Suppose you are looking to spice up the early spring with a fantasy rogue-lite game, which one would you pick? A friend asked me that question and made me remember the pain and joy of Darkest Dungeon. I clocked over hundred hours in that beautiful time vampire, managing to complete it before any quality-of-life updates, such as a simplified campaign, were patched in. What can I say, I like controlled suffering and thrive on nasty surprises.
My buddy feels the same way, so I immediately suggested The Last Spell for his next fix. This turn-based, tactical rogue-lite RPG/tower defense hybrid will make anyone scream and cheer in equal measure. It’s conceptually very far from Darkest Dungeon, but they are spiritual siblings in the way they affect the player. Both games will tax your will and skill, requiring a great dose of luck, and a solid measure of stoic patience. If you fancy this kind of BDSM, The Last Spell will get your juices flowing. If not, scream the safe word and never look back.
The Spell To End All Spells
The world of The Last Spell is a bleak one. Unhinged mages played the stupid game and won a stupid prize, unleashing doom on the world of men. The spell which was supposed to end all wars triggered the cataclysm, engulfing the realm in deadly purple mist. Like any magical mist worth its salt, this one is full of monsters. To remedy the problem, mages must now try to banish all magic from the world, which will supposedly snuff out the mist and the horrors emerging from it. In order to do that, they must perform a series of uninterrupted incantations in key settlements. Guess who will try to buy the time for it?
The Last Spell premise is simple. Monsters emerge at night, zeroing in on the magic circle in the middle of the settlement. Leading your small team, you must defeat the waves while trying to minimize damage to the property and your operatives. During the day, you will lick your wounds, build the economy and defenses, and deal with recruitment and logistics. The campaign consists of several cities, each being a separate entity regarding progress. That means you don’t lose everything if you fail, you’ll just need to restart that particular city. But even when you lose three to five hours that way, meta progression ensures that you’ll have an easier time on your next attempt.
The Last Spell is a game with many, many variables and a zillion options for experimenting and customization. Gear and weapons for your guys are the most important factor, as the “classes” are completely fluid. The spell caster can instantly become a ranger or bruiser if you equip them with a bow/crossbow or axe, sword, hammer, or spear. You can specialize your people when leveling, opting for specific bonuses such as increased melee damage. Options on offer are completely random, so the luck factor plays a big role in evolving each fighter. The same randomness determines the available loot, either crafted in workshops, won as a nightly award, or bought in the shop. More often than not, you will need to make the best of the bad setup, desperately improvising to stay on top of the crisis.
A healthy economy is the backbone of your efforts. Building and upgrading gold mines and scavenger workshops enable you to raise gold and materials. Gold buys weapons, armor, trinkets, people, and buildings, but materials are essential for setting up defenses. Without walls, ballistas, watchtowers, catapults, and mines, you won’t get far, as your fighters can only do so much. Creating a sensible, layered defense is not easy because every settlement has four sides that need to be defended. Then there are limits on how many of each weapon emplacement can you put in the field, etc.
More Leaking Holes Than Fingers
Juggling limited resources is fun when dealing with logistics, but doubly so when using troops in combat. With max upgrades, you can field up to six fighters but must make do with half of that in the beginning. If you fail to keep pace with the escalation, pretty soon you will face assault from four different directions whilst having three people. The worst part of every night is the fact that you can’t just stall the hordes until the break of dawn, waiting for the proverbial Gandalf and the riders of Rohan; the New day only comes when you wipe the map from every last mutant.
The baddies come in all shapes and sizes, some of which are worse than the rest. There’s a particularly nasty monstrosity that appears around the sixth night on the second map, hurling stones that stun your people. They stay stunned the entire turn and are easily one-shotted by the same mob, who doesn’t politely wait for the referee to count to ten. It’s incredibly easy to lose fighters in this game. Recruiting fresh faces with the money you can’t possibly afford to waste is less than ideal.
Another punishing variable is the town panic. If any mob penetrates outer defenses and survives your turn inside the city, the panic meter will rise. Each panic threshold lowers the resource bonus you receive after each completed night, further dragging you into the pit of failure.
Meta Progression Makes Things Easier
Like many rogue-lite games, The Last Spell is gradually becoming easier after every defeat. Meta progression is tied to two types of upgrades bestowed to you by mysterious dark and light deities. Dealing with the dark lady involves selling the “tainted essence” you get after battles. You can also harvest some from corpses during the daytime, but that uses the same workers pool you need for most logistics. Stuff and upgrades you purchase with the essence are too numerous to list – weapons, buildings, bonuses, practically everything of importance. The light lady works like an achievement repository, unlocking rewards after you reach certain thresholds. Equip enough people with crossbows, for example, and you get more variety of those appearing as loot.
The Last Spell will make you squeal like the Scarlet Pimpernel. Some people prefer their games to be like this, but if you are after a more casual experience, you can play in “boundless” mode. This mode allows you to use all the Omens you have unlocked without restrictions. Those are powerful buffs of various types, and enabling more than that default few can make the game waaaaay easier.
Should a game make you suffer (on occasion)? Of course! We have to give Soulsborne titles the credit for raising the stakes of acceptability of inflicted mental pain. In their wake, monstrous little gremlins like The Last Spell can thrive, and that is a beautiful thing indeed.
- Perfect blend of fantasy tactics, turn-based RPG, and tower defense.
- Plenty of combat variables and options to equip your squad and build defensive structures.
- Retro graphic that doesn’t suck.
- Brutal difficulty, unless you decide to play in “boundless” mode (cheating).
- Some interface anomalies when playing in 1440p on PC.