Turns out publisher Kalypso Media’s plan all along was to return to the Disciples franchise, which is being revived after over a decade with Disciples: Liberation. Liberation was announced out of nowhere, with Kalypso Media and developer Frima Studio dropping an exceptionally dark announcement trailer for the upcoming tactical RPG.
“We always knew we wanted to continue the franchise and we have been ideating on the next game in the franchise for many years,” Kalypso Media owner and managing director Simon Hellwig told me. “We also took our time finding the right developer and found the ideal match with Frima Studio.”
Disciples: Sacred Lands didn’t grab too much of an audience; if Wayback Machine can be trusted, GameSpot awarded the first Disciples the “Best Game No One Played” award back when it came out in 1999. Its follow-up, 2002’s Disciples II: Dark Prophecy, is a lot more popular, while 2009’s Disciples III: Renaissance (which marked developer Strategy First’s departure from the franchise) did not receive as positive reviews as the first two games did.
Kalypso Media has since been on the hunt for a developer that could modernize Disciples to appeal to a crowd of current RPG fans while still honoring the core conceit that allowed the original games to stand out back in the day: building armies and shaping the world around you through turn-based tactical wars.
“We wanted to revive it, and modernize it a bit of course, but we also wanted to stay true to the brand identity,” Frima Studio creative director Jordane Thiboust told me. “So we played the previous games, read tons of lore and fan theories. We even looked at cosplay that was done by fans in the past. It is like unearthing some forgotten treasure and every time you find something, it sparks new ideas. Disciples is niche indeed, but it was also greatly appreciated by the fans at the time, so our goal was clear: How do we revive it, while making it more popular than before?”
Frima Studio believes storytelling is where new additions can modernize this series. The Disciples franchise has always had a lore–the games take place in Nevendaar, a dark fantasy setting ruled by warring kingdoms, each of which has a long history. But the games have never really had a traditional story-driven campaign. You’re recruiting armies of followers, which is a lot more characters to juggle than what’s usually in story-driven RPGs.
So for Liberation, Frima Studios did pull inspiration from more traditional RPGs, including iconic characters with personal stories and a consequence-driven dialogue system, but the developer embraced Disciples tactical roots for the story too. For example, you can choose to ally yourself with whomever you want, and that will impact your story. “The player can still focus only on one faction if they wish and the ending of the game will work accordingly,” Thiboust said.
He continued: “We wrote a story not only about [protagonist] Avyanna, not only about her companions, but about Nevendaar itself. The campaign is around 80 hours long for completionists, and across that whole story, a lot will happen. And while you explore the whole of Nevendaar, you will rise from low life mercenary, to something quite literally, world changing. How the world will change though, is up for you to decide.”
As a final note, I did ask whether Liberation’s story would be as gruesome and dark as the announcement trailer made it out to be. “Yes, the tone of the game is very dark for sure, it is definitely M-Rated,” Thiboust said. “That does not mean we have very graphic scenes on screen, but the themes, the situations, the emotions we play with, can be seriously dark. That being said, it is not all gloom and doom either. There is some humor too. One of Avyanna’s companions especially has very cynical and dark humor.”
Disciples: Liberation will be the first game in the series to release for consoles, launching for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in Q4 2021. Hellwig said that folks will be “surprised by how well [Liberation] plays with a gamepad” and Thiboust assured me that the game will be “very welcoming” to newcomers.
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