From no blood spilled to let the bodies hit the floor, The Last Spell is a brutal roguelike tactical rpg. In it your party is tasked with defending the sacred site of the eponymous ‘last spell’ in order to save the village from ruin. The game is split into management and wave phases, the former allows you to suit up your units and inventory, while the latter is the main gameplay loop. Waves are marked on the map moving in on your village, and you must destroy every zombie and monster ambushing you.
Your units have many MANY stats to manage, but the basics are movement, mana, and action points, which can be spent across your skill bar. Interestingly enough, your skills also have an ammo system that limits how many times you can activate your given abilities each round. You start with 3 characters in the default game mode, but as you play more runs, you can unlock new features which provide more flexibility and ways to customize your roster. I would argue, at least for me personally, the drip-feed of unlockables can feel a bit sparse, especially considering the extremely high skill floor early on. It really feels like you hit a wall in terms of your progress unless you get lucky with your item pulls or character level ups. It can just feel like you don’t have enough actions to stave off the wave, especially considering a light mechanic that dictates how close enemies spawn towards your base. I think The Last Spell is a good game that will only get better with updates, but as of now, it might be an easier recommendation for the more veteran, niche, tactics fans.
The Last Spell focuses heavily on tower defense, although building towers itself is de-emphasized in favor of squad combat against a horde of enemies. You will rely on AoE effects and barricades to hold enemies at bay so you can do crowd control and keep one step ahead of the mob. Each run has permadeath, meaning once a unit dies in a run, you are down a unit, at least until you unlock the ability to recruit a new units. Learning the game is a bit obtuse as you’d think you would try to never allow your units to get hit, and yet discussion boards discuss the aspect of dodge tanking or getting the right item/shield generation to stay invincible. It sounds like there’s more viable strategies than I may have initially given the game credit for, at least once you get past the initial hump and get to the point that you generate enough resources to be truly dangerous.
As a general trend, ranged weapons by and large feel superior to melee for the vast majority of your runs. Your units are capable of wielding one or two handed weapons, and are able to switch between two equipment sets freely during combat. Your characters level up, enabling them to accrue randomized bonuses to defensive, offensive, and accuracy/damage roll control. You can also use skill points on a variety of generic character perks that are universal across all characters. In fact, there really isn’t the sense of character classes instead the game focuses on item sets which dictate the skills you have access to for each character. Units may have different stats which gear them more towards certain builds like magic vs bow, but the more items you unlock via the player progression, the more options you have.
As of the time of writing, there is only one map and campaign to run. It becomes more and more challenging night by night as you are flanked from more corners of the screen. The enemies become more agile and become massive bruisers. In terms of replayability, it seems somewhat limited until you unlock some of the more intricate item sets and features. From what I’ve seen in forums and the like, it looks like you get to the point where you get enough unlocked to set up gold farms, gather enough resources and just roll over the competition. I’m sure over time, the game will get support, and perhaps there’s some alternate solutions to look into, but the character types are relatively limited at this time. I have been impressed with how the item sets across differently named weapons, of the same type, can yield pretty different skills to experiment with. I don’t really think they’re all equally viable, as some are definitely more support driven rather than offensive driven, which can be a bit reductive when you’re so strapped for actions to just keep up with the onslaught.
I should explain the village management phase a bit: between nights, you will generate gold and materials that can be used to buy new equipment, and buildings that can help bolster you between battles. Other than a specific regeneration stat, you do not auto-refill your stamina and mana etc etc. So using workers for things like resources, heals, and more can help keep you in the game. You can also invest in more units, fortify positions in your map to better equip yourself for the next combat, and stave off the darkness that pushes enemy spawns closer towards your town. It’s all pretty intuitive, although it can be a bit frustrating early game seeing as most of the options you need to succeed are gated away with experience points and achievements.
All in all, The Last Spell has a very neat aesthetic. It’s rare that tactics style games can really achieve a sense of battling hordes of enemies, and I was really impressed by the atmosphere and tension that brought. At the same time, it can be extremely satisfying finding ways to just mow through waves and waves of enemies with impunity. Granted, it takes a little while to learn the systems and go through the paces to really dig into the mechanics lying under the surface. I think at this time, it may be a little frustrating or even feel needlessly grindy in that sense, but there’s an argument that it helps you learn the basics of the game organically. Personally, I leaned a bit more on the frustrated side of things, but I can’t deny there’s a lot of good here. I guess just a fair warning.
The Last Spell is developed by Ishtar Games.
Available on Steam for $17.99.
A review copy provided via devs
Hellfirebam has awarded The Last Spell the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval, but the difficulty curve can be a little rough at times, so your mileage may vary.