Procedural generation and endless dungeons aren’t anything new in the world of roguelike games and yet it somehow is mindboggling how innovative some ideas can get and how different aspects combined together can create a very unique experience! Despot’s Game, which is developed by the people behind Despotism 3k, combines auto-battler mechanics, army management and roguelike shenanigans into one wonderful game full of humour and life… but it’s incredibly hard and the learning curve can be off-putting as the only real help you’ll get is the ability to experiment with tactics and positioning but more on that later.
Developer: Konfa Games Publisher: tinyBuild Genre: Strategy, Autobattler, Roguelite, Indie Release Date: October 14th, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC (Mac, Win, Linux) Copy was provided by the publisher.
After being thrown into an unknown and endless world, you have to step into the role of a general who’s guiding puny humans through this dystopian hell. You need to manage food, tokens and your army’s strength while making difficult choices and while mutating your humans to reach the next level in terms of strength. As you guide them through different rooms, you’ll encounter enemies that your army will fight automatically. The only real impact you have in the game are your strategic choices as well as your tactical positioning before each fight. Naturally, tanks go into the front while the damage dealers and healers sit out in the back but there are a lot of ways to position your units as you’ll find out through experimentation. As mentioned here, there are classes that you can assign to your units via items. These items govern your units’ health, attack and other stats and give them active abilities that they may task from time to time. More importantly, however, classes grant bonuses based on the class. Once you acquire a bunch of unique items and put them on your humans, you’ll find your healers healing more, your throwers using bombs and your cultists summoning a tentacle monster from another world to fight beside your soldiers.
Naturally, you’ll want the strongest units and as many as possible, right? Well, no,… after all, humans require food. As you move through the dungeon, you’ll consume food that you’ve stored up over time. This food can be bought in food shops for tokens that you earn after combat. The more humans you have, the more rations you’ll use up. Naturally, you’ll have to manage the strength of your army at the cost of its size or you won’t last long in Despot’s Game. When in doubt, you can always sacrifice humans though, gaining food in the process and reducing the cost of rations per turn – but is it worth it in the end? Well, try and find it out!
On top of food shops, you can also encounter altars that grant you unique perks for either all classes or specific ones. Summoned tentacles can become ranged, for instance, and shooters can heal themselves with another perk. Other perks grant everyone more mana or faster casts on their abilities, which can be quite handy. These will kind of shape your build but when in doubt, you can also use tokens to reroll your perks on the altar and take whatever fits best. In one run, I got a bunch of fencer perks despite not liking the class as a whole but in the end, it helped me as it enabled the backline to deal a lot more damage while the fencers were slowing targets down and taking the brunt of the enemy forces. At the same time, you may also invest money into item shops to upgrade them, increasing the odds of finding specific rarer items… or you invest into your mutations tree to unlock other perks that benefit all humans, such as more health, attack speed, or cheaper shops. Again, there is a lot of depth in this game and it’s still in Early Access!
But wait… there’s more! It wouldn’t be a game by Konfa Games if it didn’t have choices with pop-culture references and a lot of humour. You may encounter a young boy with a scar, glasses and some sort of stick… or a really fast guy covered in blood… Heck, there are way too many of these references in the game and I absolutely love it. These encounters leave you with a few choices and if you get it right, you may end up earning a new unit, a perk or even some tokens. Wrong answers on the other hand may result in slight drawbacks or nothing. What bothers me with these is that, while they can be refreshing, you’ll eventually run into choices that you’ve seen before and effectively, you’ll know which answer is “the right one”. Similarly, I’d love it if there were choices that had success or failure chances based on your synergies. Encountering Zagreus from Hades could maybe work better if you had a lot of fencers with you, for instance, or having a lot of magicians could give you better chances with the budget Harry Potter? Also, some of these references could be seen as spoilers but who cares, right?
A bigger issue that I have with the game is that the lack of guidance can be a tad frustrating especially as the game is really overwhelming in its depth and strategic repertoire. Yes, there is a question mark button up there that showcases you what your chances are currently at getting certain items in the shop. Yes, there is a tutorial. Yes, the game is easy to learn but hard to master. All of that is true… and yet, it can be a bit frustrating, especially when you lose humans that levelled up a bunch and got powerful items going… and then you lose a synergy and can hardly make it through a fight…
But overall, I found Despot’s Game to be incredibly satisfying. Just like other roguelikes, it’s one of those games where the victories and the good times clearly overshadow the bad times and while the learning curve is somewhat steep, it is lessened by the starting classes you can unlock, the short tutorial and the fact that it has some comeback mechanics in place like cheaper shops, perks at altars and the like, that allow you to outsmart the game’s outsmarting at times, creating even better experiences! All in all, Despot’s Game is incredibly satisfying with a unique art style, great music, lovely dialogues and insane depth. I highly recommend checking it out!