Date: June 3, 2021
It’s over. In just a few turns, the village I tried to defend will be consumed by a failed spell and flattened into nothing, as the mages fall to the claws of the horde. My last surviving hero can only watch, helpless as the monsters sweep through the town. Looking at the hundreds of night creatures crowding the alleys, I wonder if it’s even possible to succeed… then I hit continue and try again.
It’s been a long time since a rogue-lite has given me the “one-more-run” bug quite like The Last Spell. Slay the Spire was the last one I played that had me glued to my computer chair for hours on end, and the vibe here is the same — every run kicks your ass so hard you can’t believe it’s possible to win, and yet you make it one step closer each time (unless RNG screws you, of course). It’s an addicting formula, and The Last Spell really nails it.
In The Last Spell, you’re tasked with guarding the world’s last Haven, in which a group of mages are attempting to dispel the mysterious toxic mist that has consumed the rest of the planet. You do so in two separate phases. During the day, you can assign workers to various buildings in the Haven, where they can generate gold or materials, or support your heroes with healing, mana, and new equipment. You can also spend materials to construct defenses around your little village, which — despite being quickly destroyed each night — are essential to the Haven’s survival. Each day phase only takes a few minutes or so, but there are always a wide variety of choices you can make.
After day comes night, and this is where the meat of The Last Spell lies. Combat is turn-based, and very much in the X-Com tactical strategy vein, with every hero having different actions available to them depending on their equipment. Using each hero’s limited action and move points cleverly is key to surviving the night, and deciding how to spend that last mana point can mean the difference between success and failure. The heroes are powerful, and can take out multiple enemies a turn, but can also quickly find themselves surrounded and killed if you aren’t careful with how you maneuver them. The sheer quantity of enemies the game throws at you really adds to the epic last stand feel, and it’s always a challenge to decide where specific heroes are needed most.
One of the key distinctions between true Rogue-likes and the ‘lites’ of the genre is the introduction of permanent progression systems. The Last Spell leans into the roguelite style of granting some form of progress no matter how badly you muck up a run, to the point where the first few runs aren’t actually designed to be winnable. Instead, you slowly accumulate a currency that carries over between runs, and you can use it to unlock new weapons and strengthen your heroes. You also unlock buildings and other benefits by completing achievements (stuff like having a character hit level 5 or dodge 20 attacks). It’s a satisfying system that feels well paced, slowly giving enough new stuff to play with that it never gets stale, but never overwhelms.
One of my favorite aspects of The Last Spell is something I managed to completely ignore for the first few runs, which is that each hero can carry two weapons into battle. This might not sound like a big deal, but in The Last Spell each carried weapon comes with its own unique set of 3-4 abilities, and heroes are able to spend their action points freely on either weapon, swapping between them at any point with no penalty. Any buffs or penalties the weapon grants passively also persist whether it is currently equipped or not — bringing a heavy 2-handed rifle will help your sword-wielding hero take out distant targets, but it will also slow them down.
There look to be a wide variety of possible builds, given the 100 weapons and 20 armor sets currently in the game. My hero that started with an axe became much stronger once given a pistol with a grappling hook he could drag himself to a group of enemies, then use the axe’s AoE once in melee range. Figuring out how best to utilize the unique weapons and perks your heroes are generated with, and how to build upon those attributes, is a fun challenge.
For strategy lovers who struggle with the grind that roguelites can turn into, The Last Spell has some easy-mode options that you can customize. You can give yourself an extra hero or resources, lower production costs, or make the enemy waves smaller, among other things. There are of course options to make the game harder once you’ve beaten it, but I’ve yet to discover what they are (the game is fairly challenging on the Standard Difficulty).
I’ve only done 11 runs so far, with my recent runs ending on night 7. These runs tended to be about an hour and a half, and you could easily spend a lot longer than that if you make decisions more carefully than I tend to. On release, The Last Spell will have 12 nights of play, so each run should last well over 2 hours even once you’ve got a few under your belt. With a release price of $19.99 USD, I’d say it’s already easy to get your money’s worth here, and content should only improve and increase in scope as the game approaches release. I really can’t recommend The Last Spell enough to any fans of roguelites or strategy games in general. You can grab it now on Steam.