I love giant robots, but so many of the mech-fighting video games out there are surprisingly bleak affairs – a trend that indie developer Olive Perry wishes to counter with her latest project.
FromSoftware’s Armored Core series, due to see its sixth mainline game release this August, takes place in a dystopia where mega-corporations vie for control of humanity’s dwindling resources. Armored Core 6 looks poised to follow this direction as it follows the brutal war for the resource-rich planet Rubicon 3. The MechWarrior series, too, offers a bleak picture of humanity fractured into warring factions.
However, if you want a break from edgy sci-fi mech battles the world of mech-battling tabletop RPG Lancer is far more optimistic. Thanks to Perry’s successful Kickstarter campaign, it's about to receive its own video game adaptation in the form of a modular, story-driven strategy game: Lancer: Tactics
Much like Baldur’s Gate 3, Lancer Tactics is a faithful adaptation of a tabletop RPG. Lancer, by Massif Press, offers deep and satisfying turn-based combat reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem: Engage. In short: it’s ripe for a video game adaptation.
A brighter future
Speaking with Perry about her ambitious project, it became clear that Lancer's world is built on “hope”, which skirts “the edges of utopia” in its more optimistic view of what humanity could be. Lancer’s setting is perhaps most comparable to Star Trek, depicting a human race that has overcome a series of great calamities, overcoming the worst elements of itself with the mission of creating a post-scarcity utopia for all. In Armored Core 6, you play as a “mercenary or a pawn” stuck in “cycles of violence”. By contrast, Lancer Tactics portrays “a universe where the future is not foreclosed upon.”
Despite its rosy premise, Lancer isn’t opposed to shades of grey. Though the central planets of Union – humanity’s post-capitalist central government – are havens without want or scarcity, the frontier worlds of Lancer are far dicier, often beset by tyrants, poverty, or flat-out invasion. It’s one of these worlds where Lancer Tactics takes place.
However, Lancer Tactics is more than just an adaptation. “It’s not just a mechanical foundation; it’s a narrative foundation”, says Perry. The game is poised to represent humanity in all its diversity. The game’s tagline: “be gay, do robot crimes” isn’t just hot air. Though Perry and her team intend to “keep the scope small” for now, she mentioned an “axe to grind” when telling more diverse stories in video games.
It’s a refreshing approach, moving beyond the more sterile, paint-by-numbers strategy game stories that emerge in the likes of XCOM 2. The mission statement on the game’s Kickstarter page is clear on this point, too, promising a “critical examination of empire and the compromises made in the fight for utopia”.
Drink deep and descend
Perry has lofty ambitions for Lancer: Tactics to become the “foundation” for “modular” scenarios produced by all sorts of “different writers making their own sets of missions”. The title is set to offer an “anthology style” of missions and stories rather than “one cohesive narrative”, allowing for a broader exploration of the setting. However, this approach is not simply stylistic. Perry continues: “it [will be] very easy for somebody else to come in and make one mission [and make it] very seamless for someone to take their character and go play in that one.”
This is where we start to see the most ambitious elements of the project. Much like tabletop RPGs, Lancer: Tactics is intended not only as a way for Perry and her team to launch their own narrative campaign but as a platform for other writers to tell their own stories, too.
Community-driven story projects are nothing new. Plenty of writers and designers have added their own modular stories to the likes of the Elder Scrolls series or Divinity: Original Sin 2. However, Lancer: Tactics is set apart in that it is explicitly being created with modularity in mind from day one while striving to cultivate an inclusive and diverse culture of storytelling that represents the sorts of experiences that we simply don’t get to see in mainstream games that often.
Perry clarified that “the thing about the Lancer community and tabletop folks, in general, is that they love making stories and will take any tool you give them… so I really see our role here as [allowing] people to tell their own stories.” By bringing this energy to video games, Lancer: Tactics is doing something special with the strategy games space: cultivating an open and welcoming community of content creators.
This small, ambitious title is a welcome breath of fresh air. Though I remain very excited for Armored Core 6, I find myself captivated by the possibilities inherent in Perry’s project. I can’t help but wonder exactly where Lancer: Tactics will take us.