Fun is on the cards
There’s certainly no shortage of roguelites on PC at this time. Coming in many forms like the recent Curse of the Dead Gods to Enter the Gungeon, developers Mixed Realms now bring us Gordian Quest as an early access release. Features turn-based gameplay, you utilise a card deck as you fight undead hordes, bearing similarities to Slay The Spire but with Dungeons & Dragons-style mechanics. It’s an enjoyable affair but certainly not an easy one.
It’s important to note that at this stage of development, only one of four planned Acts are available but don’t let this dissuade you, there’s a lot of content here. Playing as one of six heroes, you travel through Westmire in Act 1 as you attempt to free Hidden Earth from its undead curse. Each hero has a unique class, playstyle and skill range, presented as a card deck. It contains three difficulty options and these affect HP provided, what happens if the party dies and there’s an optional roguelike mode where downed heroes cannot be revived.
After the tutorial, you’re granted access to the Barracks, and this becomes your main base in Westmire. You’ll have access to the Inn for HP/Fatigue recovery, Sister Ophelia for spiritual healing and a blacksmith for new gear or upgrades. There’s also a town hall, where you can recruit new allies from heroes not previously chosen at the start, and they arrive after completing quests, allowing three heroes per party.
Roll For Perception
Upon leaving the Barracks, you’ll explore via a map that acts as your overworld display, marking events and enemies on your path. These are randomly generated on each playthrough, bringing a strong degree of replayability to Gordian Quest. You’ll also find areas that are question marked and the choices made here affect the world around you. Sometimes it’s a simple choice and requires you to select an action, but it can also trigger events.
Heroes have stats for strength, dexterity and intelligence, much like Dungeons & Dragons and event success is based off your stats. For example, one mission tasks you with entering a storehouse after a bandit attack. You can either force the door open with a Might Check (Str), or search for another entry with a Perception Check (Int).
Gordian Quest confirms each hero’s chance to succeed based on these stats and depending on the event; you’ll do a dice roll for either one hero or the whole party. If you succeed, you gain EXP, but failure sees that hero takes damage instead. To boost your odds, you can pick a card from the deck for a higher saving bonus but will exhaust that skill, becoming unavailable until you’ve rested at the inn. However, it still shows up in your deck during battles so you can’t always rely on this. Fate actions can also be found, providing a second chance after poor rolls, but if it fails again, you cannot try a third time.
Battles take place within a grid formation, and movement is limited to blue spaces, whereas enemies take up the red spaces. When combat begins, you’ll be assigned five random cards from your hand, making it hard to strategise beforehand. These range from attacks like primed archery shots, defensive cards like “Parry” to reduce damage taken, healing and more.
To activate these skills, you must click on the relevant target after selecting your card, and they each contain an action point (AP) cost. There are over 100 different skill cards, and some can inflict status effects like poisoning or inflicting vulnerability on enemies to boost attacks, amongst others. Some cards can’t be played normally, and you’ll need to meet set criteria to activate them, like using a finisher.
Heroes have a set amount of AP per turn, so tactical thinking is required as AP also applies to movement. Combat proves satisfying overall and defeating hordes is certainly enjoyable, but it does feel limited at times, offering only 3 AP at first, and this doesn’t increase with levelling up. It’s a little bit frustrating at times when you’re ready to finish off an enemy, only to receive support or defensive cards, and this can happen within a varied deck.
Victories earn EXP, which include bonuses for not taking damage and getting the last attack. You’ll also be rewarded with gold and other items for your efforts, such as armour or healing items. Once you’ve levelled up, you receive skill points which get used within a skill tree, allowing for upgrades like new skills, health increases and more. There are plans for heroes to have skill path they can follow but right now, this remains limited in Gordian Quest’s current build.
Death Is (Not Always) The End
If individual party members are slain in these battles, they can be revived through Sister Ophelia for 150 gold. However, if your whole team is killed, its game over and your entire campaign restarts. It’s quite punishing but never unfair, as battles are a matter of knowing when to fight and when you should retreat. You can turn off permadeath with easy mode, so a party wipe sends you back to the Barracks with reduced health. This is recommended at first, as losing all progress is hardly ideal but don’t let that deter you.
As you proceed, you’ll gain items from battle rewards or buy purchasing them, so continual inventory review is necessary. Heroes can hold limited supplies to take into battle but can also equip armour, weapons, accessories and other useful items. Sometimes this grants new cards for combat, whereas other times provide stat boosts like increased strength saves. If you want to survive, you’d be wise to make regular equipment checks.
Mixed Realms have done a fine job with Gordian Quest. It may borrow a lot from D&D and Slay The Spire, so it’s hardly a unique experience, but it holds its own and proves highly engaging. Whilst combat was slightly limited by the randomised card system, it’s addictive and provides tactical fun, with the randomised maps keeping the experience fresh in additional playthroughs. It’s got a lot on offer, and with further updates to come, it’s one to look out for.
[Reviewed on PC]