In a few titles, Klei Entertainment has carved out a place for itself in the independent video game landscape. Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja, Oxygen Not Included, Invisible, Inc.… All of these games enjoy a solid reputation and their existence is a testament to the versatility of a studio that can't standstill. After the infiltration, the tactical, the beat'em up and the survival game, the Canadian studio takes on the Deck Building genre. Still, in early access, Griftlands already has solid arguments to set itself apart from the big names and once again attest to Klei’s mastery.
IMPORTANT: About early access testing
This Griftlands review assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Early Access and does not represent a definitive product review. This game review is valid for its date of 01/13/2020 and will need to be revised as the game evolves, before the test of the final version.
After Slay the Spire, a number of deck-building video games emerged, all trying to do well. We know from experience that Klei isn’t a studio that does things by halves. It was also a safe bet that Griftlands would bring its share of fresh ideas to the genre. I am happy to be able to say that I was not wrong. Like many games in this genre, it's all about stacking cards and buffs to build a powerful deck that can take down the toughest enemies. Decision making is crucial, as a card that does not fully fit into the deck can pollute the player's hand and potentially cost him the game later in the adventure. In terms of map acquisitions and progression, Griftlands isn't breaking new ground. The player can collect cards and coins after each fight and spend their money whenever they want on the world map. It is also possible to delete an unnecessary card, nothing new under the sun.
The main subtlety of Griftlands is that the player must build two decks simultaneously. A combat deck and a negotiation deck. The first is used when it comes to making the muscles talk while the second is dedicated to debates and the manipulation of others. While this idea doesn't sound like much on paper, it adds a lot to the title's personality and overall structure. I also appreciate that the course of these two types of confrontation is sufficiently different that these two decks are justified. The combat phases take place in a traditional way for anyone who has already dabbled in a deck-building game. The player spends action points each turn to use cards at varying costs to adapt to the situation. It is aware of enemy intentions and alternates offensive and defensive cards to defeat its opponents. The negotiation phases are much more original. The player and his opponent have a Determination gauge, whoever manages to empty that of his opponent wins the debate and sees the outcome of events favoring him. To do this, the hero has cards of different types allowing him the choice of being hostile or lovable. Around the core of Determination revolve the Arguments that each one creates with his cards. These Arguments can have many uses such as boosting the damage of other cards, increasing the number of actions per turn, automatically attacking each turn… What is interesting is that each opponent can directly attack the opposing Arguments rather than his own. Determination gauge. It is also up to the player to assess whether it is more optimal to discredit the argument which may be problematic for him in the next round or to directly attack the motivation of the opponent. Note that the interface still lacks clarity and is sometimes particularly busy during the negotiation phases.
If these two ways of achieving their ends work well, especially since the player almost always has the choice of approach, it is regrettable that the synergies sometimes lack punch. If the negotiations are less impacted by this grievance, by their different sub-systems, the fights would benefit from more devastating combos. Many maps are of course designed to work together, but all too rarely have I experienced the joyful pleasure of perfectly unfolding a game plan prepared for a good hour to atomize a powerless opponent. Combos are also present, but perhaps a little too behind during the fights. One might think that this grievance is problematic in a deck-building game and yet I quickly realize that Griftlands has strong arguments to make want to stand out from its competitors.
Griftlands is keen to tell one story, or rather 3 stories. In fact, the player begins in the boots of Sal, a bounty hunter who intends to take revenge on Kaisho, a local mobster with whom she has accounts to settle. To achieve her ends, she will have to make connections and get rid of anyone who is willing to put her foot in the wheel. In terms of gameplay, this narrative drive translates into multiple-choice dialogues that offer different ways of approaching each situation. Thus each mission, main or secondary, has multiple branches which all lead to slightly different results. The conclusion of these stories will always be the same, but the path taken may be very different.
The secondary missions are numerous and selected randomly. Each of them may involve different protagonists with their own roles and personality. The player can interact with and bond with any character on the screen. Every decision and action is taken will have repercussions on the relationships with the protagonists, which can be decisive. If you strike up a discussion and a friend of yours is in the same room, they will help you out by arguing when the debate begins. The reverse is also possible, of course. It is also possible to convince an acquaintance to fight on your side or to forget about the debt you owe them. In short, the possibilities are numerous.
Ultimately what impresses with these gaming systems is that the player constantly feels that they are making the right choice, because every option is valid. It's easy to get caught up in the game and take on a certain dimension of Roleplay that is far from being unpleasant. Are you the type to use your fists rather than your voice? Do you finish off the enemies that surrender? Do you betray your allies easily? It is extremely rare that you are forced to fight and will be able to go through almost all of the 3 scenarios without taking out your blades. To accentuate this roleplay aspect, it is good to note that these scenarios are associated with 3 characters with distinct origins and gameplay. Each one uses a specific mechanic as much in the fights as in the negotiations. Once a story has gone through to its conclusion, the player unlocks Prestige, allowing modifiers to be applied. The available cards, on the other hand, are unlocked, like in Slay the Spire, by gaining experience after each try. What accentuates already very good replayability. I will have no trouble getting back into the same scenario, because the situations offered by the side missions are varied, but also because the lines exposing the facts of the story are reduced to the strict minimum once the adventure has been completed. first time. What was explained in ten lines on the first run will be explained in two during the second. The icing on the cake, once a scenario is completed, a real Rogue-Lite mode is unlocked for the character who is linked to it. This mode lets you string together contracts without the hassle of narration, and regularly places bosses in your path. This type of game is much closer to Slay the Spire in terms of playing experience, and deck building naturally takes a more important place. In short, this early access is already well filled and offers substantial content.
Artistically, Griftlands is a continuation of the work of Klei entertainment. It also sports an aesthetic with a marked outline and chiseled lines which, failing to reinvent the wheel, still works just as well. We live here in a science fiction universe where several factions and dogmas clash to ensure their survival. I can also appreciate effective anthropomorphic alien designs and very successful "Grifter" outfits. I also take pleasure in discovering the protagonists that I meet, especially since everything turns out very well written. If the dialogues are not always at the level of what a Hades could offer, for example, the exchanges are concise and effective. The debates have never seemed boring or too long to me and the protagonists always react in a coherent way according to my actions and their personality. Note that the French translation is only partial for the moment and about two-thirds of the adventure is available in Molière's language. This translation is not free from flaws so far, but this flaw makes sense given the game's early access status. This should be corrected and completed in the coming weeks.
Griftlands Review, the conclusion
Klei Entertainment once again affirms its status as a chameleon studio. Few of the developers are capable of success, whatever genre they are trying their hand at. If I can blame him for a little soft combo compared to the tenors of the deck building, Griftlands finds its identity elsewhere. By putting decision-making at its center, it borrows its narrative dimension from the RPG and involves the player in any of their choices. Full of good ideas, this early access card game impresses with the solidity of its game design and the intelligence of its game systems. In short, an excellent draw that deserves the attention of fans of the genre and fans of the studio.
For more information, about the current video game, make sure you visit the Griftlands official website for all the details.