The Iron Oath Review – Fulfilling Its Destiny

The Iron Oath Review

In a world of brave warriors and powerful mages, there is only one person who can manage everyone’s salary. That’s you. The Iron Oath is a tactical mercenary company management game. You command your mercs in battle, but you also choose which jobs to take and when to give your guys the week off. It’s a genre that has long been waiting for a new definitive entry. If you can get past its initial difficulty, you’ll find a deep game with a lot of surprises. The Iron Oath is my new go-to mercenary game.

Buying All the Sellswords

Mercenary games are where tactics meet tycoons. The most classic example is Jagged Alliance (which just got an excellent third entry into the series). If medieval warriors is more your thing, Battle Brothers has been the best game for a while. The Iron Oath is more explicitly fantastical than Battle Brothers, and has a very different aesthetic style. But each game gives you a lot to oversee.

The Iron Oath has a simple story that forms the spine of your journey. It’s one of betrayal and revenge. You’ll always play on the same map, which isn’t enormous but it makes up for its size with personality. Each region feels distinct from the others. You’ll spend a lot of your journey fighting demons and the undead. Occasionally, you’ll be killing other humans.

Tactical battles play out on a hex grid. Your guys belong to a series of fantasy RPG classes like hunter, valkyrie, bard, and thunder mage. One way the Iron Oath stands out is how big the fantasy elements are. There’s a huge evil dragon and you’ll find mages galore at each inn you visit. At first, I was uncertain about all the flashy magic. These games usually are concerned with the less glamorous details of a merc’s life. But I quickly came to respect the strategy that mages brought to combat.

Fighting In the Pixel Mud

You’ll be leveling up each of your mercenaries, and managing their equipment. There are customization elements, but the options are slim. Clearly you are intended to stick with the randomly generated guys, who have a lot of personality. They all have personality stats which determines how much morale they gain or lose from your choices as boss. Those personalities aren’t static, and can shift as the merc experiences the hardships of the road. But c’mon, we all know the way to play these games is to make mercs of all your friends so you can be gutted when they get gutted.

Once you start up the game, you’ll immediately run into the pixel graphical style. While I appreciate how pixel graphics can help get indie games out into the world, lately I’ve been feeling like we’re seeing too many of them. Eventually The Iron Oath won me over. I think it’s because the characters are so long and skinny, it didn’t feel like the same squat Super Nintendo graphics I’ve been staring at for ages.

Oath of Obsession

The sound design too, at first I didn’t know if I liked it. The Iron Oath sounds pretty similar on paper. The same clicks and beeps in the menu. The same clangs and screams of battle. The music could have been the soundtrack of any decent PS2 RPG. I was almost ready to try playing the game on mute, maybe put on a podcast. But then when I caught myself humming the battle theme in the shower, I knew that the audio design had me hooked.

You may be noticing a bit of a recurring theme. I scoffed, underestimating The Iron Oath at every turn. I tried playing an earlier version of the game, and bounced right off of it. I don’t know what precisely has changed. Maybe it’s the game balance. Campaigns are wicked hard, but every loss teaches me something new. Even at its weakest, The Iron Oath is never incompetent. And the longer I spend with it, the more I realize it might be me who’s incompetent. At least I feel like I’m always learning.

I plan to spend a lot more time with The Iron Oath. In fact, it gets a rare stamp of honor. Even fantastic games can grow old once you’ve played and reviewed it. With The Iron Oath, there’s still so much more for me to learn and see. In fact, I think it’s going to remain installed on my PC for a long while. I can’t foresee another game coming for the merc management throne for a long time.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • High fantasy meets grounded concerns
  • Fast and fun tactical battles
  • Well implemented pixel style

The Bad

  • Steep learning curve
  • Very limited customization options