Deck-building and turn-based strategy games have surged in popularity and prevalence in recent years. Dating back to Darkest Dungeon and continuing through classics like Slay the Spire and Monster Train, each one of these contains hundreds of hours of content and threatens to completely swallow up your gaming time. Despite this, there seems to be a continuing desire for more games of this ilk and Rogue Lords is the latest to join the throngs of competitors.
At first (and indeed second) glance, Rogue Lords looks an awful lot like Darkest Dungeon. Sharing the gothic aesthetic and penchant for ruins and dilapidated villages, albeit with a brighter and more cartoony palette, genre fans will be instantly at home with the user interface and battle systems in play here. Rogue Lords has a major ace up its sleeve, however, which should make it stand out. More on that later.
The backstory to the game sees you play as everyone’s favourite villain, the Devil himself. After languishing in Hell for decades following defeat at the hands of the forces of Good, you emerge from the fiery depths with revenge on your mind. To vanquish your foes and take dominion of the land you enlist the services of a group of legendary evil figures and lead them into combat against the assorted ranks of enemies. The effects of your previous loss remain, though, and you must gather a series of powerful artefacts to regain your true powers. This is a nice twist on the usual routine of being a hero striving to achieve your destiny and means that the characters you control can be memorable rather than anonymous – a huge change from Darkest Dungeons expendables.
Recruiting characters such as Dracula, the Headless Horseman, and Bloody Mary (the three available in the demo) you must use their individual skills and combat abilities to work your way through a series of ‘chapters’ involving fighting, visual novel style conversations and upgrades. There’s enough that is original about Rogue Lords to avoid too direct a comparison with its illustrious predecessors, including a shared action point pool encouraging more strategic approaches, simple RPG style character levelling, and the aforementioned conversation options. The main point of originality, though, comes from being the Devil himself.
As you work through the various chapters and challenges you’ll accrue Devil points (which also serve as your main Health bar) that you can sacrifice to activate the game’s main unique feature – Devil Mode. Activating this enables you to cheat in a variety of ways. You can load the odds in your team’s favour by increasing their damage or even removing most of the health directly from your opponents. This isn’t just a cool gaming mechanic, though, but instead a great way of the game fitting with the story being told – ludonarrative harmony if you will.
I finished my playthrough of the demo build with an epic battle against Van Helsing (in this story a general of the forces of Good). This was a fight in which there was no hope of victory, serving instead as a narrative point of how far you had fallen from your previous powers. I’m not sure if the demo itself carried on but it felt like the natural place to stop and look forward to the full build’s release.
It remains to be seen if the Devil’s possession of the best tunes is accompanied by the same in games, but doing evil work promises to be all sorts of fun when Rogue Lords is released at the devilishly appropriate time of this autumn.