We tried The Iron Oath in Early Access, formed a band of mercenaries with many strengths and weaknesses, experienced the beginning of a dark, well-written story, and fought with bandits and spooky monsters.

In the game, you accept commissions for noble houses, send your troops into dungeons and battlefields, loot treasures, defeat wacky creatures and take care of injuries when the work is done. If you do well, your reputation will improve. You will gradually receive better contracts with more significant challenges, gain access to various upgrades for your company and get better prices on the marketplace.

All of this is presented with excellent pixel art and a great soundtrack, has perfect lyrics, but no voice output or cutscenes. In addition, the part currently only exists in English. The game still offers a very manageable amount of content, and the existing story part can be played through in an extended afternoon. But what is available already gives hope for a real genre highlight.

It suits you if
You like dark fantasy.
You want to experiment with group combinations.
You like challenging games with severe consequences.

It doesn’t suit you if
You think pixel art is stupid.
You want big battles.
Random elements annoy you.

The story: Not original but exciting
The Iron Oath is set in a medieval world infested with monsters. The villages and towns are looking for mercenaries who will find missing family members and smoke out monster lairs. Your job is to hire these mercenaries, pay them, lead them in combat and through dungeons, and equip and heal them.

You are also on the lookout for a gang of traitors who will play you badly at the beginning of the game. It is not original, but it is very well written and engagingly told. You hire mercenaries in taverns. Their class and properties depend on chance.

There are currently six character classes, ranging from more apparent units like the lightning-wielding Stormcaller and bow-wielding Huntress to the brawling Pugilist and the Pyrolancer, a cross between a fire mage and a lance-wielding tank.

In addition, your warriors have positive and negative character traits. When making decisions, a careless pugilist hits it more challenging and takes more damage, and stubborn mercenaries want to enforce their will when making decisions, and so on. Maybe your Huntress is deceptive and then likes to fib in dialogue options.

Names and appearance are also randomly generated, but you can change and adapt them freely by hand, unlike the class and character traits. Initially, you can hire up to eight mercenaries if you have the financial means, and your roster can be expanded with upgrades. The maximum group size for dungeons and fights is limited to four characters. Adventures and battles with more characters could follow later but are not yet planned.

The fights: tactically shallow but fun
Combat isn’t complex yet, with melee fighters surrounding dangerous units and trying to lock them in, dishing out attacks of opportunity if an opponent tries to flee. Positioning is critical, and each class has some interesting abilities. Ranged fighters set traps and use cover to attack from afar while minimizing damage.

A Guardian can heal allies and equip themselves and companions with protective shields, a Valkyrie teleports weak-chested heroes out of harm’s way, and the Stormcaller can cast an overwhelming lightning bolt that perfectly grills most enemies in one hit but takes some time to channel.

You can power up these abilities by leveling them up by giving them more potency, range, or additional charges—because you can only use them a limited number of times and then have to rest to gain access to them again. Your adventures usually occur in dungeons with limited supplies, and setting up camp often attracts enemies.

It’s friendly and atmospheric but costs you experienced fighters. In addition, before you take a break, you have to choose whether you want to regenerate your skills or rather your life points, for example. If you run out of healing potions on the way and you run into an ambush, mercenaries sometimes give up the spoon permanently. Successful, long-lived mercenaries may not fall in combat, but they age over time, reducing attributes like maximum health. If you lead a happy and long life, you will eventually retire.

The scope: still little campaign, but a lot of sandboxes
Especially in dungeons, you make many decisions: Do you help a wounded adventurer, or do you flatten and loot his corpse? He who dawdles suffers! The loyalty and morale of your mercenaries will rise and fall depending on your actions. As the playing time in a dungeon progresses, you collect adverse effects such as more dangerous traps or a greater risk of surprise attacks.

In the game, you deal with death, injuries, long recovery times, age, pay, and repairs because The Iron Oath is not only a turn-based strategy game and a dungeon crawler but also requires some management.

It’s not easy, but at least the level of difficulty is very flexible and customizable, from sliders for experience points in combat to regeneration times for wounds to the amount of gold you start the game with. You can adapt many details and rules to your taste.

You don’t get an awful lot for the 20 euros you have to shell out for early access. After a few hours of the story, there are sandbox-like random tasks. After 15 hours, you’ve seen each of them. A roadmap in the game shows you when new classes, content, and features are coming.

This is beautifully transparent. The announced updates look realistic and not exaggerated. Above all, what is already inside is good. However, if you haven’t fallen in love with the game at first sight, you should watch it and wait for the following few content updates to appear.