Say it with me now: Roguelike Deckbuilder! It’s still kinda amazing to me just how much of a mainstay this genre has become over the past decade from what started out relatively niche. There’s just an explosion of different takes and mashups and twists on the formula, and this one is no exception. The major focus for Gordian Quest in particular is merging party grid-based tactical RPG gameplay with deckbuilding. Yes, you actually control several heroes, and there’s a real sense of Dungeons & Dragons style character sheets too. You can customize not only your cards, but also equipment and perks that help further shape your deckbuilding. The grid aspect is also important, as you need to weave in repositioning on top of the standard “So long as I stack juuuuust enough damage or shields, I’ll be perfectly fine”. Lining up the positions of your units is important because many cards affect specific rows, columns, or areas, or they can trigger free spell casts if the conditions are right. There is a bevy of keywords to learn, which may seem like a turn off, but the amount of information readily available in game is very helpful. As a whole, there are a lot of mechanics to discover in Gordian Quest, and while it may start off a tad overwhelming, I think ultimately it helps it stand out and gives it some impressive staying power.
I understand there is a PvP focused skirmish mode, but I did not test it much outside of limited experimentation with the deckbuilder UI. The two other modes are a campaign and something closer to the length of your standard rogue-like. It’s really neat how each character has a specialization/subclass that points you in the direction of some very divergent strategies that help you further customize your team composition. Within the same “class” you can choose between that unit being more support, aggressive, tanky, or mobile.
As you complete battles, your characters will level up and gain skill points. This allots a pretty good amount of flexibility in terms of how you add stats to your characters, receive new cards, or unlock perks. Furthermore, as encounters are all mapped to… well the map, there are some that offer enticing bonuses tied to their own banes that can modify future encounters down the road…. map (I’m so good at this). [Editor’s Note: I don’t know about that sometimes.] There’s a few other event types such as camping and expeditions, which act as mini-games that can help you gather resources, heal, and access special shops. Camping was particularly intriguing, as each character has their own abilities with cooldowns that can be used across a certain number of hours before your rest is up. The hilarious bit for me were the DnD style checks based on your strength, dexterity, or intelligence. You can even bump up your odds by temporarily disabling a card representing that stat. The game is really brimming with turn-based RPG-inspired mechanics, and I was shocked how it still felt like it fit in this package.
There are opportunities to buy equipment for your individual characters, which can add to their respective card pool and modify their card’s scaling. Some have slots that can be filled with certain cards to add additional effects to them. In my experience, the equipment system feels like there’s a good amount of weight to invest into theory crafting, but sometimes the progression of these items feels completely negligible. It has relatively slower ramp up in power level compared to some of the exponential growth in other games. I think it helps that your starting power level is quite a ways stronger than most, as you start with a decently functional kit and move from there. There is that sense of building brick by brick that people who aren’t as into constantly micromanaging menus and stats may find a bit of a slow burn. However, I feel like fans of min-max optimization will have an absolute field day pouring into these systems.
Combat itself is grid based, with 3 rows or “lanes” and enemies scattered across it. Some levels have modified terrain with traps and dead-weight, or have reinforcements that flood the map over time. As a result of the map, there are a variety of card effects and targeting including repositioning, AoE, row and column attacks, ways to manipulate map tiles, etc. Everything is on-screen with enemy intents to hover over and read through, but honestly, it can be a lot just evaluating “ok this character is hitting the back, this one only the front, this one doesn’t matter where I am, this hits everyone, I can move out of the way of this one”. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s really satisfying dodging moves or lining up your moves juuuuust right, but it can take a decent amount of time to review what’s going on from turn to turn. It can take its mental toll over your play session, but your mileage may vary. You get used to the iconography and you start to memorize your ranges and idiosyncrasies over time, but it can be a bit exhausting for even the most basic fights. But I think that’s overall a good thing, right? Better than the bog standard, press “a” through the menus to mindlessly win. But, I will say, newer players may find themselves getting punished for mistakes more often if they don’t slow down and exercise patience.
Phew! That was a lot to dig into, and I still think there’s a whole lot more details to potentially uncover for yourself. Gordian Quest borrows a lot from TBS RPGs and deckbuilding roguelikes of course, but merges them quite proficiently into a sensible package. I enjoyed the identity and varied combat profiles of each character. There’s a good amount of different builds to explore, not to mention cross synergies across classes AND duo skills. I like the way the game lets you access broader card pools explaining their purpose that ideally have what you want, which allows you to better curate your build. It may feel like you have to do a bit of homework and trial-and-error to really scratch the surface of what’s there to appreciate, but I think it should be pretty clear if that sounds tedious or exciting. Fortunately, I wouldn’t say this is a game that requires you to glue your eyes to a wiki or some source outside the game, even if there’s a hefty amount to parse. All in all, it feels like there’s a lot of ingredients all thrown into a pot that might appear like an overflowing hodgepodge of flavors, but ultimately there is truly a sound method to all the madness.
Gordian Quest was developed by Mixed Realms.
Available on Steam for $19.99
A review copy was provided by the Devs.
Hellfirebam has awarded Gordian Quest a meaty Indie Gamer Seal of Approval.