There are a lot of interesting mash-ups of genres out there. Some things are a given, like the standard action-adventure game, while others can get a bit more creative, like a golf MMORPG. Regardless, it can also be difficult to break new ground in that space, and that’s just what developer Free Range Games intends to do with Labyrinth. In what they like to describe as Final Fantasy Tactics meets Hearthstone, Labyrinth is a strategy RPG with a card system, a CSRPG if you will (Card Strategy Role-Playing Game). Using a card based system that would be familiar to fans of Hearthstone, players can customize their group of heroes by changing their decks, making them work better towards their style.
Heroes tend to be the typical classes like Barbarians, Thieves, Wizards, and Priestesses. Each hero will follow one of four specific magical disciplines: Faith, Warfare, Wizardry, and Skullduggery. These disciplines can basically come down to various traits like devotion, a special resource for the healer, Lavella, which she could use to enhance her abilities. Sacrificing devotion points can make it so that certain cards will have a second effect like bonus damage or healing an extra hero. The same could be said with the Barbarian, Khorgan, who can gain fury from dealing out attacks and taking them, using that fury to power up his abilities as well. The game will start with 16 heroes, all in the form of a card, and more will be added over time.
Once players customize their heroes to their liking, they can take three of them to take on quests or explore dungeons, where they will fight powerful and challenging bosses. These experiences tended to be pretty difficult, as many bosses can easily overwhelm players that aren’t prepared to take them on. For example, I managed to take down a Minotaur boss fairly easily, but then when challenging the next boss enemy, it seemed that my heroes needed better decks to be able to take on harder battles. It may have been possible with the right strategy, but given the random deck orders, it could easily be up to chance.
Getting to the actual gameplay, the game runs with a special tick system (like on a clock), where each card requires a certain amount of ticks. For example, some cards will have zero ticks and make it so the hero can act again, while others may leave the hero inactive for a a few turns for costing several ticks. While this system works well for rewarding players with some added foresight, it can be a bit harder for casual players, as enemies will already have the foresight that it takes to defeat you. It’s worth noting that in the version of the game I played, there was no tutorial for the controls, so it took a bit to figure out how to move heroes on the map. Hopefully that gets added when the game goes into Steam Early Access.
Boss enemies typically start out alone, though throughout the battle, they tend to summon more enemies from various spots on the map and can easily turn the tide of the battle. Players need to make sure they keep their less armored units in a safe place while their tank stays in battle, otherwise, it can easily become a quick game over. The second boss I fought was a sort of Giant-like creature, and he summoned progressively stronger enemies all around the map, easily overwhelming me. I fought him a second time and though I did better after what I learned, I was still defeated. It takes not only a good deck, but a very tactical mind to take down harder bosses with just basic cards.
Not only will players have the option to do offensive play with their heroes, but they will also have the chance to set up their own dungeons for a more defensive play style. Using boss cards, they can set up a challenging trial for other players, giving an extra layer of depth for fans of strategy games to really have a unique experience. The alpha doesn’t delve into the dungeon building aspect, but when the game becomes playable, players should be able to get cracking on their own dungeons. Using an asynchronous PvP mode, players will be able to set up their card plays in advance to defend their dungeons and loot from other players, though Free Range Games says that players can make it a strictly single-player game if they wish.
Labyrinth may still have some things to work on, but it has a bright future, especially in a fairly untapped market. The overall game is pretty fun and the visual effects help add to the presentation. It just needs to have a somewhat more accessible interface and a tutorial, and possibly a lower difficulty curve depending on how better cards are distributed. Given that, the game is a challenging experience, and makes for an innovative little strategy game. Labyrinth is expected to enter Steam Early Access today for $10 (becoming Free-to-Play later), though developer Free Range Games is making some last minute adjustments, some of which may address my concerns.