For the past decade, roguelikes have been one of the biggest upcoming genres in games. While games in the roguelike genre used to be just indie games, even the bigger budget titles are dipping in the roguelike genre. The Last Spell is part of the former. An indie roguelike game doing what the genre does best. Trying something new. With it leaving early access, now seemed a great time to pick it up. Read on for our The Last Spell review.
As someone who’s played their fair share of roguelike games, I was very excited to get my hands on The Last Spell. Roguelikes are a tricky genre in my opinion. It can be very hit or miss. Roguelikes are all about replayability. The games aren’t long or offer massive story campaigns, but offer a huge challenge you need to overcome. After every defeat, you get stronger in order to increase your chances of success. Make it too hard and people will stop, make it too easy and people will bore quickly. Balance is key.
Is it an RPG?
In essence, The Last Spell advertises itself as a turn based RPG roguelike. While I understand where the developers are coming from, I personally see it more as a turn based strategy game. Of course, there are a lot of RPG mechanics, but the story is pretty thin (And that’s alright for a roguelike). You also don’t get a set cast of characters but they randomize on each run. So there’s not much in terms of character progression regarding the story. It’s a lot more about game mechanics. That’s fine, but important to know if you got triggered by its RPG marketing.
The Last Spell is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The world of The Last Spell was plagued by wars for decades. In order to try and stop this, a group of mages started using powerful spells and incantations. However, this went terribly wrong. Most of the world was annihilated by fireballs and hordes of bloodthirst mutants now roam the world. In order to stop their mistakes, they want to use one last spell to banish magic. This will take several days of incantation. It’s up to your team of heroes to protect them, while swarms of mutants try to stop the magicians.
Day and Night
As I mentioned earlier, this process will take several days and that is a key mechanic for The Last Spell. There are day and night phases. During the day, it’s the production phase. When night comes, it’s time to fend off mutants in the combat phase. There’s no timer, it’s up to you when to start the next phase. The production phase allows you to build up your defense, your town, upgrade your heroes and so on. It’s generally the time where you prepare for swarms of enemies to attack you.
The game is all about defending your mage(s), who resides in the town you are protecting. At first, the town is protected by a few barricades from multiple sides and a few walls with loads of holes. Before the night begins, you’ll get an indicator from which side the enemy swarms will come. At first, only one side of town is beset. But as you progress, they’ll come from multiple sides each with a varying difficulty. So before you begin, you’ll need to decide how you’ll defend each side. This is crucial. You’ll always start a run with three heroes. So as soon as multiple waves are inbound, you’ll have to decide where to position each hero.
Turn After Turn, Run After Run
Once the night begins, waves of mutants will spawn. Each turn, all your heroes get a few movement points to maneuver around the battlefield and some action points. Action points decide how often you can attack or cast a spell. Additionally, the more powerful actions will cost mana. End the turn and the waves move closer to your town and new enemies spawn. My earliest mistake was depleting my mana early on, in wave two. It left me with just basic attacks when the stronger waves of mutants arrived. Safe to say, I didn’t stand a chance of survival at that point.
In the following run, I decided to be more conservative with my mana points, as the game intends. However, this also highlighted a big weak point in its gameplay. If you focus on the weaker actions, you mostly single hit your enemies. With dozens and later hundreds of enemies swarming the battlefield, your turns can quickly become very tedious. There’s no way to auto attack, which means you’ll be single clicking a lot. If you progress further into your run, you’ll increase your characters powers and your options of dealing with enemies. So eventually this’ll go better. However, every new run I was faced with the same issue which became boring rather quickly.
Roll, Roll, Roll Your Stats
As you deal with enemy waves, it’ll become day eventually and you’ll enter your production phase. This is where you can do all your customization and leveling of your characters. The leveling up mechanics are pretty great. Instead of your usual attribute distribution, you’ll be given a choice at every level. Do you increase maximum health? The maximum mana pool? Or perhaps critical hit damage? And so on. This seems pretty standard, however, the choices offered are randomly generated. The results also vary. You can have a common or a rare option between them. The higher the rarity, the bigger the increase. If you do not like your options, you get some limited re-rolls. But this randomness perfectly fits the roguelike genre.
Apart from this, gear is also really important. Gear makes or breaks your characters. They do not only make them more powerful, they also change your available skills and options in combat. As you unlock better gear, this also remedies some of the issues I had with the tedious single attacks later on. Additionally, you can give each hero perks from a tree to flesh out your build even further. There’s plenty to customize and experiment to keep things fresh for your next runs. You can also buy additional heroes to increase the amount of heroes on the battlefield.
The Last Bastion
Apart from leveling, building up your town and its defenses is important as well. You’ll get gold and materials from successfully warding off enemies. You can also get this from having your workers scavenge the field. But resources are scarce. Right at the start, you have to carefully consider what you want to invest in. Spreading everything too thin is not a good idea. You’ll need a clear strategy to be ready for the tougher waves, as the difficulty ramps up swiftly. Gold is used to upgrade and build buildings. Materials are used to build up your defense such as walls, ballistas and catapults. Because yes, you’ll unlock defense weapons at some point too, which adds tower defense elements to the game.
As with every roguelike, failure brings opportunity. You’ll earn points with every success and failure, which you can use to unlock various things. Omens give you a boost or buff in the next run and various favors unlock new game mechanics, units, weapons and so on. If you can get past the first few runs, you’ll quickly expand your options to succeed.
What do I click?
The first thing I noticed when starting the game was its chaotic interface. Once you get onto any map, there’s loads of information and icons all around the interface. The game does offer you a good tutorial, fortunately. One nice element to counter the chaos is the Commander’s Journal. In every production phase, you’ll have a sidebar on the left which gives you notifications of tasks you can complete. Such as leveling your heroes, building defenses or giving commands to workers. It’s a great way to guide the newer players through the game.
In terms of atmosphere and soundtrack, the game hits the right spot. It’s obviously very dark and brooding, including the color palette, but that makes sense considering the theme. The art style is pixelated which works pretty well for the game, especially with the number of enemies on screen at once at times. Enemy types aren’t really varied however and look largely the same. While it didn’t bother me perse as it serves the function of identifying enemy types, you’ll find no variation here.
The core gameplay loop for The Last Spell is solid for a roguelike. It’s all about failing and improving and then progressing. There’s loads of customization which will keep you entertained. Sadly, the first part of each run can be tedious, which stopped me from getting that “One more run” itch.. The cluttered interface might also scare people away. But if you’re into roguelikes, hold on, get over the hurdle and you’ll find an interesting roguelike with a unique combination of genres. I’m also looking forward to a next iteration of this type of gameplay, be it in a sequel or another game. Because in essence, the concept is great.
- A lot of customization options
- Leveling system is great
- Production phase gameplay is a lot of fun
- Tedious gameplay in first stages
- Cluttered interface
- Somewhat high difficulty curve