Stoneshard is an open-world, turn-based RPG by Russian studio Ink Stains Games and published by HypeTrain Digital.  The game sees you take on the role of Verren, a medieval relic hunter and mercenary, who adventures across the world of Aldor, facing a variety of foes and dangerous situations. Whilst an RPG, you aren't bound by the traditional classes of these games, but you are free to choose freely between over 200 skills and 400 pieces of equipment to truly shape your own experience.
NOTE: This game does carry a mature content warning on Steam for "fantasy violence, cartoonish gore, depiction of alcohol & drug use and mature topics.

The game starts with you waking up in a jail cell, slightly confused.  From your brief interaction with a nearby guard, it is clear that you weren't alone when you captured, however you appear to be the sole survivor, your companions seemingly having met a rather gruesome end.  After the guard departs you begin a tutorial which introduces you to key elements such as inventory management, contextual menus and interactions, and hunger and thirst. After escaping from your cell you can begin to explore.  Your first port of call should be to find a weapon, that guard could be back at any moment.  Thankfully there is a handy iron bar not far from your cell door.  When you pick items up they will go into your inventory which uses a grid system (think Diablo) where each item requires a different number of squares depending on its' size, for example a weapon may take up 3 or 4 squares, whilst a bandage will only require one.  This can get frustrating if you like to grab everything you find in these sorts of games - you never know when those rusty shackles might come in handy, right?  You will need to keep an eye on your inventory space throughout the game, even reconfiguring your items at times to make the most of what you find during your adventure, although the devs have included a handy autosort function, accessed by pressing 'T' whilst your inventory is open.

Waking up in a jail cell
Whilst not visible, it is clear that the game is played on a grid based world, makes sense for a turn-based game.  Regardless of where you click to move to, you will see a series of turns taking place to make the movement, with intermediate points marked on the map.  This means that you can only move or make and action once all your enemies have played their turns.  You may feel that it is of more benefit to the encounter if you don't move, in this case you can skip your turn with space.  This will force your enemy to make a move which could give you an advantage in a pinch.

Having started the game over a couple of times I would thoroughly recommend reading all of the tutorial text.  I skimmed over it the first couple of times and missed a few things, such as the ability to enter a rest state out of battle allowing health recovery.  This can be extremely useful if you know that a boss battle is coming up, or if you have particularly low health following an encounter.  It also explains the mechanics for healing, levelling and identifying of gear you may find on your adventure.

At this point the tutorial becomes a bit less linear, with the simple goal of finding a way to the next floor.  I find it very hard not to draw a comparison with Diablo, probably because it was my first dungeon crawler game, but also because the dungeons you explore are procedurally generated.  This means that you may find the path to the next floor very quickly without exploring far, or it may be in the last room of the level.  As tempting as it is to just dive straight for that door, it's always worth having a bit of a poke around, checking barrels and crates and rifling through chests and book cases to find items to assist you as you progress.  The procedural nature also means that each experience will be different, something which kept me playing the original Diablo in the 90's.

The health system allows you to use specific treatments from your inventory on specific body parts, such as splints for broken bones and bandage to stop bleeding
After exploring the dungeon you will eventually reach the chapel, and this is where you start to find out some of what has happened.  You will encounter Archon, a monk of sorts, and 3 of your companions suspended in cages.  To complete the tutorial you must defeat Archon.  This sounds simple, however he enlists the help of two statues, one which casts spells to create pools of blood and the other reanimates some of the minions who are scattered round the edge of the room.  Your first task will be to destroy the statues on either side of the altar, whilst avoiding the pools of blood and fighting off the reanimated minions.  Without giving to much else away, after this point the fight gets a bit more challenging and I definitely recommend double checking the gear you have picked up before you enter the cathedral to plan your attack, and watch the ground around your character carefully.  This is the point where you realise this is a challenging game.  I had to take a few attempts, trying different combinations of skills and weapons to get passed this point.

Now for something I wouldn't normally do.  Some pointers when playing through this prologue (as it took me over 6 hours!)  When exploring the dungeons don't dive straight up the stairs when you find them - there may be more useful items in rooms you haven't explored, and monsters to kill and gain xp.  Explore everywhere but don't horde everything you find.  As I mentioned above you have limited inventory space, you also will create a new character after the prologue so there is little point in hording junk items.  Rest often, not only does it give you a breather, but it will regenerate you health and energy and heal any wounds faster.

Note that the following section contains spoilers regarding the prologue.

Prologue tips, potential spoilers - Defeating the first boss
What I found myself asking the most during the prologue was "How do I defeat the ascended Archon?" This was the source of much frustration as the game is pretty punishing.

Step 1 - Defeat the left statue.
Keep an eye on the floor as this casts an extremely harmful spell on a 2x2 square. The move before this casts the floor will indicate the upcoming area of effect, allowing you to move out of the road in time.

Step 2 - Defeat the right statue.
This stature will reanimate corpses around the room. Whilst attacking the stature keep an eye out for these zombies coming within attack range.

Step 3 - The Ascended Archon - This first boss.
This is an extremely frustrating and quite difficult encounter. There are a number of proposed techniques for this battle. Important things to note before starting are that his attacks are extremely powerful, one of these attacks (a charge) can be used to your advantage and there are 7 corpses which he can devour to regenerate health.
When moving around the chapel try to stick close to walls and pews. When he uses his charge attack, if you can force him into one of these he will become stunned for 2 turns, giving you a very slight advantage for this period.
After about 7 hours and countless attempts I finally managed to defeat him by using a combination of fire barrage, a strong melee weapon and keeping him near the altar area. If you stay on this he will nearly almost daze himself during the charge, giving you a free hit before retreating and he will also no be able to regenerate health using the corpses.

Your first boss encounter with the Archon - can you escape the chapel?
Following the battle with the first boss there is a small cutscene where you rescue 3 of your companions who have been in cages suspended from the ceiling.  When you talk with them you start to learn a bit about the story of the stoneshards, and why you were in the monastery in the first place.  You will be able to select from 4 premade characters at this point to continue your adventures.  There us an option to create your own character, however this is greyed out and not yet implemented at this point in early access.  You are now a companion of Verren in the village of Osbrook and must start to complete contracts for the town elder to acquire a horse and cart to further the story.  Also speak to the other merchants and villagers as they may have some work for you too.

For players of RPGs the HUD will be very familiar.  Along the bottom of the screen is an action bar with 10 slots, corresponding to the number keys on your keyboard.  You can also scroll through 5 hot bars so you can have a few configurations set up for different situations.  There are also red and blue meters, red for health and blue for energy.  Health behaves exactly as you would expect. You have a number of hit points and these reduce as you take damage and regenerate gradually over time.  Energy behaves in the way you would use mana or rage in other RPGs.  You use your energy to cast spells, and this gradually regenerates over time.  You also have buttons on either side of this to access your character sheet, inventory and skills etc.  You will also see any buff or de-buff effects, such as pain, hunger and thirst, displayed at the top of the screen.

The village of Osbrook where your adventures begin
Whilst there are a lot of positives about the game and I am thoroughly enjoying it, there are a couple of things I feel I need to address.  Whilst there is an autosave system, this only occurs at set points and there is no way to manually save during the prologue of the game which can make this phase of the game extremely punishing.  This means that if you have not reached either of the points where it saves and you quit, you will need to start over.  After you are into the depths of the game you can save manually, however this requires heading to a tavern and renting a room for the night.  My other gripe with the game comes from the turn-based nature of the game which can make movement and combat feel a bit slow and jilted at times.  I also noticed after about 5 hours that there is a limited number of rooms within the generation bank, and you often start to see the same rooms popping up fairly regularly.  For QoL fixes, it would be nice if there was a more evident audio of visual cue when you level up and if the world map had a marker of your current location.

Despite my minor annoyances are good, all of which are either just ways that I feel about the game design or are quality of life issues rather than game breakers, I would highly recommend the game.  For a touch over £10 the game is very well executed even at this early stage.  The developers seem very committed to the game with regular development updates, bug fixes and the first major content update having been released already.  The game also has Linux/Steam OS support (no Mac support at present) which is something a lot of indie studios fail to provide due to the additional time and costs associated with multiple OS support.

You need to manage the space in your inventory to make the optimal use of the limited slots

Just some of the extensive abilities which you can choose from

Meeting with the village elder to gain favour (and some horses and a cart)

Stoneshard is available now in Early Access via Steam and GOG for £10.99/€14.99/$14.99

Stoneshard Stoneshard Reviewed by Parcival on May 14, 2020 Rating: 5

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