Redwall Is Finally Getting a Video Game, but You Probably Shouldn't Be Happy About It
It's weird to think about, but my entire career has essentially been dependent on a talking mouse going on a quest for an ancient sword.
I've spent the last 10 years working as a freelance writer covering everything from underground black metal to Call Of Duty guides, and even released my own fantasy fiction ... and I can say without hesitation that I wouldn't have done any of that if it wasn't for discovering Redwall as a nine-year-old at the school library.
While other series would eclipse it in my list of personal favorites, Redwall is unquestionably what got me started in the fantasy realm and would spur me on to D&D, Final Fantasy, and beyond.
In retrospect, it's not a perfect series. There are plot problems, overly recurrent themes, and some thorny issues of racial bias you don't notice as a kid (why are all mice good and all ferrets evil?), but as a preteen just discovering the fantasy genre, I was hooked.
Thanks, Brian. I owe you one.
The Long Wait for a Redwall Game
Later on as an adult, the criminally unknown Mouse Guard graphic novels would step in to rekindle that fire with a very similar style and subject matter. Mouse Guard would go on to inspire a stellar pen-and-paper RPG that really evokes the feel of the story (with mechanics way outside the typical d20 system) and lets the grown-ups who adored Redwall as kids roleplay in a very similar universe.
While Mouse Guard has us covered on the tabletop setting, fans have been left out in the cold on the video game front. If you do some digging across the web, you can find some unofficial, fan-made Redwall games in various stages of completion. As far as official, licensed games, there really hasn't been anything to date.
That's not to say the notion of talking mice living in quiet abbeys in the woods hasn't managed to invade games, however. Several developers have already given us high-quality games with anthropomorphic animals that are clearly meant to be in line with Redwall's aesthetic.
There's been the turned-based Game Of Thrones-meets-Redwall game Armello, the old-school RTS battle title Tooth And Tail, the Early Access (but already promising) stealth-action RPG Ghost Of A Tale, and the upcoming VR game Moss, which looks about as Redwall-ish as you can get without actually having the name.
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Despite all those interesting offerings, there hasn't actually been anything legitimately released in Brian Jacques' famous fantasy world ... until now.
Just a few days back, a post for the very first Redwall video game randomly hit my feed thanks to the vagaries of the great unknowable Facebook algorithm. It's called Redwall: The Warrior Reborn and is launching in Early Access with a first episode titled The Scout.
To say I was merely excited would be the understatement of the century. Ecstatic? Over the motha-friggin' moon? Those are all a lot closer. Based on the Facebook comments, it seems a lot of other fans are feeling the same way and can't wait for the finished product.
Bumps Along the Road to Redwall
The episodic nature of the release, coupled with what is sure to be a long Early Access, put a bit of a damper on my initial excitement, bringing to mind the abandoned development of After Reset and many, many other episodic games that saw crowdfunding success but were never finished.
Despite those misgivings, I devoured the early screenshots and concept art, which looked pretty good (even if it didn't seem to exude the feel of Redwall as I'd conceived it as a kid), and started digging in deeper to see what had been done so far.
At the Steam page, it seemed the next logical step was to browse through other titles by the developer to know what sort of game to expect, and that's when the first red flag popped up.
To my dismay, Soma Games has a grand total of one other game under its belt: a slingshot puzzle entry called G Prime that has all of three reviews on Steam. A development team with next to nothing else to its name being given a major IP is already bringing to mind all those terrible Warhammer 40,000 titles that Game Workshops hands out like gross candy.
So how exactly did we get here, rather than seeing Redwall be handed out to a bigger name?
This is where things get a little confusing. There was a Kickstarter for a game called Redwall: The Warrior Reborn by Soma Games back in 2013, but strangely it wasn't actually for the Early Access Steam game out now. Rather, it was for a Minecraft entry called Abbeycraft, which really wasn't clear just by reading through the Kickstarter page.
That crowdfunding success was used as a jumping-off point for the next step, which is the Early Access beta period being used to actually develop the full game.
Realizing they may not be the first name you'd think of to tackle Redwall, Soma put up the Project Mouseworks page describing the history of how they got hooked up with the franchise, and my heart sank reading each successive paragraph.
Easily the biggest issue is that the author of that page hadn't even read the books until after author Brian Jacques died. Since the team had been actively pursuing the IP before his death, the gravity of that problem should be readily apparent.
If the Telltale crew had never read any of the Game Of Thrones books before pitching George R.R. Martin and HBO, would you have wanted them to tackle the series?
Flaming Potholes to Hell on the Road to Redwall
That Project Mouseworks article only gets more alarming from there, and my concern grew when the author said he didn't think the ghost of Brian Jacques was involved in granting them the license, but "coincidence is the language of the Spirit."
Something very not in tune with the spirit of Redwall was clearly going on there, which was really confirmed with this next statement from the developer:
For long-time Soma Games fans another point seems worth mentioning. We thought a lot about whether or not Redwall was a fit with the core values and mission of Soma Games. Answering that required a lot of thought and prayer. We take our voice and mission very, very seriously.
Wait, what mission, and why would you need to pray about whether Redwall fit with that mission?
As it turns out, Soma Games is a Christian development team, although to their credit, they go out of their way to explain they are Christian developers, but they aren't necessarily making explicitly Christian games that are meant to proselytize at the players.
While I appreciate that distinction, the issue still raises another pretty big red flag. Redwall isn't a religious series in any way. It's not even fantasy tinged with religion like Narnia. So why did an explicitly religious company get the license for a game that isn't explicitly religious?
It's a decision that doesn't make any sense. Would you seek out the team responsible for the Left Behind games or Bible Adventures to turn the Wheel Of Time or Mistborn novels into a new game series?
In most cases the religious beliefs of the developers wouldn't matter. I'm sure Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Scientologists, Cthulhu cultists, and atheists have all worked on awesome games in the past. But then we get to this little statement from Soma:
The fact that they think Diablo is somehow an inherently "evil" game, or that their core demographic wouldn't want to play the most lauded ARPG of all time ... well, that's concerning. That tells us we're going to get something that's toned down quite a bit from where it probably should be, and that concessions to religious concerns are going to be made where none are even needed in the first place.
It's Not All Doom and Gloom
If you look past the lack of developer pedigree, their unfamiliarity with the source material until after starting development, and the potential religious issues, there's still reason to be cautiously optimistic for Redwall's leap to the digital gaming age.
Most notably, Soma is actually active on the Facebook page with regular updates, and the developers take the the time to talk to potential players or respond to feedback. That's huge, as open communication is a must for an Early Access project.
It's also worth noting that the developers clearly get that Redwall was as much about the abbey and the lengthy food descriptions as it was the heroic mice and foul stoats. There's hope there that this team understands the material, even if they came late to the party.
Half the series is this sort of thing rather than combat, and I'm glad they acknowledged that fact.
The first Redwall game deserves a development team that is absolutely in love with the source material and has the resources, time, staffing, and ability to make something worth playing that both does the series justice and gives the fans what they've been waiting for these past two decades.
Maybe that's Soma Games, and maybe it isn't. Indie, unknown developers have released unbelievably awesome material in the past, and Kickstarter successes are less unknown these days, so there's always a chance Soma will defy the odds and give us the definitive Redwall game.
Wisdom earned by harsh experience would indicate otherwise, however. Redwall isn't just a cheap paperback to grab at the airport. This series means something to the longtime fans, and we'd rather have nothing at all than get something sub-par.
Soma folks, if you're reading this, it's my sincerest hope that you knock it out of the park and succeed, but at the same time, I'm absolutely begging you -- if you can't give us something better than Armello or Ghost Of A Tale, please do the right thing and hand the franchise over to someone else.
What do you all think -- are you excited for a Redwall game to finally arrive, or would you prefer to see a bigger developer take the reins sometime down the line?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments! For now, you can check out some Early Access footage below, and you can follow the latest on the game's development over here.
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