GamingReview: Despot’s Game

Review: Despot’s Game

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Despot’s Game is a rogue-like battle simulation game from Konfa Games. You control a band of useless humans who have woken up in a bizarre other-worldly labyrinth with no memories, some weapons and only one goal – survive. Unfortunately, achieving that goal is not really on the table as sacrifice is the name of the game. You’ll build up your army, equip and train them for battle and then let them loose, hoping that your army will kill all of the enemy troops before they kill all of yours. 

Aesthetically, Despot’s Game draws a lot from two of my favourite rogue-likes of all time: The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster than Light. It also has theming similarities to ‘the thing that all journalists have to compare all things to in late 2021’ – Squid Game. But despite some similar vibes, Despot’s Game is 100% its own thing, maintaining some seriously innovative gameplay and styling choices. I’ve been thinking of it as what would happen if the FTL developers went through a horror-movie style world-outlook-altering event that left them scarred and jaded and then decided to develop a sequel to their crew-managing genre-defining smash-hit. I think that’s enough hyphens for one sentence.

You don’t control your army directly. That would be far too easy for them – having a gaming god like you in control of all their actions. Instead, all of your battles are fought by the game’s AI. Each of your humans attack their nearest enemy, attacking and using their special abilities as often as they can. The one thing you do control is the arrangement of your army so you can put your strongest melee fighters closest to the spawn point of the enemies and keep your ranged fighters and healers at the back of the pack. This does feel a little frustrating at the start of the game, where you only have a few humans to throw against the hordes of enemies and where you desperately want to tell your medic to heal fighters rather than trying to use their stretcher to beat enemies over the head. But, as the game progresses, it is not feasible for you to individually control an army of dozens of humans in the fast-paced combat of Despot’s Game, so the computer taking charge does make a lot of sense.

To give your army a chance at beating the overwhelming numbers and behemoth-like power of the enemy units, you’ll need to strengthen their numbers and strengthen their strength. As you travel from room to room through the labyrinth there are several ways you can level up. When you defeat a room, you are almost always presented with a shop where you can spend the Tokens you collected in the fight. Within these shops, you can buy naked humans incredibly cheaply, much like on certain websites on the internet. However, these humans are very weak and puny without a specialism, so you can also buy weapons to equip your humans. The type of weapon you equip to a person determines their type (fighter, ranged, medic, etc) and the more humans you have in each type, the more effective that type becomes. You’ll come across rooms that provide a special ability to a class, for example healing for a percentage of damage dealt. You can also spend Tokens in a tech tree to level up all of your characters to use their abilities more often, have more health, etc.

All of this comes together to put you, as a player, in more of a middle management position, where you’re controlling the training and key competencies of your workforce rather than micromanaging their everyday combat. This is a great set-up that I’m very much on board with, but I don’t think it would hurt to add a little more complexity to this management system. What I’ve described above is a comprehensive view of all the tools you have at your disposal and, as they are the only way you interact with the game, I could definitely take more facets and intricacies to their deployment.

The final way you can impact your army is through special events that occur when you move between floors of the labyrinth. These events are little story-focused random encounters where you’re given a set-up and have to choose one of the options of how to interact with the situation. Think of the multiple-choice text adventure sections in FTL and you’re on the right track – which is great because those sections are excellent and this feels very similar. Your choices can reap rewards like bonus tokens or weapons but can also lead to you losing a faithful member of your army if you don’t choose correctly.

I’m not saying that Despot’s Game is better than FTL, firstly because they’re different enough that it’s difficult to draw a direct comparison and, secondly because ending a sentence with ‘…is better than FTL’ is punishable by death in my household unless the phrase is immediately preceded by the word ‘nothing’. That being said, Despot’s Game sure does channel some very similar energy to FTL and, if like me, you’ve played FTL to death and you’re itching for some new content then Despot’s game will certainly scratch that itch. It’ll scratch it so hard you’ll have skin sloughing off like someone with eczema midway through being dusted by Thanos. I had a really great time with Despot’s Game. It has vibes of some brilliant games that I especially love and, while it does lack a little complexity, it is certainly a fun and challenging rogue-like romp that’s easy to pick up and play. If you can get over the ease with which you’re prepared to sacrifice individual members of your army for the good of the whole, there are definitely worse ways to wear away your finite hours in this mortal realm than playing Despot’s Game.

SUMMARY

+ Fantastic rogue-like standing on the shoulders of giants
+ Great progression system
+ Easy to pick up and play
- Not a lot of complexity to what you can control
- No control in combat

(Reviewed on PC (Steam))
Charles Ombler
Hey! I'm Charles. I play games and then I write about them, like some kind of nerd. I can usually be found in my pyjamas with a cup of Earl Grey or over on Twitter: @CharlesOmbler

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