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Oaken Review

Oaken review

Stylish but challenging, Oaken is a turn-based strategy game worth jumping into if this is your genre of choice.

The art style of Oaken is likely to be the first thing that catches your eye. Its woodland-inspired sprites are beautifully designed, with its colourful palette bringing the game to life with gusto. But don’t let its enticing visuals fool you: it may look pretty and unassuming, but Oaken is hiding a very challenging turn-based strategy roguelike experience underneath its veneer, one that’s only going to appeal to real fans of the genre.

If you’re up for the challenge, though, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The action of Oaken plays out on a turn-based grid, with players able to take a number of actions each turn. You can move your units and attack your enemies if you’re in range, place new units and perform a special skill. Every one of your units has two numbers assigned to them: their attack strength and HP. Enemies also have the same numbers, and you’ll need to pay close attention to those if you want to succeed. Before you make a move, make sure your opponent’s attack doesn’t outweigh your own HP, otherwise you’re dust.

Being a roguelike, if you’re playing in the standard mode of Oaken – called ‘Journey’ – it’s game over once your lead unit falls. You can have others remaining on the grid, but that doesn’t matter: you need to keep your main unit alive, or else. With sometimes upwards of nine enemies to clear in one match, you’ve got your work cut out for you. But success brings with it rewards: you’ll get new units, currency that allows you to upgrade your existing units and more. The longer you survive in Oaken, then, the stronger your team is going to get.

Oaken review
A random event that you might come across in a run of Oaken

If you fancy a slightly easier experience, you can opt for the ‘Relaxed’ game mode. Here, you get the option to continue (only once) after defeat, and your lead unit is slightly stronger. It’s a helping hand, then, but Oaken still isn’t a walk in the park: you still feel sufficiently challenged. It’s just nice having that extra buffer of a continue there, particularly if you’re still learning the ropes.

Thankfully, there’s a comprehensive tutorial to work your way through if you’re playing Oaken for the first time. And even after you’ve completed it, you’ll be privy to the odd tooltip that keeps you abreast on the game’s multiple features. There’s quite a lot to take in, and your first few matches can feel overwhelming. But once you get the hang of it, getting your head around your own abilities and those of your opponents, victory can feel oh-so very sweet.

Taking cues from the likes of Slay the Spire, progressing through a game of Oaken involves making your way down a map of sorts, with branching routes to take as you go. Most common are fights, but you’ll also find random events, resting points and opportunities to upgrade or improve your party. It adds a nice bit of variety to proceedings, although when you’re first starting out it’s not made obvious what each icon on the map represents, so you may not know what you’re letting yourself in for initially.

The two different game modes of Oaken are very much appreciated, but whichever you opt for, you’re in for a challenging ride. If you’re new to turn-based strategy games, Oaken might not be the best place to start – even if it’s charming art style is initially disarming. But for those who enjoy the genre, there’s a lot to like here.

Oaken Review – GameSpew’s Score

This review of Oaken is based on the PS5 version of the game, via a code provided by the publisher. It’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.
Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.