The Last Spell Review
It sort of snuck up on me around the 10 hour mark, but The Last Spell is a strong contender for strategy game of the year. On the surface, it seems pretty conventional. Maybe even derivative. But after you’ve made some progress and seen the larger shape of the game, you’ll find that nearly every system and mechanic is trying something different. Does that mean reinventing the wheel? Sometimes, sure it does. But what would we have if new games refused to take risks? The Last Spell is one of a kind, and I can’t stop playing it.
Dead No More
I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the latest title from Ishtar Games, formally know as CCCP. (I guess that name was awesome, but not very marketable). They’re the makers of the actually-quite-excellent Dead in Vinland (and its predecessor Dead in Bermuda). The Last Spell isn’t like those games at all. Instead of a resource management game, you’ll find a mashup of tactical RPG, base building, roguelike, and tower defense.
The Last Spell begins with a huge oopsie. A narcissistic wizard lost control of a spell, and now the entire world is engulfed in a purple mist that turns people into zombie demons. It’s your job to command the last remaining heroes in defense of the wizard (who alleges he is repentant) in time for him to cast the titular Last Spell, which will remove magic from the world forever.
You play The Last Spell in turns. Combat is on a grid, and your guys can roughly fit into the categories of warrior, rogue, or mage. But no one is married to their role, and their movesets are tied to their weapons. At first you only have access to a couple of weapons, but soon you’ll unlock more than a dozen. Characters can have two weapon sets. At first you’ll probably give your warrior a sword and a war hammer. But once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll see the potential in combining a magic scepter with a hand crossbow, or a dagger with a druid’s staff. (The latter will make your hero a poison master). The three class types will help you get started, but you’ll learn to abandon them for more interesting hybrid builds.
Stats in The Last Spell seem pretty typical for an RPG, but the way you level them up feels fresh. Every level you’ll get two batches of randomly selected stats, like armor, magic damage, or move distance (that last one is especially crucial). You also have the chance to double up on a stat or two, also offered randomly. Some stats, like ranged damage, apply to a limited range of moves. But there are also generalized stats, like one that raises your damage output with any weapon. The chance to roll double keeps you developing your character in surprising ways. If a wizard gets a crazy-high armor roll, you may be tempted to make your mage short range.
If you followed that dizzying description, you’ll probably be imagining the possibilities. Access to weapons and luck of the draw with leveling make for a much more dynamic system of development. And that’s before you get into the various support buildings you can build from the ruins left behind by the demon attacks. There’s also a tree of tower defense options, from auto-ballistias to buzzsaw traps. Every day you shore up your defenses, and every night the adversaries try to kill you.
Wizards Under Siege
The story in The Last Spell isn’t told traditionally, but its there for those who want it. You’ll come into contact with magical beings (gods perhaps? Angels?) who act as your guides to leveling up. But what will become of your mysterious allies when magic has been eradicated? You’ll have chats with these entities between waves of enemies, but you’ll also get snippets of world building and characterization through short phrases your characters will sometimes say in the heat of battle. The story structure reminded me most of Into the Breach, which similarly implies its world in scraps you’ll receive over many playthroughs.
And none of this mentions the soundtrack. One of my favorites in years! Rémi ‘The Algorithm’ Gallego is the credited composter. I’m not cool enough to know indie French experimental musicians, but I do know when a thing is metal. The Last Spell soundtrack is very metal. And it’s got a dash of that Nobuo Uematsu goodness. You’ll see musical influences as eclectic as opera, jazz, bluegrass, Jimi Hendrix and Metallica. The music of The Last Spell has already made it onto my D&D playlist.
The Last Spell made me realize that a siege is the perfect video game scenario. It allows you to focus on a single area, and gives the player a chance to customize their base. It also lends itself to a small group of heroes standing bravely against a horde of faceless enemies. Combine that with other popular features such as roguelike development, and you have a pretty fun game. But spend some time with The Last Spell, and you will see how differently it plays.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Unique strategic combat
- Thrilling siege gameplay
- Soundtrack is metal as hell
- Slow roguelike growth
- Balance still getting tweaked