Stoneshard Early Access Impressions — A Diabolically Fresh Take on Turn-based RPGs

Stoneshard mixes Diablo-inspired game design with turn-based RPG content for an early access game that is well-worth a look.

Usually, when a game launches into early access, I do my best to admire it from afar. It’s not that I have anything against playing games still in active development. It’s just that I worry if I dive into an early access game, I won’t want to play the final version. The sheer number of games I try to get my hands on makes going back to a game I’ve already played a tough prospect. However, when I saw the combination of Diablo-like loot and turn-based combat that makeup Stoneshard, I knew I had to check it out.

That being said, I still haven’t let myself get too deep. So, certainly don’t think of this as a review. More of a preview than anything. I’ve spent several hours in the early game learning how to play and dying. Dying a lot. No, that number you have in your head. Add like twelve to it.

Stoneshard is difficult. Not “bang your head against a wall” difficult, but it’s definitely not here to hold your hand. As someone who’s used to wading through hordes of enemies like I’m taking a nice stroll at the beach in Diablo, it took a while to get my head around the idea that I should actually play carefully. What I found was a game that, while deeply rewarding at times, could probably do with a few tweaks to improve the experience.

See, Stoneshard is completely randomly-generated. Because of how it was designed, you can’t just save anywhere. Instead, you can only save at a few spots throughout the world. So, if you were to say be down in a dungeon and run into a horde of spooky vampire monsters and die like a tiny weakling, you wouldn’t just reload at a quicksave from 15 minutes ago. You’d get warped back to town and have to start all over again. It’s a frustrating experience, but one the team is already working on.

For now, they’ve added several extra save spots, but in the future, they plan to add a mobile caravan. This will let you save much more easily, basically getting rid of that frustration entirely.

That’s excellent news as just about everything else the game has on offer is totally my jam. As mentioned above, this is not an action-adventure game like your Diablos. Instead, battles feel more like a melee-focused XCOM mission. Each battle is a tactical fight that requires you to actually put in some forethought. And there aren’t really any specific character classes. You can pick and choose from the skill tree to build whatever type of character you want. I haven’t gotten too deep into the skill tree yet (you can only play the first 10 or so levels), but it seems perfectly tailored for multiple playthroughs. I haven’t seen anything about resetting your skill tree; however, I would be very surprised if that wasn’t an option once the game is fully launched.

The careful thought you employ in battle extends to Stoneshard’s health system. Each limb has its own health bar that contributes to your overall health. You need to carefully monitor both this and your hunger and thirst meters to stay in tip-top shape. Whether you’re eating a pear you find on a dungeon floor or tossing a splint on your broken arm, it’s a system that forces you to think a bit more than your traditional Diablo-like.

Obviously, with me being very early into the game, it’s hard to really talk about the story too much. I will say that the core mystery around the Stoneshards at least has me intrigued enough to check back in when it’s finished. The narrative doesn’t feel particularly ground-breaking from what I’ve played, but who knows? That could change as we move through development.

That’s the best part about Stoneshard as it stands right now. It seems so full of potential. Which makes it easy to recommend, even in its early state. Sure, things could change during development; however, there’s enough here that even if you play it now and never touch it again, I think you’re getting your $15 worth. The gameplay is deep and tactical in a way that feels fun. It doesn’t hold your hand, which can be frustrating at times, but when you figure it out it’s very rewarding. And the long list of planned updates Ink Stains Games has on their roadmap is both ambitious and feels within the scope of the current game. It’s going to be a lot of work, but their goals seem attainable. That’s not always the case with early access titles.

Personally, I’ll probably dip my toes back in for a few more hours and then try to stay away while they work to finish. What I’ve seen so far has me very excited to see the end product. I’m just not sure if I want to put up with the currently frustrating save system too much longer. If you’re on the lookout for something that feels like Diablo with an XCOM-like twist, you don’t have to look much further than Stoneshard. The game is available now on PC.

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Ricky Frech

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