After the world’s mages, drunk with power, embark on a mystical arms race, all life as we know it hangs by a thread. The land lies in ruins with corpses piled far as the eye can see. To make matters worse, a thick purple miasma lingers all around. And at night, flesh-crazed monsters, known as Clawers, emerge from the fog to pick off the few “lucky” survivors.
That’s the grim setup for The Last Spell, now available on Steam Early Access. Set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, the game masterfully blends elements of the roguelike, tower defense, and strategy RPG genres. In the game, players assume the role of “The Commander” and defend a small hamlet from waves of oncoming ghouls.
Build By Day, Battle By Night
The gameplay takes place around a day and night cycle. During the day, you’ll enter the production phase. That’s when you can level up your three heroes, upgrade your defenses by building walls, traps, and specialized structures, and spend your hard-earned gold on new items and weapons at the shop.
However, once the sun goes down, the gloves come off as the monsters emerge from the murky shadows. At the start of the battle, you can see which direction the enemies are invading from so that you can position your party accordingly. After you carefully deploy your heroes, it’s time to brace yourself. All bets are off as dozens of demonic creatures begin their assault. Your goal is to wipe out every last creature and protect the mages in the town square who are casting the game’s eponymous incantation. If all of your heroes fall or the mages die, it’s game over.
And make no mistake: you’re going to die often.
The Last Spell throws an ungodly amount of enemies at your puny force. And, to be perfectly frank, you probably won’t survive your first night. But that’s the point. Like any good roguelike, a gruesome death or twelve are necessary steps in your evolution from a lowly whelp to a legendary warrior.
When you die, the game takes you to the Oraculum. Here, the tainted essence of the enemies you kill becomes the currency you can use to buy favors to help even give you a fighting chance. These favors range from unlocking armor and weapons sets to granting certain character classes new abilities and stat boosts for future runs.
I like this mechanic quite a bit, as knowing my failures were merely stepping stones in my battles against the undead helped take away the sting from each crushing defeat. Not once did a botched run feel like a wasted effort. And watching my forces make it a bit further each playthrough due to the new abilities and gear I unlocked in the Oraculum was immensely satisfying.
Your heroes come in a variety of character classes. And, for the most part, they’re your standard RPG fare. Swordsmen are good for close-quarters melees and can bring most enemies down with a well-placed blow from their massive blades. Archers and Mages are squishier and excel at peppering foes with projectiles from a distance. Your heroes’ skills are rolled at random each playthrough, and you’ll have about 6 at your disposal to start, with each requiring a specific amount of action or mana points, or a combination of the two, to use. And you’ll want to play conservatively, too, as mana and health aren’t fully replenished from one day to the next.
Sprites Of The Living Dead
When it comes to presentation, The Last Spell is pure retro-inspired bliss. It features superb spritework and great animation that help bring the on-screen action to life. I loved the punchy effects for the explosive spells that cause enemies to burst like overly ripe melons. And the way my warrior would charge through hordes of creatures and reduce them to rotting shish kabobs was fantastic.
The music is also top-notch. With a mix of medieval war marches that would feel right at home in a D&D campaign to fierce synthwave melodies, each track does a great job capturing the game’s mood and building a tense atmosphere. Think Perturbator meets a Morbid Angel instrumental, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from The Last Spell on the aural front.
Even in this early stage, it’s clear Ishtar Games and publishers The Arcade Crew and Gamera Game are onto something special here. The Last Spell is an intoxicating combination of the roguelike, tower defense, and strategy RPG genres that you won’t want to miss. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure with a satisfying challenge and superb production values, check out The Last Spell on Steam Early Access today.