The Last Spell - PC Review

The Last Spell by developer Ishtar Games and publishers The Arcade Crew, DANGEN Entertainment, Gamera Game, DotEmuPC (Steam) review written by Hayden with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

There is a steady stream of AAA games on the market that try to wow you with how smooth and realistic their graphics are, how jiggly their physics models are, how perfect the flouncing of their title character’s hair is - and in doing so hope you overlook how bland and mediocre and stale-as-last-week’s-leftovers their mechanics and plot is. The Last Spell isn’t that. There are no fancy graphics here to hide behind, no Hollywood A-list voice actors to pin a plot on. The Last Spell makes its stand on its gameplay, and it does it well. Graphically, Last Spell would feel at home among early isometric strategy games from decades ago, but don’t let appearances deceive - this is absolutely a game that understands modern game design trends and meets players where they are today.

Thematically, Last Spell presents the player with a devastated world trying to survive magic-as-weapon-of-mass-destruction gone wrong. The player takes control of various isolated hamlets in turn, fighting not to win overall at each location, but simply to survive. Well, at least to survive long enough for those mages that have survived to cast their contribution to the eponymous “last spell” - an attempt to avert magical catastrophe by removing magic itself from the world. This sets us up for a turn-based game where the player alternately fights off ever-growing waves of monsters and hastily slaps together defenses and infrastructure to resist the incursions. Once a given area’s contribution to the Last Spell has been successfully cast, the player jumps to the next settlement, providing a perfect reason for the game to strip away the beefed-up economy and defenders that you’ve just finished with since you’re making a large geographic jump. While the game uses an extended introduction sequence to build the world around the player, there are additional pieces of the story unlocked between each settlement, and sometimes even between each wave of monsters.

Outside of combat, The Last Spell provides an opportunity to build defenses, infrastructure that will benefit the player in future build phases, and upgrade the heroes that will be used in the combat phase of the game. Balancing gold production for equipment purchases, building materials for infrastructure, and civilian workers to run everything, the player needs to act strategically. While it is always tempting to try to upgrade a hero now instead of later, spending the resources this turn might mean you need to forgo a building upgrade that would have a far greater impact in the future. Of course, putting off those upgrades to your heroes might mean that you don’t get a “next build phase” if you get overrun by the monstrous horde in combat…

Combat in The Last Spell is turn-based, with monsters approaching the player’s settlement from one or more directions that are clearly indicated during the start-of-combat setup time. Movement is grid based, with the encroaching enemies moving fairly predictably towards the core of the settlement where the settlement’s mage(s) are working on their enchantment. The player will have a team of heroes available across various melee, ranged and magical specializations that have to thwart the attack, buying one more day of life for everyone in town.

It’s an easy premise to grasp, but inevitably it’s not that simple. The enemies approach from within a deadly mist that surrounds the settlement, and over time that mist creeps closer to the settlement itself. Coupled with more monsters, stronger monsters, faster monsters, flying monsters, additional attack directions, and the occasional boss monster with special mechanics, this is not a cakewalk. Once you realize that you have 5 heroes under your control, three directions that monsters are spawning in, and upwards of 40 monsters on the field to deal with and more about to appear when you hit ‘end turn’, the pressure really starts to amp up. Further driving this is that if any of those monsters make it inside the settlement, your people will start to panic.  Too many scared people losing faith in your ability to protect them, and your post-battle rewards drop. Those rewards are often the very materials you’re going to need in the following non-combat phase, so you really start to realize that if you can’t keep them safe, the townsfolk won’t help you!

To aid replayability and let the masochistic players among us thrive, The Last Spell both carries progress towards equipment/achievement unlocks between runs (win or lose) and lets the player customize elements of difficulty. Within a limited number of slots available, the player can aid (or impair) the abilities of their heroes before starting at a given settlement, with additional options on how to modify conditions being unlocked through play. Yes, as mentioned before you can actually make it more difficult through this system, although with the existing difficulty posed by the oncoming hordes I would personally look askance at anyone who thought that was actually a ‘fun’ idea!

Overall, The Last Spell is a really well built tactical turn-based battle game. Cloaked in graphics reminiscent of something out of the late 90’s or early 2000’s, The Last Spell is clearly confident that it needs no pretty faces or Ultra-HD resolution art assets, and with good reason. This is a solid game with a clear premise, intuitive interface and a good balance between giving the player time to think and putting the pressure on through the tactical situations they face. Retailing at $32.50 CDN at the time of review, The Last Spell clocks in at just under half the price of blockbuster AAA titles, and claims to offer over 40 hours of gameplay in its campaign - which is more than some of those same AAA titles can deliver! A solid 9/10, The Last Spell obviously knew what it aimed to deliver, and cleanly hit that mark.

Score: 9 / 10



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