Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall Review

Several months ago, I stumbled onto Tales of Illyria while looking for something sRPG-ish on the Android platform. While it’s more of a choose-your-own-adventure/RPG/Oregon Trail hybrid, I was nevertheless hooked, so I couldn’t help but be extremely excited when the sequel was announced. Amazon’s app store evidently updates slower that Google Play’s store, however, and I checked for Beyond the Iron Wall’s release there every day for almost a month to no avail. Just when I was starting to feel ridiculous for holding out hope, it finally appeared, and I wound up snatching it up for even less than the 7-dollar price I was expecting. Despite being a bit rough around the edges (as newer releases tend to be; I played the original Illyria some time after its release, so a lot of the bugginess had been fixed by then), it proved to be every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped, and that’s saying a lot after a month of built-up expectations.

Vasena is a great new area

While you’re eventually able to travel beyond the wall to familiar locations around Illyria, the first half or so of the game takes place in Vasena. This area has a great vibe to it, feeling like a cross between Aladdin and the Old Testament (or at least a History Channel reenactment of it), complete with all the weird happenings and magic the setting entails. Magical beings known as djinn are flocking to the area, powerful artifacts that threaten the fate of the entire world are in danger, and war erupts. Naturally, you’ll be in charge of dealing with all of that, and that’s a good thing because the unpredictability of the magical setting is one of the Beyond the Iron Wall’s major strengths; whether it’s trying to figure out what to ask for from a djinn (and many will try to trick you by twisting your wish in a distinctly monkey-paw kind of way) or simply defeating stronger characters to gain valuable magical loot, there’s something inherently fun about a magic-centric setting and all of the abstract situations that it can lead to.

Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall

I’ve always said that killing machines would benefit from fluffiness.

Some characterization issues

One of the things that made the first Illyria’s revenge story work was the tragedy that necessitated it being presented as a vague happening of the past, very matter-of-fact and concise. Contrariwise, the first thing I noticed when starting Beyond the Iron Wall was that it throws a lot of information at you in the beginning before you’ve become properly invested in the setting and characters, and rather than accommodate this unfamiliarity by providing background information in a similarly concise manner, it actually has you go through several conversations that attempt to establish a number of characters who are only around for the first five minutes.

It’s simply not enough time to make any kind of real emotional connection, so playing through all of the horrible things that quickly happen to main character Kepri bint’Kaman proves to be a bit underwhelming. Had the game established Kepri’s relationships with her friends without actually having you engage in conversations with them, the relatively blank slate that is their personalities would be filled in by the player’s imagination and make the beginning more expedient and personal. I can’t help but think it would be better if the gameplay picked up right as the Thu’bani start to attack, but all of this is really my own personal preference, and I’m not saying that the game’s characterization is bad by any means. It’s really just the beginning that I have a problem with.

Also near the beginning is Harran, your first companion. His reasons for joining you in the first place are clear-cut, through I was a bit puzzled as to why he stayed for the entire game. Those reasons became more obvious when I went through the three-thousand screenshots I made over the course of my playthrough and noticed one screen of dialogue where he details his past experiences with the Thu’bani, but I’d have preferred to have his motivations be communicated slightly louder than that. However, those nitpicks aside, I have to admit that I enjoyed the characters greatly; Yenna in particular makes a great antihero, and I’d go so far to argue that she becomes the star of the show after awhile, overshadowing even badass warrior-priestess Kepri by the end of the game.

The Illyria games need to come to PC

Games of the Illyria series’ caliber are truly rare, and that’s doubly true on the Android platform, which at the time of Beyond the Iron Wall’s release was drowning in endless Flappy Bird clones. What makes this such a shame is that such lazy clones have branded Android a dumping ground for casual games, meaning many gamers who would fall head over heels for a game like Illyria have learned to tune out the platform and its offerings entirely.

While the first Illyria has a Steam Greenlight page, I think it would be a good idea for the developers to finish a PC version and pitch it to GOG instead. After all, the current prices of the games fit within GOG’s beloved $5.99 and $9.99 pricing structure, and games such as King of Dragon Pass (which is somewhat comparable to the Illyria games in terms of random events and the need for planning) have achieved a cult following there. Offering the individual games for 5.99 or both of them for 9.99 would be a hell of a deal, and I have little doubt that it would help the series gain the kind of mainstream attention it deserves.

The mechanics are almost identical to the first

You can refer to my review of the first game and apply everything I write regarding the mechanics to the sequel, because virtually nothing has changed on that front. Granted, I don’t remember morale in the first game decreasing due to sandstorms/heavy rain/snow in the first game (it does now), but aside from that, everything is very familiar, and the game does a great job of explaining how everything works early on for the newcomers. The exception for that is—yet again—the “morale” meter, which, much like in the first game, remains a total enigma. Do you get more favorable events if it’s kept full? Do your characters perform better in combat? There’s really no way of knowing, so I erred on the side of caution and did my best to keep it high despite having no idea what it actually impacts.

It’s slightly harder than the original

During my month of waiting for the game, I stalked the game’s Facebook page and Twitter like some kind of obsessed stalker, and one of the things I noticed was that people were saying that the difficulty was higher than in the first game. I wasn’t really sure what to make of that at first because I thought the difficulty in the first game was just about right. Why mess with something that works? Having actually played through the sequel now, I can definitely say that some parts are harder, though that’s not always true; there are occasional difficulty spikes, but you also have access to some seriously powerful magical equipment that more than evens the odds. I gave Yenna a magical “Ice Spike” spear, for example, and she ended up doing 70-80 damage per hit with a chance of stunning her opponent. To give you some perspective, that’s enough to one-shot weaker enemies and do some serious damage to even the strongest of foes.

Something I didn’t realize until midway through the game (and this likely applies to the first game, as well) is that tapping the word “magic” when you’re looking at a magical item allows you to see what effects that item actually confers (for example, a strength boost). In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense, and I feel like a complete idiot for not figuring it out sooner. I suppose it’s my fault for being a tap prude. Anyway, once I had figured this out, the difficulty was much more bearable, as I was able to combine armor and weapon effects intelligently, decking out my female fighters in light clothing that increases their agility while giving them insanely powerful weapons with fire, poison, and stun effects. While the occasional difficulty spikes can be frustrating at first, they actually become surprisingly refreshing once you’ve built up a powerhouse team. After all, steamrolling through every fight in the game would be boring.

It’s worth it to just wander

Of course, acquiring all of those magical items takes money, which means wandering around from town to town and hoping that the random events result in money or items that can be sold for money. I suppose this could be considered “grinding” in a loose sense, though in truth it never feels like it. In fact, money was rarely the goal of my aimless wandering—more than anything, I wanted to stumble onto a new random event, or discover the “good” result of an event that I had previously ended up on the wrong side of. Wandering around even means cameos once you venture south of Vasena, and I ended up running into Rictor, Kassel, and Sir Jon over the course of my travels (though it’s certainly possible that more characters from the first game are hidden away somewhere I forgot to look). In fact, I suspect there are many things I still don’t know about the game; while looking for my saves in order to back them up, I found some audio for a secret gun weapon, but it remained hidden despite my best efforts to find it. There’s really no way of knowing if it actually made its way into the game or how many little details like that I failed to find. Even finding Kassel was a bit of a miracle, and I would have missed his cameo entirely if I hadn’t restarted an earlier save to make different decisions and see the game’s four different endings. It was kind of amazing that I was still stumbling onto new stuff after so many hours of playing, so you definitely get your money’s worth in terms of content.

Evil is always an option

One of the things I read on Illyria’s website was that the original release of the first game didn’t have many options for being evil. I played through the first game as a do-gooder of my own volition, admittedly, but they’ve allegedly made evil more viable since. As for Beyond the Iron Wall, being evil is definitely viable. In fact, toward the beginning it’s often necessary if you want to continue surviving; while Kepri may have ended up being a do-gooder by the end of the game (because me and evil never mix, promise), I can’t even count how many caravans she robbed after exhausting her own supplies. The desert can be a harsh and unpredictable place, so sometimes the choice is between eating and robbing. There are even some non-thievery-related events where being evil is the best choice, such as one with a stray dog where feeding it results in a broken hand and kicking it results in free wine. If that sounds completely random, I’ll refer you to my earlier statement about it being a setting filled with magic where pretty much anything can happen.

The game’s being regularly updated

I want to mention this before I get into the bugs I encountered: the game updated 2-3 times over the 4 or so days I spent playing through it, so any bugs I mention below may no longer exist. If the first Illyria game is any indication, Beyond the Iron Wall will eventually be polished to a bug-free shine, so keep that in mind when you read about some of the strange issues I encountered and don’t let those issues weigh your opinion of the game too heavily.

Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall

Screw Vasena; I’m going to Vegas.

Bugs/miscellaneous quirks

With that out of the way, I encountered a few issues over the course of my playthrough. Granted, only a couple of them were actually game-breaking, with the rest of them just being weird or annoying, but they’re still worth bringing up. The first thing I noticed was that I’d occasionally get no money for certain events. This happened twice: first when I was robbing a caravan, and then when I was mining for gold and supposedly gained 1500 gold pieces. I checked, and both instances left me with exactly the same amount of gold as I had prior.

Another issue is the 9999 gold limit, which is far too low given the huge amounts of money you’re capable of making in the late stages of the game. I eventually got to the point where I reached that gold limit, and having all of my gains past that point simply not exist was a bit annoying, especially since some of the better magical items can cost in the ballpark of 1,500-2,000 gold. With six party members in tow, this means you’ll be making multiple trips if you want to give all of your characters the best magical weapons, armors, amulets, and shields, which ends up being an unnecessarily tedious process.

Those are the less-than-game-breaking bugs, but I also experienced one or two bugs that stopped my game dead in its tracks. The first bug happened almost immediately after I gained my sixth follower, and it involves a random event where a djinn joins my party to help me fight off bandits. Obviously the game wasn’t recognizing that I already had a full party at that point, so it refused to let me enter the fight. Instead, clicking on “Prepare for battle…” popped up a notification asking me what app I wanted to use to “complete” the “action,” whatever that means. Closing the game and restarting it from a recent save fixed the problem, and when I eventually stumbled on that encounter again, everything triggered properly.

The other game-breaking bug I encountered was equally fleeting: midway through a battle, the game over screen came up as though I had died. This was despite the fact that all of my characters were still standing. Simply clicking on the button to restart combat was enough to overcome this particular bug.

Good graphics, but characters repeat a bit

I liked the first Illyria’s graphics quite a bit despite some of the armor combinations looking a bit weird and the grass occasionally looking like it was painted using a Photoshop brush. Not only does much of the awesome Illyria background art return once you venture back into that area, but the first half of the game focuses on Vasena, which is a desert/oasis kind of land, meaning no Photoshop-looking grass and a whole bunch of new art. As a result, I actually ended up liking the art direction in Beyond the Iron Wall quite a bit more than the first game. Naturally, it retains its unique “painted” aesthetic that makes many of the backgrounds timeless, and almost all of the new background art rivals the best of the first game.

There’s only one graphical flaw I could point out that bothered me: the repeating character models. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it’s obvious that two male or female characters have the same face, so dialogue that switches back and forth between them is jarring as the hair and clothes change, but the face stays exactly the same. This game could have definitely benefited from two or three alternate Vasenian faces.

Illyria sounds as good as ever

Much like how the graphics borrow from the previous game and build off of the old content with new art, Beyond the Iron Wall’s music reuses some music from previous games while offering plenty of equally interesting new tracks. Just like the first game, they don’t seem to loop properly, unexpectedly stopping and repeating at times, but again, I’m not sure if that’s a problem with the track itself or just a weird Kindle Fire quirk. Either way, it’s not anything that bothered me, and the music is fantastic overall, fitting each scene and situation perfectly.

Here’s what you should do:

Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall

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