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People who've played this game - how did you enjoy it?


realm722

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Pretty mental how there's a game by KLEI ENTERTAINMENT (studio behind Don't Starve, Oxygen Not Included, Mark of the Ninja) and even years after release there isn't so much as a thread talking about it.


@DrBloodmoney, I give you the floor to sell this game to the masses. Are the trophies super tricky? (you don't actually need to sell me on it, you know I'm a card gamer, I'll get it eventually)

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How dare you.¬†ūü§¨

 

What am I, your performing monkey?

 

Do you think I just have full reviews of games sitting, pre-written, ready to drop into some random new thread whenever I'm tagged, like some kind of pull-string kids-toy, called to arms whenever a great game is unjustly ignored by the general public?

 

I think that's pretty disgusting to think that I would just...

 

... oh wait, hold on. Never mind.

I do.

 

 

 

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Griftlands

 

A Deck-Building rogue-like form Klei - arguably the most prolific, successful and versatile genre-hopping developer currently in business - Griftlands once again shows off Klei's incredible ability to Stanley Kubrick their way through the games industry with almost preternatural aplomb, and Neo-from-the-Matrix level adaptability.


Anyone familiar with my checklist knows the respect and admiration I have for Klei - they are one of the only developers (alongside Supergiant,) who are able to genre-hop with virtually every game they make - making only one, or maybe two games within any single genre, yet often outdoing the efforts of other developers who work exclusively within that genre for decades.
They made one Action stealth game - Mark of the Ninja - and it was one of the best of that genre. 
They made one Survival game - Don't Starve (well, two if one includes Don't Starve Together,) - and it was one of the best of that genre.
They made one Turn-based strategy game - Invisible Inc - and it was not only one of the best of that genre, but also one of the best games of all time.


Griftlands is thier one Deck Builder... and while I haven't played as many games in that genre as I would like to, after my 80-odd hours with it, I am comfortable stating that it is a fantastic example within that genre.


Set in a fictional semi-wasteland in a far flung future, where multiple races co-exist is a Star Wars style melting pot, Griftlands sees three different characters take their own unique stories - played out over 4 or 5 in-game days in the eponymous Griftlands - with complicated and convoluted paths determined by a myriad of interdependent and interconnected variables as each of the characters struggles for survival - or dominance - in an unforgiving world. Both Combat, and adversarial conversation ("Negotiation") is played out via two different styles of card game, each with their own set of mechanics and decks to build, and each run is varied by a plethora of random events, choices, successes or failures, and narrative interactions with NPCs. 


Both card games are unique and interesting, and actually share little DNA between the two. More than almost any other game, Griftlands feels like one where two distinct and separate games are being learned, and excelling at one does not necessarily correlate to success in the other. 


The combat one is pretty analogous to Slay the Spire, with battles playing out based on various buffs, debuffs, different types of damage, and is visually similar - with HP bars, characters facing off left and right, and simple symbology used to denote status, and future moves / impacts.


The diplomacy one, on the other hand, is more unique, feeling like something of a "split-the-difference" between Slay the Spire style combat, and Magic: The Gathering / Inscryption style 1-on-1 interface. 
The characters face off, with their "core" argument forming the frontal attack of an armada of smaller "points" and "side-arguments" that orbit around the outer of two circles, with the inner one indicating future moves. Jibes and diplomatic points can attack either the opponents core argument, or any of their side arguments, (buffs,) but debuffs can also be injected into their "argument circle", seeds of doubt, or paradoxes etc. which constantly reduce their resolve or curtail the strength of their own arguments.


The balance between those two games is clever and interesting. Successfully winning a combat encounter restores some "Resolve" (the conversational equivalent of HP), while a successful negotiation restores some HP, and often results in having a new companion to fight in the next combat encounter. 
When selecting "missions" to embark on, or while engaging in encounters, the players choices will affect which game is played - obviously, a more diplomatic playthrough will result in far more instances of Negotiation battles, whereas the more combat-focussed, "direct" route is always available as a fallback (loosing all "resolve" - the conversational equivalent of HP - does not result in a game over, but rather the inability to convince the opponent, and generally the requirement for combat,) but of course, a less diplomatic run can go straight to battle, ignoring the chance for nuance!
It is up to the player to determine which are they wish to engage with at any time, though no playthrough will ever allow one game type to be played exclusively... and building a good deck in either requires engagement with it, so each individual encounter must be weighed - the possibility of success and reward, vs. the possibility of failure, and set-back.

 

The game features 3 playable characters, all with their own narrative stories, areas of the Griftlands to explore, decks, unique mechanics, and specific build options for both games, and each feels genuinely different and interesting.


The first character to be played - Sal - is a recently released bounty hunter, and is probably the most mechanically "pure" (there is a reason she is the one unlocked from the get-go) - though there is still significant scope for build variety. Her Negotiation deck is primarily based around selecting between "Diplomacy" or "Intimidation", and her combat deck around either Improvising cards or causing status effects. Her story is essentially about making her way in the Griftlands, by aligning with one faction or the other... the Admiralty, (essentially cops,) or the Spree (the robbers and thieves.)


The second - Rook - a retires Admiralty Captain - is based more around gambling. His decks include coin-flipping mechanics and are based more around bluffing, trickery and smarts, and his narrative is more about faking alignments and double-crossing - playing both sides of the factions of the Griftlands against one another, and flipping back and forth.


The third character - Smith - the drunkard heir to a wealthy dynasty, disowned by his family - is easily the most mechanically complex character, analogous in some ways to The Watcher character in Slay the Spire, in the sense that while initially the most difficult character to play, has arguably the most scope for supreme power when played effectively. 
His decks are all based around drinking (indeed, he has additional mechanics involving "Drinking" and "Empty Bottles" laid over the already complex mechanics of the game, and these add additional wrinkles and nuances to his story of wanton debauchery and unpredictability.

 

The way the game is laid out structurally, and presented to the player is interesting, in the sense that while certainly a rogue-like, the path through it is far more reminiscent of, say, Pyre, than Slay the Spire. Certainly the basic "spine" of the game - the route taken through the campaign - is, under the hood, similar to the Slay the Spire / Curse of the Dead Gods style rogue-like, with the constant progression also subject to a certain element of RNG, allowing different choices to the player about which avenue seems best for them at any given juncture, but the actual presentation of that is much closer to Pyre. The area of the Griftlands that the specific character's journey takes place in (this is different for each of the three protagonists,) is presented as a static map, around which the different possible choices of encounter / mission / event will present as icons, and the player chooses which to do from that map. 
That gives a slightly more involving, engaging element to the game from a narrative perspective than something like Slay the Spire does. While the result is much the same, the feeling of being genuinely "within" the world, and having true agency in it is added to by actually feeling like one is choosing not only their manner of progression, but where they go within it.

 

There are a huge number of NPC characters - around 50 I believe - and each one has specific relationships with the protagonist in any given run. Every character, from shopkeepers, to bodyguards, to workers and barflies, can, at any given moment, either love, like, dislike, hate or be neutral to the player, and each encounter  - and choice within that encounter - will have an effect on that status... and those statuses are of significant impact.
A shopkeeper who likes you will charge less for their wares. One who dislikes you, will charge more. Every NPC has a "Social Boon" - a special buff you get as long as they love you (which could be anything from extra turns at the start of battle, to cheaper healing, to increased health for companions etc)... however, each also has a "Social Bane", applied if they hate you. Managing these is of great importance - even with the best deck in the world, completing a run with multiple compounding Social Banes can be very tricky!


The NPC relationships are not in a vacuum either - NPCs have affiliation with one another. Killing someone (as opposed to, say, accepting their surrender,) can be beneficial - it may result in useful single-use cards, for example - however, if it is done in a crowded area, you may gain a reputation... resulting in unwanted detrimental cards being added to your deck... and other people hating you. Kill someone from a specific faction, and their comrades might Hate you. Kill someone's friend, and they might hate you.
If someone dislikes or hates you, and their Social Bane is very detrimental, what to do? 
You could try and win them over by buying a drink... but if you don't have the cash, that's not an option. 
You could kill them, (a social bane is removed if the person causing it dies,)... but doing so might result in other people hating you. 
You could enter a "Negotiation" battle with them, to try and provoke them into attacking you first (killing someone after they draw first will not result in bad reputation,)... but they are citizens of the rough, tough Griftlands. They know what you're doing. That negotiation will be tough to pull off!


These NPC relationships are the games biggest success. They work really well, make genuine differences to the game mechanically from run to run, and are a constant source of interesting variety in both the mechanical game, and the narrative. I completed around 60 runs of the game across my time with it, including at least 30 with my "main" character (Sal,) and very rarely did a run feel much the same as a previous one.


The game also features both "Story" and "Brawl" modes - Brawl mode being essentially a more bare-bones, but also more "flattened", rigidly defined version of the story mode. There is still some of the same considerations along the journey, but Brawl mode removes the most flexible narrative elements, (and the map,) and feels more of a "level playing field" for competitive play. The number of encounters is fixed, and some of the more RNG elements (optional side elements, skippable encounters etc) are curtailed.


The art-style of Griftlands is really fantastic - reminiscent of late 80's /early 90's cartoons, or even Dragon's Lair / Space Ace style Laserdisc games, with a really cool mix of alien races and enemy designs. The hand-drawn look of all the characters gives them significant personality, and the environments, characters and artistic details really flesh out and colourise the world of the Griftlands with style. It could be very easy to imagine an entire ongoing animated series being created within the game world, and fitting in perfectly in the Saturday Morning Cartoon landscape of the early 90's.
While the game is not heavily animated, there is a significant step up from something like Slay the Spire in battle - characters move and make their unique attacks directly to the opposing players, and grimace or block as they are themselves attacked, meaning the visual palate of the combat (and the negotiations) is more akin to JRPG turn-based combat than the Slay the Spire-esque purely indicative style.


Audio is good - music is fine, occasionally veering into very good territory, if never truly stand-out. There is voice work of a sort, though it is not real voice work, but rather Star-Fox / The Sims style simlish. The game posits that the Griftlands have their own language, and so the spoken words are in a made-up language, with the translations being read by the player.


Overall Griftlands is a heck of a game. Two separate smart, very well worked out, genuinely variable and fun card games working well in tandem, and are implemented extremely well in the wrapper of a fun and engaging set of stories, in a visually distinct and artistic landscape.


It is a complicated game at first - and one can take some time to learn the nuance of - but the rewards for doing so is a rich, interesting and endlessly repeatable rogue-like that hits its tone perfectly, and always allows room for experimentation, variation... and fun.

 

 

(Review and Scientific Ranking originally posted HERE)

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