Nostalgia can be a bizarre thing, and its ability to tug at the heartstrings of those who fall victim to it is nothing to scoff at. It’s easy to look back on certain things with the “back in my day” mentality, often doing so with fondness in mind. However, it can also be brutally honest upon re-visitation, leading to a realization that the nostalgic grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Tanzia is a perfect example of such a situation as it hearkens back to the days of old-school, open world adventure/RPG games. For me, it shares a lot of similarities to vanilla World of Warcraft, something I was more or less addicted to back in the mid-2000s. That is why the Switch trailer of Tanzia had me so excited: a trip down nostalgia lane is never a bad thing. Or could it be?
You begin your adventure as a nameable protagonist, who is the grandson of a highly respected shaman in your tribe of fish-like humanoids. They are fish that rely on boats, so probably not fish at all (but I’m committed at this point). Years ago, your island was attacked by the undead powerhouse known as The Skeleton King. Although your tribe managed to protect the village and push the opposition away from the island, much to the thanks of your grandfather (grand…fish?), it wasn’t done so without a price.
Basically, the events of the conflict led to grandfish exiling himself and sending you off to a safer location to grow up, without the fear of the Skeleton King’s inevitable return. Just as seasons come full circle, however, so does the history of the island. The Skeleton King’s return is nigh, and as a young shaman yourself, you feel that not only has the time come to find your grandfather, but to end the looming threat once and for all.
These events are told to you in-game by way of beautifully crafted cutscenes and respectable voice acting, which more than starts your adventure off on the right foot. This avenue of storytelling is something that Tanzia uses frequently, and makes the main plot that much more interesting because it’s used in such an effective and enjoyable way. This is further amplified when coupled with the more uncommon tribal setting and its approach to graphics. Everything just works. While side quests are your typical MMO-like fare, none of them really stood out as terrible either. The main protagonist is silent, which I really appreciate as it would have only served to muddle the goodness that is going on with the rest of the storytelling toolkit.
The art direction of Tanzia may be one of the main points of contention for potential players, but I absolutely adored it. It is clear that the idea behind the design was to bank on style rather than fidelity, and I think they nailed it. Although it could be considered a quite dated look by today’s standards, it manages to still excite and stimulate visually because it knows what it wants to be and doesn’t try to be something it’s not.
World of Warcraft once again is a great example. Even though its graphics have improved vastly over the years, it’s still very dated in comparison to more realistic MMOs. That said, it plays so well into its art style that it’s easy to appreciate despite not offering cutting-edge visuals. Ultimately, the graphics in Tanzia are cute, colorful, and easy to process. If you are anything like me, you will have no problem immersing yourself in the world even though technically it looks like an old game.
More importantly, the game runs superbly whether you are on the go or glued to the TV. There are a couple of instances where you may lose frames (when taking in a large area or amassing a train of 200 foes like I did), but those instances are few and far between. The game also bugged out one time during the final sequence, forcing me to start it completely over. Regardless, Tanzia runs great for the most part, which is saying a lot as I tend to be critical of performance in most games.
The world is seamless too, meaning no loading screens whatsoever. There aren’t even loading times involved when you use the fast travel system, which I found quite fascinating in itself. Some may chalk that merit up to Tanzia’s “dated” visuals, but good performance is good performance any way you slice it.
The sound effects and music are well done, playing into the whole tribal aesthetic to a T. It is set up very much in a MMO-like fashion where you might hear a tune upon entering a new zone before it fades out in favor of natural ambience. I prefer this method in more open world settings, letting the realism and immersion factor of exploring a vast area take over rather than being potentially distracted by the music.
The Straw Breaker: Combat
As I’ve alluded to already, Tanzia started out strong for me, especially with it playing heavily on my vanilla World of Warcraft memories. Once your training wheels are off, you are rearing to get out into the world and explore it as you see fit. You will discover early on, however, that something isn’t quite right in terms of combat. As a shaman, your skillset consists of a standard melee attack, various offensive magic spells, and alchemical potions. Out of all of these, I would say that alchemy is by far the most important of the three, and is one of the main reasons that Tanzia’s combat didn’t feel great to me.
Potions and Mana Regeneration
Allow me to explain. It’s not the fact that you have to make and use potions that is an issue. I generally don’t have any problem with a game’s iteration of a crafting system, and this one is pretty straightforward stuff. On top of that, the whole alchemy usage plays well into what you would expect a remote, shamanistic tribe to do. So, what is the problem? Tanzia relies far too heavily on alchemical concoctions, so much that it makes a game like Diablo 2 (known for potion chugging) look like a singular, post-work beer in comparison.
Early on in your adventures, you will constantly be out of mana. So, finding the nearest totem (gradually restores health and mana, but only out of combat) or double-fisting potions are your only options. This would be more palatable if you had some sort of innate mana regeneration whatsoever, whether it be from a passive skill or equipment. Really anything would be better than no regeneration at all. Imagine playing a Diablo 2 Sorceress at a high level without any mana regeneration, or better yet, a vanilla World of Warcraft Mage. With the latter, it was bad enough that you had to drink every fight or two, but you still had a base level of mana regen (that was improved by gear, talents, et cetera).
I’ll be honest and admit that I rarely play casters in any game, which is why I could be considered in the minority with that whole rant. However, in the games I have played as one, they always had some sort of base mana regeneration, or some way to reach it passively from a skill or equipment system. Now, Tanzia does have mana and health regeneration potions available, but again, that’s just more potions you have to consume.
Do keep in mind that the potions come at a cost, whether you buy them from a vendor or farm up the reagents to craft them yourself. If you choose to make your own, consider that you will probably use potions during the farming process, creating a never-ending cycle of using potions to make potions. You see what I’m getting at here? Simply put, the amount of potions you will use in this game would spark concern from a real life drug addict, and I don’t think that is a good thing. As a side note, this isn’t a problem towards end-game, when you have almost unlimited funds. But even then, it doesn’t change the fact that an over-reliance on potions is just not an enjoyable mechanic.
Hotbars, Kiting, and Spell Design
The potion issue is compounded with a limited hotkey (or hotbar) system. Those who have experience with any hack-n-slash game are probably familiar with these already. You can only have a handful of spells and/or potions bound at any time, which is not inherently an issue. Once again, the problem lies with the execution of the mechanic rather than the mechanic itself. You will want at least a couple different potions on the bar, as to not have to open the menu every 5 seconds to use one. That only leaves room for a few spells, which you’ll probably cycle through entirely each and every encounter.
The core issue with the hotbar lies in how encounters are handled, and enemy health versus your damage output. Tanzia teaches you about “kiting” in-game, which is essentially the process of running away from enemies as you whittle down their health. This is a pretty common concept with mage classes in any game, but feels incredibly underwhelming here. Whereas in any other game you’d feel accomplished by kiting a difficult enemy around, Tanzia basically has two flavors of enemies: ones susceptible to your slows/roots and ones that resist them.
More often than not, enemies that can be slowed can easily be kited without being slowed whatsoever, where the ones that actually move faster than you (ie. the ones that would make sense to perform slows/snares) are almost always immune to your slowing abilities. The Root ability in Tanzia is fantastic in theory because it costs almost nothing to perform and is instant cast. But I never found a reason to use it outside of those god-awful ogre-people who run away when low on health. In short, the slows, stuns, and snares usually don’t work on the enemies you would expect them to.
That leads us to the second issue: health versus damage output. You will find that most enemies at your level (and even some much lower than you) take at least 4-5 spellcasts to defeat. These spells can have anywhere from a 7 second to 60 second cooldown. So, if you go through your spells and the enemy/enemies are still alive, you’ll either have to switch to melee (sucks, and usually not an option if you’re facing multiple opponents at one time) or run around while your spells refill, neither of which are fun.
The fact that Tanzia encourages you to round up and demolish groups of enemies whenever possible complicates the issue even more. Your single target spells generally have lower costs and cooldowns, but are pretty much useless in AoE situations. That leaves you to mainly using your multi-target spells, and they of course have higher associated costs. Remember that bit mentioned about running out of mana and spells with 30-60 second cooldowns? Yep, that is most of your AoE abilities.
And don’t forget that the hotbar limits what you have at your fingertips at any given moment, thus leading you to running in circles waiting patiently to press things. What’s crazy to me is that you can actually cast a spell and it be on cooldown, open your spellbook, equip a different spell in its place and then use it. Why not have a larger hotbar, or the ability to swap between two hotbars considering the only limiting factor to using your entire skillset is the size of the hotbar?
If you don’t want to do that, why not give a reduction to cooldown times across the board, with the tradeoff being potentially less powerful spells (if that’s even an issue)? In my opinion, the reliance on kiting feels much more exciting when you have a lot of buttons to press (or able to press the same buttons often) rather than mindlessly running around until something pops. It’s worth mentioning that these combat-related rants become a non-issue towards the end of the game, because you’ll be sitting on a stockpile of money and have some of the best equipment in the game. But by then, it is too late to really even matter in the grand scheme of things.
Let me be clear: Tanzia is not a bad game. In fact, it is a good game in many ways. The storytelling is on point, with the supporting cutscenes and voice acting doing a wonderful job of portraying the scenario at hand. While the graphics may not sit well with all parties, it was right down my alley and had me reminiscing of the early days of World of Warcraft.
Regardless, any RPG, especially if labeled as an action RPG, must have properly structured combat in order for the package as a whole to stand on its own. While there may be those who can look past the points I’ve made throughout my review, I simply cannot do so. I hate to be so critical of a $16USD title because there is value to be had here. And if it weren’t the combat holding it back, we would have a much different situation on our hands.