[This article is based on an Early Access build of the game, and may not reflect the final product.]

Into The Pridelands

One of the most integral concepts to Afrofuturism is community. Characters at the center of Afrofuturistic stories are part of other lives and lands whose fate is tied to their own. Living this connection between Afrofuturism and community is the core of Heart Shaped Games’ We Are The Caretakers

Style is another undeniable part of Afrofuturism, which WATC has from jump. The opening screen features rainfall glittering off the stylish armor of one of the titular Caretakers. Once the player chooses their Caretaker’s presentation (masculine or feminine), the game drops immediately into some on-the-job training. 

INVESTIGATE THE INCIDENT is a hell of a way to start a game.

As stewards of the land of Shadra, the Caretakers’ most immediate concern is the rhinoceros-like Raun. Investigating a grisly poaching, the player discovers a baby Raun. Your newly-elected Conductor decides instead to name and enlist the foundling to help hunt their parents’ killers.

Trial By Combat

Players highlight and move their party across the Shadran plains in search of the criminals.  Scouting before crossing into new areas reveals points of interest, such as Raun poacher traps to disarm or towns to interact with. Catching up with the poachers drops you into the turn-based tactical combat portion of the game. 

“But Caretaker, I sell Raun horn to the community!”

The game has an auto-battle configuration that allows you to set attack patterns, but what’s here is classic turn-based strategy. Rather than the stats of traditional RPGs, Stamina and Will are the party’s basic resources. Stamina acts as health for your party members: both battle and travel across the map can deplete it, but restoration is as simple as visiting a town.

Will as a stat doesn’t have this problem, but your enemies’ reserves can be much harder to deplete. Reducing either stat to 0 with your party’s skills will make a combatant take a knee. This gives the player a number of choices for the defeated. ‘Shake Down’ makes the opponent run their pockets before they flee, while ‘Wound’ removes them from the game entirely. 

‘Detain’ is the option that leads to more interesting play. Between missions, your squad returns to Caretaker HQ. Here, players can customize the compositions of their teams by accepting new recruits and leveling their class types. Research points can be acquired for upgrades to make combat and exploration less difficult. 

Passing sentencing on those detained from battle is the most interesting mechanic by far. The Reputation stat takes into account the Caretakers’ standing with Shadra at large through each judgment. Will players release offenders with an appropriate penalty? Or perhaps accept a bribe on the offender’s behalf?

You’re about to teach Vengeance to your grass-type Pokemon.

Beyond Wakanda

Players’ most likely course of action, though, is to retrain these poachers as new Caretaker units. As you build more squads of Caretakers, they can be dispatched across the map to help accomplish several mission objectives at once. Accomplishing these is further complicated by the fragility of the game’s current Early Access builds. 

Crashes occur frequently, and with saving only possible between missions this can lose significant progress. Combat at this stage could also use some work. Attacks feel weightless due to simple animations and missing audio cues. Between steady updates and a Discord for feedback about the game, the developers are addressing these concerns.

We are the Caretakers is not a Black Panther simulator, and it’s not trying to be. By using real-time strategy as a way of focusing on detail, they’ve managed to envision Afrofuturism as a process rather than a destination. WATC’s Shadra holds promising potential to let players see what it takes to build & maintain a community beyond colonization.

7 out of 10 Baby Raun

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  • Live-action cartoon character, based on the tie-in manga inspired by the video game. Previous residences include The Disney Afternoon, the Turtle Lair, and Santa Destroy. Will edit for pizza and graphic novels.

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