It’s officially the spookiest time of the year. Lattes have all transformed into their most pumpkin-spiced variant, lanterns are fully Jack o’ and keeping the doctor away has become a lot more difficult since apples are only available via bobbing. What more fortuitous time therefore to be reviewing Rogue Lords, officially the spookiest game I’ve played this week.
In Rogue Lords, you play as the literal and actual Devil. Ten years ago you were banished by the demon hunters, Van Helsings and priests of the mortal world but, after some time feasting on a buffet of human souls, you have built up enough strength to return to the world of the living and reap your horrifying revenge. But, as you are the evilest and most powerful being to ever exist, it’s below your station to get your hands dirty in squabbles with lesser beings so you call upon your disciples, beings of great power and mythos whose souls you hold in the palm of your hand, to fight your battles for you. The Headless Horseman, Dracula, Bloody Mary and so many more will join your fight and conduct dastardly deeds in your name.
There’s a wide variety of excellent gameplay mechanics available in Rogue Lords for your delectation and delight but the first thing I want to talk about is how absolutely gorgeous the game looks. I’m not convinced that the screenshots smattered around the page will do it justice but the art style is delicious, like salted caramel meeting even more salted caramel. The aesthetic is gothic and comic-book-ey with some beautifully detailed character designs. That aesthetic is paired beautifully with a gothic as heck soundtrack, all melancholy organ sounds (melancholy organ as in synonyms for ‘sad’ and ‘piano’, not a melancholy organ like a lung that’s crying or something). The thing that truly elevates the style of the game is the animations which are buttery smooth, as intricate as a watch mechanism and fantastically stunning in their violence.
There is a lot of game in this game and a lot of systems going on under the hood. You navigate through the world on an overview screen with one of your disciples representing the group as you pass from event to event. This makes what could be a range of disparate happenings feel like a connected narrative. These events can be a really wide range of things, from the obvious combat (which we’ll get onto later) to the interesting social tests – here your disciples can convince/intimidate/threaten mortals into doing their bidding which can have drastic effects on the story. There are a range of social traits that can impact your success in these events and success may reward you with another positive trait and failure may punish you with a negative one. This compounds the system to mean success is more likely to lead to more successes and the same for failure. You can remove negative traits or increase your Diabolical Essence (sort of like your overarching health – if you lose it all you fail) at River Styx events, the Grim Reaper pops up occasionally as an event as a kind of shop and a whole lot else is going on that we don’t have time to go into here.
The event you’ll see most commonly and arguably the main thrust of the game is Combat. Before a round of combat, the enemy will incredibly stupidly reveal their intentions: who they’ll attack and for how much damage. Then you take your horrifying turn to rock these mortal’s whole world. You have five actions per turn to share amongst your disciples. They can use those actions to undertake skills that are generally visceral guttings and other such horror. Once you’ve used a skill you can’t use it again until you’ve recharged, doing which can also have other effects – for Bloody Mary you can place a mirror on a target to duplicate all the damage she deals on that marked target. Similarly, all of your disciples have devastating effects if used correctly. The Headless Horseman should be used as a tank as he can draw damage to himself which builds up Bitterness that can be spent on devastating attacks. This means there are a lot of synergies that can be built between disciples, like pairing the Headless Horseman with someone who works best when defended, generally choosing your disciples carefully to form the evilest of teams.
If all seems lost (or if you just want to have some fun), don’t forget you have the Devil on your side. By entering Devil Mode you can turn the balance of the fight in your favour (cheat). You can spend Diabolic Essence on these cheats which allow you to do all sorts of nonsense, like completely draining an enemy’s health, redirecting attacks or restoring actions. Don’t forget though, Diabolic Essence is effectively your health bar so spending too much can put you in a difficult situation. When a disciple’s health drops to zero you’ll need Diabolic Essence to bring them back to life, or at least un-death, so you’ll be sorry you spent all your ‘life’ on playing ‘Why are you hitting yourself?’ when Dracula has a garlic-seasoned stake through his black heart.
There is so much going on in Rogue Lords with different events coming at you left, right and centre. It’s a deep and complex game with combat mechanics that complement each other unbelievably well and encourage you to really think about how you’re building your team and the skill set of each of your disciples. With some fantastic gameplay dressed up in a beautiful and gothic ball gown of an art style, there’s a lot to love in the diabolic world of Rogue Lords. So off you go, the Devil is waiting and you really, really don’t want to let him down.