Will you survive the Griftlands or fall another nameless victim on the dusty road to Murder Bay? Klei experiments with a narrative-heavy deck building game and it works.
Klei Entertainment has a reputation for successfully melding multiple genres together into an excellent gaming experience. Griftlands is no different, combining a world rich with lore that reacts to your actions with card-based conflict resolution. Players get a negotiation and combat deck to manage that can be built out in a variety of ways.
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Publisher: Klei Entertainment
- Price: $19.99
- Genre: Deck building, Strategy, RPG
Players start with Sal the Bounty Hunter unlocked. There are three characters with fully distinct storylines, and several outcomes depending on how you play. The whole world feels alive as characters react to how you choose to solve situations. The standard mode includes permadeath for an iron man roguelite experience. Story mode allows you to fail encounters and live with the consequences.
There are currently three playable characters, each with their own motivations and back stories. Players must win a game as Sal Fallon the bounty hunter to unlock Rook and Smith. You’ll also unlock brawl mode for each character after winning a narrative run at least once with the character.
Gameplay takes place entirely on two screens – traveling the map and the combat screen. Traveling around has a chance to generate random encounters, which can influence how the play through goes. Say you’re carrying contraband and get stopped by the cops. If you end up in a fight, killing them could have drawbacks down the line.
By the time I finished my first play through, most of the Admiralty hated me for flaunting their rules in Murder Bay. It didn’t impact my ability to win against the final boss, but it did present some interesting challenges. I played on normal difficulty, which I felt like had a healthy mix of challenge and breeze-through battles.
Griftlands gives you two decks to manage – combat and negotiation. Both decks play out similarly, with successful negotiations often avoiding combat. Negotiation involves breaking through your opponent’s arguments and protecting your own with concrete evidence, kind of like shielding your combat cards.
It’s refreshing to have a game that focuses on other ways to end encounters, but negotiation decks didn’t feel fundamentally different than combat decks. I would have been nice to feel like negotiating with someone isn’t just slamming the right cards down at the right time.
Aside from managing your card decks for survival, you’ll also have to pay close attention to your health, resolve, and money. You can rest up at the end of each day to recover some health, or buy food items that appear as cards to work heals into your deck when you need them.
You’ll also have to manage your reputation among the many characters of the Griftlands. Each character belongs to a faction and has friends and their own motivations. If you resolve every scuffle by killing your opponent, you’ll quickly make enemies of most of the characters. If a character hates you, it unlocks a bane negative perk that can influence the battle if they attack you.
Graphics & Audio
Klei took a 2D animated approach to the game, making it feel like an interactive comic book of sorts. Everything takes place on a single map, so you’re watching your character’s icon move around the same space. That aspect isn’t great. The character animations, voices, and combat animations are nice, though.
While the art is top notch, where Griftlands really shines is its soundtrack. Put together by Jim Guthrie, it perfectly captures the feel of a gritty post-apocalyptic world where anything can be had for the right price. It’s a shame the soundtrack isn’t available on Spotify or YouTube – it’s worth listening to outside of the game.
Griftlands Switch Issues
One major complaint about the game is that some instances of text on cards and names is just too small. Klei thought of this and gives you ways to inspect the cards to increase the font size, but it is still really, really tiny. It’s not as bad as some of the other games I’ve complained about in my reviews here on Ninty Gamer (Fire Emblem: Three Houses) but it’s worth mentioning.
The game runs very smooth and there are hardly any load times between battles. I never had a crash in the 30+ hours I spent playing the game for my review, so performance is steady.
4.5 out of 5 stars
An amazing addition to the card-based deck-building genre, tailor-made for gamers who want more narrative to their endless runs.
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