Darkest Dungeon was able to really change how people think of rogue like games. From the exceptionally difficult combat mixed with an insanity system that left scars far deeper than any combatant could ever do to your team. But have you ever wanted to be the endless tides of mobs that slowly grind the heroes into dust? Developer Daedalic Entertainment and Publisher Unfrozen had that same thought, and resurrected Iratus, Lord of the Dead to answer the question of what happens when evil has to play by the same rules as the heroes in this twist on a classic game.
Take control of Iratus; necromancer and embarrassment to villains everywhere when he failed to conquer the world with his undead hordes. As it turns out, he’s been released from his tomb by an unfortunate mining expedition. You assemble a party of the undead, each with a unique set of abilities and targets depending on their placement in the party. If you’ve played Darkest Dungeon, the system will become immediately familiar to you, but otherwise is very easy to understand how to build the strongest team you can to make a body count. As they battle, they gain experience allowing you to increase their stats to make them able to withstand the steadily increasing difficulty of the enemies through the various levels of the game. Iratus himself gains experience himself to cast powerful spells or to add passive enhancements to his undead minions to increase their odds of success.
No dungeon dive is complete without a pile of treasure however, even if you’re doing it completely in reverse. Gather the remains of your defeated enemies to build stronger undead and support structures to further enhance your undead horde. But as the game warns, although you are undead you are not immune from death. As an unlucky round can easily see the end to some of your strongest warriors and a restart needed in your future.
I will say that the game has a very polished look to it. Between the various combat models, each one of them really stands out and makes it easy to see which one is which just on sight alone. And that’s without having to go down the route of doing a recolor that some of the genre is forced to go down.
That said, while the game has a very polished look, the concept of this game is a new take on a genre that at this point is starting to feel a little strained with over use. Where the game fails however, is that it really feels like someone took Darkest dungeon and just changed camera perspective. In Darkest, even the strongest party can get torn down thanks to the insanity system. Iratus still has the sanity meter for the living, but it doesn’t have anywhere near as much impact as it should. Which is infuriating since so many of the undead that you have immediate access to deal sanity damage instead of normal health damage. That isn’t to say that insanity does nothing at all, it’s just doesn’t have as much as an impact as the game impresses upon the player.
Something that also just irked me in general is the way the player gains access to new undead. Usually, the way to unlock new characters in rogue-likes is through random events. If you’re lucky you find them and get access to them to play later. Or you receive a random pool of recruits that changes at the end of every mission. This game puts milestone in order to unlock the different units, makes the game feel more like a grind than something that you replay to find all of the secrets. On top of that, even though the game says that death is permanent and you have a serious threat of lose, the game doesn’t deliver. There was an instance where I lost a very powerful knight in a single round. After I managed to pull a win on the encounter, I was able to just recreate them, with all the same bonuses and abilities it had. Not that it would have been much of a deterrent regardless since one of the support buildings you can make is an xp mill where your creatures passively gain xp just sitting in there.
Likely the only saving grace for the whole game is that because it has these low barriers and difficulties, it’s great for someone new to the genre. It’s everyone’s first time playing a rogue-like and there are ones out there that have less difficulty curves and more difficulty cliff faces. Regardless, good rogue-likes know how to make a game a challenge without feeling impossible. And because of that I can’t recommend this game for anyone that enjoys the genre. For those that still want to give it a try, the game is available for purchase on Steam right now.