battle matters(I’ve died in “easy” battles as often as I’ve died against bosses), every card in your hand matters, every turn matters, your characters position matters. And a big reason it matters is because you can’t just fall into a pattern where every battle is beaten the same way and you’re just going through the motions. Sure, you want your Hunter to sit in the back corner with a wide open line to the enemies and just buff damage and fire away, but that’s so much easier said than done. Maybe you’ll never be able to get the right draws on the right turn to pull it off. Maybe the enemy can close the distance in a hurry and corner your Hunter(the AI is really pretty good about this). Maybe the battlefield is just too constricting and you don’t have room for ranged attacks. That battle it might just makes more sense to burn most of the Hunter cards to enable the rest of the party pick up the slack.

I’ve played a both Trials of Fire and Urtuk, but not a ton of either. So, I haven’t seen different unlocks or abilities Urtuk has to offer. I’m still on the first map after about 7 hours (of going slowly, examining info). I have to say Tof feels more different than other tactical battle games I’ve played. Urtuk is good, but it feels more an iteration of tactical battle games than an innovation. That’s not a knock against it, and while I’m not wow’ed so far I’m having a good time with it.

As a whole the Urtuk maps feel like they have more chokepoints than other games of the genre. I haven’t gotten my hands on a range character so I haven’t been able to really take advantage of it yet.

What?? I didn’t even occur to me they were procedural. The maps are so good!

Ooh, tough one, because whilst they are both stand out, I think the qualities that make them do so are also very different between them. In my opinion . . . what they share is . . .

  1. Extremely tight, clever, challenging but mostly ‘fair’ tactical combat

Both offer fantastically varied, viable approaches with hardly any of the “one obvious move” options that populate a lot of tactical RPG and CRPG combats.

However whilst you might pause for a few seconds over the right move to make in Urtuk, you might spend a whole minute puzzling over what to do next in Trials of Fire. It is far less forgiving of a bad tactical play.

  1. Interesting, consistent, dark, post-apocalyptic low fantasy worlds

Both feel serious, believable, even living worlds with a lot of space to explore. Trials of Fire overland is however far, far larger.

  1. Simple but meaningful character progression

Urtuk does this through mutators and the ability skill ups. Trials of Fire does it through each character building / curating a set of cards plus a wide variety of armor, weapons and doodads that come with their own cards. When I find myself assessing and agonising for several minutes over what new card to add following a Trials of Fire level up, I feel I am playing a clever game.

Adding a few points from my side . . .

Tactical scenario variety. There are regular simple scraps, but a bundle of different types of fight, none by themselves completely new but I struggle to think of many examples that have delivered them all in a convinving way . . . these include . . .

Single character rescue scenarios where you need to rescue then protect a single unit which then joins your band.

Villager rescues, where you need to either relocate squishy villagers or kill off the enemy quickly (for max benefits)

Three way fights, such as you vs scavengers vs beasts, with the other two teams fighting each other as well as you

Town captures / fortress captures, which feature some really interesting terrain to deal with, and a reinforcement mechanic

+1 thing . . . the unit abilities themselves. Despite being set in a low magic world with no AoE stuff, the unit abilities are hugely different. The difference between combat effectiveness never comes down to which unit has been min-maxed, or has +1, +2 points here or there. It is instead how you use their unique abilities and in synergy with one another. Arguably not innovative . . . but done really well.

To be honest, except maybe the mutator point, most of the points explained are about the game being good, not innovative. They are different things.

I have a confession to make. In between action games, some rpgs, some racing games, VR, platform games, etc, I can’t remember the last time I played an actual strategy game? I think it was when I played a bit of the Age of Empires 2 remaster last year. But really, in the last years I haven’t played strategy games regularly, now that I think about it.

So I decided to pick Urtuk to break the spell, so to say. It looks like an interesting tactical game.

For now I’m having some issues in how the information is presented. I don’t feel like I can have the key information at a glance. The small icons should be more visible, imo.

Also, the game could explain some concepts in a better way. Can anyone explain me how focus works?

The wiki says “Focus Abilities are available actions once the focus bar is full in Urtuk: The Desolation. They are usable globally on your turn and can be used on anyone, not only the character that generated it”
but… I don’t see any bar anywhere? And the focus abilities I see on the units are available from turn 1??

If I remember correctly from the tooltips, I believe focus abilities are enabled for a character when the character hits level 4.

EDIT: Also, if I remember correctly from the in-game help screen, focus is accrued by dealing and receiving damage.

The concentration skill increases your rate of Focus gain. In the first number of fights you are accruing it so slowly you probably won’t see it. Once a character achieves their focus ability, it will appear in the bottom left of the screen as a row of icons.

You can see Focus accruing in a bar under the health bar.

Isn’t Aegis the focus ability of the Priest? Why can I use it already with my level 2 priest, at the start of the fight?

Strangely, for other classes I think it works as it should, for example my Berserker still doesn’t have available the focus skill:

But the Guardians, like the Priest, have them already:

Being an ability and a focus ability aren’t mutually exclusive, so your priest has aegis which he can use during a turn at the cost of stamina. When he hits the focus threshold, a use of that ability becomes available to the party as a focus ability.

Oh yeah, some have it from the start that they can use themselves, but only a limited number.

I didn’t know focus abilities could be extracted for life essence.

Thank you for the amazing writeup, @abrandt . That sounds like it’s dead up my alley. The developer’s going to get another purchase because of you. Same to you, @Lykurgos :)

That’s probably a better way of putting it. “Innovative” is a pretty strong statement; I think in a lot of ways Urtuk just takes systems that have existed in isolation before, mixes them together in interesting ways, and does it all almost perfectly. Which technically may not be innovative, but it’s still damned impressive.

Case in point. :D

Protip: Do not skimp on improving concentration just because it doesn’t have much impact early in the game. Once you progress, chaining and combining focus abilities is where a huge part of your offensive power comes form.

If I’m remembering things right, I think it might be wrong to say that all the maps are procedural. I think I recall reading at some point that the fortress assault maps were handmade, and ISTR fighting on the same one a few times. But I can’t find a reference to that now and I may be making it up. Not sure.

I think it’s worth that caveat on the mention of procedural maps until I can find out one way or the other.