Gordian Quest Review: What if Slay the Spire and Dungeons & Dragons Had a Baby?
I am a geek of many, many stripes: band geek (oboe and bassoon for double the geek points); arts and crafts geek (I recently made my own wedding decorations out of an old dictionary, and I spend much of my free time crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching); fantasy literature geek (Sword of Shannara, anyone?); and, of course, gamer geek. Yet somehow, over my decades of geekery, I never managed to become a Dungeons & Dragons geek. I’ve always felt like it was something I could really get into, and for some reason, just never have. Gordian Quest, from Mixed Realms and Swag Soft., only made me want to try D&D even more with its intriguing mix of roguelite, deckbuilder, and classic Dungeons & Dragons.
A Classic Story of Good Vs. Evil
Gordian Quest’s story feels very much like an old-school epic fantasy in the best of ways. The world has fallen into hopeless darkness. Horrid curses affect the different lands of the game, ensuring monsters roam free, and fear pervades every facet of life. You’ll need to assemble a team of heroes to overcome the darkness and help restore the world to what it once was. The story is told over the course of four expansive acts, and while it may not be the most original or profound of storylines, there’s plenty there to keep you engaged. The story text appears on what looks like old parchment paper, and the way it’s told really makes it feel like a dungeon master is narrating from his carefully planned campaign.
You’ll embark on your quest by selecting your starting hero. There are ten to choose from in all, and they are all wonderfully unique. Additionally, each hero has four different starting decks to choose from, providing a surprising amount of variety to each hero’s style of combat. Don’t worry too much if you’re having a hard time deciding which character to start your journey with – eventually, all ten of them will join your party, and you can utilize up to three of them at a time.
Well-Balanced, Addicting Gameplay
While combining genres can often leave a game feeling clunky and bloated, Gordian Quest feels remarkably refined. You’ll have an area that serves as your home base, where you can heal, buy items, purchase and enhance equipment, and take on new quests to advance the story. The map of each act is fairly large, with nodes marking events, combat, healing spots, and more. Traveling between these nodes takes both time and supplies – the further away a node is, the more time and supplies it will take to reach, though if you’ve already cleared the nodes in between, it will cut the cost of both in half. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the time – the longer it takes you to break the curse, the stronger the enemies will become. While you can avoid many of them, I absolutely loved going after the event nodes. Once you land on one, you’re given a scenario in which you have to roll the dice, which determines if you fail or succeed. Should you be successful, you’ll usually gain experience to level up your characters, and if you fail, you typically lose initiative (more on that in the combat section).
Unsurprisingly, combat nodes make up the bulk of each map. While it can feel a bit overwhelming at times to have to fight through so many enemies to make progress, I really came to relish the challenge. Combat takes place on a 3×4 grid (though it occasionally expands for certain encounters such as boss fights). At the start of each turn, you’ll see dice rolling under each character’s and enemy’s portraits – this is where initiative comes into play. The higher your initiative, the greater chance you have of moving first in battle. Once the turn order is decided, you draw cards from your deck to your hand and begin. There is an absolutely huge array of cards to play. Obviously, you have attack cards to deal damage, defensive cards to guard against enemy attacks, cards to heal your HP, cards that inflict status effects, and many more – including cards that combine some of the effects mentioned above.
A Perfect Blend of Deck-builder and Classic RPG
Each character you directly control begins with three action points (AP) which let you, well, take action. Each card has an AP cost indicated in the upper left corner, so you’ll need to plan your actions carefully. In addition to your AP meter, as you take actions, you’ll also build up your SP (strategy points) meter, which will allow you to play special cards, such as “Shift,” which lets you move to a different space on your side of the grid. This can be especially helpful when needing to move vulnerable characters out of harm’s way, or for getting an enemy into your own attack range. Some cards will allow you to heal or buff your allies, which I recommend doing when you can, as it builds synergy between them. Synergy is an actual, measurable stat in Gordian Quest, and if you build it up between characters, you will obtain extremely useful cards that can help turn the tide of battle.
Defeating enemies nets you experience, which levels up your characters. Each character has a skill grid that can be expanded as you progress through the game, with unlockable nodes that increase stats, grant new cards for your deck, and more. Each level gained will let you unlock a single node. After successfully beating your enemies, you may also manage to find some loot. Enemies may drop equipment (which can be common, rare, etc.) or consumables. In this game, you can equip characters with armor, shields, weapons, helms, greaves, accessories, consumables, and more, which can greatly help you in battle. Equipment can also be enhanced or enchanted for improved strength, additional skills, or stat bonuses.
Looks As Good As it Plays
Aesthetically, there is an awful lot to love about Gordian Quest. Everything appears hand-drawn, from the characters, to the monsters, equipment, buildings, and, delightfully, the map itself. It really gives it a classic feel that fits well with the developers’ sources of inspiration. The soundtrack is perhaps repetitive and a little understated at times but still fits well with the theme of the game quite nicely. It’s really hard to find any fault with the game’s look.
That’s not to say that Gordian Quest is a perfect game. Close, sure, but not perfect. The difficulty curve sometimes spikes unexpectedly and can require you to go back and spend some time grinding. While I actually didn’t mind the grind-heavy aspect that popped up here and there, I can see it being a turn-off to a lot of people. Thankfully, you can modify the game’s difficulty with quite a few options, which helps. There were also a few cards that I was unable to figure out how to get them to actually work, though that was a thankfully rare occurrence.
A Polished, Refined Gem
Gordian Quest draws inspiration from old-school RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons, and deck-builders like Slay the Spire, yet it proudly stands on its own. With deep, addictive gameplay and endless replayability with multiple play modes, Gordian Quest boldly blazes its own trail. It’s rare that a game can draw from so many sources and have the end product feel so refined, yet this game delivers in spades. I can’t recommend this game enough to fellow deck-builder and RPG lovers.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Mixed Realms, Swag Soft; Developer: Mixed Realms, Swag Soft; Players: 1; Released: June 23rd, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.