Tethered is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing, perilously cute and harbouring a diabolical secret. The aesthetically friendly, PlayStation VR exclusive strategy game is quick to pile on complex mechanics, soon leaving players tasking tasks on top of multitasks in a frantic struggle to heal the land.
Incredibly moreish, as the best strategy games are, Tethered is a fully-featured entry into the genre first and foremost.
Luckily, Secret Sorcery do afford the player some concessions that mean playing Tethered isn’t entirely like wrestling an octopus with your hands bound. Weather effects offer a wide range of boons depending on how they’re employed, for example: snowy clouds alone can be tethered to a body of water in order to freeze it and open new paths, to a depleted rock formation to allow further quarrying, to a peep to give them added damage absorption, to an enemy to hold them in place, and to other clouds to create combined weather phenomenon. A range of clouds with a similar multitude of uses spawn and despawn frequently, so using them routinely and efficiently is key to your success.
There are also a suite of buildables to erect on designated foundations that’ll help you on your way, provided enough resources have been gathered. A field should take priority and provides a consistent food supply, whilst a moot hall and barracks allow peeps to be trained in vocations that boost their productivity, the workshop increases work speed, and a temple offers additional ways to procure Spirit Energy. Building multiples of these base structures proportionally increases their benefits, whilst they can each individually be upgraded once to serve a number of additional uses.
With an absolute swathe of options there are a great many paths through any given level, though across the thirteen present in Tethered we were never really challenged to diversify. Each floating island sports a more complex layout and devious upgrade path than the last, but we were nonetheless able to utilise the same tactics from start to finish relatively unchallenged. As a result, the later levels are perhaps the weakest of the bunch due to repetition somewhat setting in as they unfurl in much the same way you’re accustomed to, just on a larger scale.
The latter stages also demand busy head movements to juggle the increasing number of tasks, leaving you no time to take in their gorgeous vistas, and - more damningly - the PlayStation Camera can struggle to keep track of the action, resulting in the need for semi-frequent adjustments.
You're afforded concessions that mean playing Tethered isn’t entirely like wrestling an octopus with your hands bound.
In addition to this issue, some menus can appear at awkward angles and uncomfortably close to your face, making them difficult to read, but the virtual reality implementation is, for the most part, stellar regardless. You look down on the world as if it were a living diorama suspended in the sky, which stretches, vast and blue, far into the distance to offer a real sense of depth and scale. Importantly, the elevated perspective and the peeps’ direct reactions to the player further the game’s themes; they help to realise the fantasy of embodying an omnipotent and omnipresent deity, rather than simply occupying ‘gimmick’ territory.
Thanks to this, the world of Tethered isn’t one you’ll want to leave anytime soon. Despite becoming a tad repetitive, we’re still drawn back to improve our rankings (not that you can get any higher than first on the global leaderboard /smug), polish our strategies, and even develop some new ones.
Incredibly moreish, as the best strategy games are, Tethered is a fully-featured entry into the genre first and foremost, but one that leverages virtual reality to convey its empowering, godly themes with clout. It definitely has its issues, but they’re easily overcome when contrasted with the game’s mechanical depth and visual charm.