Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder is a rogue-like tactical army battler, developed by Konfa Games and published by tinyBuild. Players take control of their little human army and fight their way through a labyrinth of horrors filled with monsters. The goal of the game is to survive.
Players must use tactics and strategies to guide their brave warriors to victory or an uncertain death. The latter is truer in most cases. Nevertheless, completing multiple levels without a restart is a strong possibility with some trial and error.
Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder - Food or fodder, whichever comes first
Taking control of an army or group of soldiers makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. This candy shop resembles the seven circles of hell, and the probability of dying is rather high. Much like all tactical army battlers, players start with basic troops, aka cannon fodder. The goal is simple: fight and survive to the bitter end.
But here's where things get interesting. While fighting, leveling up and choosing weapons and skills are the core gameplay, the humor that's been added takes a bloody cake. The game has a lot to offer, with an assortment of enemies that will send any puny human running into the hill.
This isn't Alice in Wonderland, and those pipes don't lead to salvation
Before getting into the thick of it, players must slide down some matrix-looking tubes to reach the first level. Once there, they'll be greeted with confusion and a mini-map that will make little or no sense. However, understanding how to navigate each level will be crucial to survival.
There are five types of rooms in Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder. They can broadly be divided into food, upgrades, resupply, quests, and boss fights. Food plays an important role in-game. If you run out of food, the army will suffer from attrition. They will perform poorly in battle, which will end badly.
Players can always sacrifice a puny human to grind them up into some delicious food and keep marching forward. Coming back to the topic, certain rooms are equipped with a teleporter. Rather than running about from one room to the next, players can teleport their army to save on wasting food.
Would you like just-a-sword or Excalibur?
Something that I love about the game is the seemingly never-ending plethora of weapons to choose from. There's no shortage of choices, from the mighty Excalibur to the humble crossbow. With each weapon being put into a class of its own, understanding how they work in unison is crucial to survival.
Having too many Fencers or not enough Tanks is a sure way to get sent back to the main menu, but hey, it's still fun. Nevertheless, the goal is not to die while exploring the underbelly of this dystopian setting.
Initially, the weapons that players start with are not that good. While they can still be used to kill the monsters that lurk in these dark and dingy rooms, they eventually become useless. Players will have to spend some of their hard-earned Tokens to upgrade their loot pool to receive higher-tier equipment.
That being said, understanding which weapons to equip puny humans with will make all the difference. While an offensive strategy build may seem like a great idea, at times, holding the line with Tanks and letting Mages and Throwers do their thing is a smarter idea.
Mutations and perks galore
One of the things that makes Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder so enjoyable is the random perks players can obtain along the way. Mutations can be added to the army board by defeating monsters in certain rooms. Depending on the type of mutation, it can affect all unit types or specific units.
Nonetheless, they come in handy in tough situations and are better to have than not. Speaking of mutations, while some can be obtained randomly, others have to be bought using tokens. This is where the tactical layer of the game shines. 22 mutations can be unlocked, and each will affect the playstyle drastically.
For instance, the Armor Bonus mutation allows all units to function as tanks. When combined with a mutation known as Valor, enemies will barely be able to make a dent. Sticking to one mutation branch alone will not be enough to get through the higher levels. Players will have to be careful when making a choice.
Is that an Octoboss?
Regarding enemy types, Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder has no shortage of them. From the humble Zombie to the mighty Octoboss, there's something for every occasion. However, I won't spoil the rest by naming more of them. Instead, I'll talk about the mechanics.
I love how enemies are not immune to mana consumption and other effects, like how units use mana to initiate a special attack. The same applies to enemies. Once their mana runs dry, they are unable to perform attacks.
This can be a lifesaver as some special attacks are rather deadly. Some can silence units, toss them about like rag dolls, and even send them through a black hole.
Quests and humor
I wasn't expecting to find quests in Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder, but I'm glad I did. While most of these challenges are limited to one level, they are fun.
Players will meet the Grim Reaper, interact with a scientist who has a zombie problem, and even saves a rat from certain death. These challenges are made better by the humor that is associated with them. The best part about it is that the challenge provides good rewards. Completing them is highly recommended.
That's not all, while challenges offer some humor, more can be found at the start of each level. Players are greeted with a statement or question and some humorous options.
First impressions and gameplay
When I first booted up Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was somewhat confused with the many modes and scenarios to choose from. After scrolling through a few of them and realizing they were locked, I decided to jump right into the action and get my bearings.
After sliding down the pipes for the first time, my initial reaction was, "What now?" I knew I had an army but had no clue what to do with it. I soon realized that I had to send them through the gate to the next room and, quite possibly, their death. To my surprise, the first few battles were great.
Defensive mutations were excellent, and I was winning fight after fight. Unfortunately, this being the first game, I had forgotten about food. Since I wasted all my tokens on mutations and weapons, I had none left for nourishment. Upon entering the boss room, my tiny humans were wiped out of existence, and the game prompted me to try again.
Round two was a lot better. After understanding how to balance things out, managing tokens and food becomes easy. However, thanks to my gung-ho mentality, I didn't get very far as I had gone with an utterly offensive army composition. After reaching level three, I soon had to restart once more.
Fast forward a few tries, and I'm doing relatively well in-game. I now have an elite group of troops that is on level four. Incredible mutations keep them alive during battle and provide enough food to last for the winter. That said, Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder takes a while to grow on you, but the fun doesn't stop once it does.
Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder, provided by TinyBuild, was played on the system with the following configuration:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
- GPU: RTX 3070 8GB
- RAM: 32 GB
Given that the game has low specifications, any modern rig would be able to run it smoothly. That said, I encountered no stutter, lag, or anything ordinary. In short, Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder works like a charm.
Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder will keep you glued to your seat for hours. While each fight may only last a few seconds or two minutes, they all feel rewarded and encourage replayability. Lose or win. The fun never ends. That said, I wish the balancing were a tad better.
Certain enemy types tend to be bullet sponges. While having bosses with large HP pools is not a problem, running into monsters with the same attributes is hard to deal with. However, I'm confident that this problem will be solved with a suitable army composition.
I got a chance to try out the PvP mode, which is just as awesome as the offline mode. It's fun, fast-paced, and gets the blood pumping. Aside from the online aspect, there are many scenarios where players can try their luck.
Coming to the problems I faced while playing Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder, I can't think of any. The gameplay is smooth, the interactions are streamlined, the challenges are entertaining, and the game feels good, even if you don't know what you're doing for the first few playthroughs.
Nevertheless, I do wish that enemies were balanced a bit better. At times, despite having level three and four units, they can quickly die to monsters that spammed their special attack. Dying is part of Despot's Game: Dystopian Army Builder, and there's something to learn from passing into the great beyond every playthrough.
With a steady stream of updates and reworks, this human meat grinder is not slowing down. On that note, I look forward to spending many more hours sending my troops into the fray and seeing them die horrific deaths.
Reviewed on: PC (Review code provided by tinyBuild)
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Konfa Games
Release date: September 28, 2022