Previews

Tabletop Strategy Meets the Power of the PC in Labyrinth

Free Range Games seeks to bring the tactical elements of deck building, hand management, and combat strategy to the video game world with Labyrinth, a Steam early access title as of March 7th. This is an online only game, due in part to its PvP design.

In Labyrinth, you battle through mythical dungeons with a party of adventurers on an isometric grid. Along the way you might encounter and battle other players, or even build your own dungeons to test the skill of other would be adventurers. Setting this game apart from other MMOs is its card combat system: each adventurer’s skills, whether they be attack maneuvers or various spells, require the use of a card from the deck of abilities they carry with them. These decks are built in a CCG style, dropping as loot from encounters and giving you more tools to tweak each adventurer’s combat utility.

Labyrinth’s aesthetic is that of a darker World of Warcraft. Character designs are nothing unfamiliar, but playing through the game I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with this world and it needed fixing. Battles take place in areas threatening or abandoned areas, and while play so far has revealed no story details I get the sense some world ending threat will come up. The powerful beasts that oppose you and the minions they summon are monstrous and inhuman, all surrounded with some sort of fell energy. While nowhere near as dark or forlorn as Dark Souls, Labyrinth does give you the impression that this is not your average high fantasy adventure.

Claustrophobic environments like this help the feel of dungeon delving, but the sticky camera can make them a pain.

The card combat offers a sense of randomness with a mixture of strategic depth. Each card not only has certain abilities and effects but a speed. More powerful cards necessitate longer wait times before the character can act again, so you will have to carefully map out not only what abilities your fighters use, but how long you want your characters to be out of the fight before acting again. Space is also a factor, as for both movement and abilities, making careful placement of characters is crucial to survival. There is a clear bar across the top of the screen that indicates how your card will affect turn order so you can more easily visualize the initiative order.

The cards break up into four classes with synergistic abilities, incentivizing you to specialize the members of your party. Warfare, Wizardry, Faith, and Skullduggery are all mainstays of the genre. In its current stage Labyrinth has on access to Wizardry cards, but the other card types synergize around specific builds and playstyles. Each are similar in that they rely on accumulation of statuses or points that can then be spent on card abilities. This comes into play nicely on cards which will have different effects if you wait to play them so that they can be more effective.

Warfare cards allow their adventurer to gain Fury points as they take hits or defeat enemies. These points can later be spent on special card abilities, the more points you spend granting more powerful effects. Warfare focuses on provoking enemy attacks as well as counterattacks and heightened defense to withstand the assault.

Faith adventurers generate Devotion points as they heal their party members, which can also be spent to power card abilities. In its current state Devotion and Fury feel a bit too similar apart from the fact that they incentivize using your units the way they are intended. The points also accumulate so fast that worrying about them quickly becomes redundant.

Skullduggery, on the other hand, is a game of constantly managing your adventurer. Skullduggery cards grant Stealth, which reduces aggro on the adventurer and acts as a prerequisite for abilities to take effect. Unlike Devotion or Fury which can be spent at will, Stealth vanishes as soon as you attack a target.

All of these abilities make for some fascinating combos, especially when you can set them up so that they can feed into one another. At one point my rogue used an ability that allowed him to teleport behind an enemy and kill it instantly; because he was already in stealth when he did so, he could use the card’s secondary ability to teleport to another square. That put him right in line for my healer’s area of effect heal that also damaged enemies, but because of an ability placed on the warrior a turn before damaged all adjacent enemies equal to the amount of life he regained. It doesn’t take long to get these combos rolling, and you soon find them crucial for surviving the game’s battles.

In Labyrinth’s current state, play is limited to a few exposition matches with three bosses. Each of them have drastically different abilities requiring different playstyles to defeat. The first damages your party when one of his smaller minions is defeated, the second gains defense for each minion he has in play, and the third knocks your heroes back a number of squares equivalent to the damage they inflict. The variance in play was surprising. I focused my first fight on hammering the boss incessantly, dealing with minions only when they happened to be an annoyance. The second boss required much more careful timing and risk assessment, and I scrambled to make the best use out of area-of-effect abilities I had discarded before.

Range and movement is incredibly clear, which is crucial due to how often both factor into combos.

The Early Access available at the moment is highly limited, offering only offensive deck-building, PvP combat, and tweaked features to make learning the game easier. The camera proved to be a serious annoyance, with a limited range that sometimes keeps you from seeing things as you want them to. Given the top down perspective this shouldn’t matter, except that moving units requires dragging from their origin point  to their destination. This is unnecessary since you don’t control their pathfinding, and I hope the feature is improved as the game develops.

Given how many features are missing, it is too early to say how Labyrinth will turn out. There is no deck customization available yet, a missing card type, and I am not sure how the eventual loot system will work. That said, I had a great time with my small jaunt in the early version of the game. Especially with the dearth of tactical RPGs out there, I will be watching Labyrinth closely.

 

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