While visiting family and friends last week, I gave Gloomhaven a try and discovered a rather excellent cooperative, tactical-rpg of dungeon-delving. It’s an interesting combination of gameplay styles that, so far, has kept our gaming trio occupied in the World of Warcraft content break (pre 9.1).
The game has a few key pillars: turn-based tactical combat, deck building and collection as character progression and classes as pre-built characters that you collect. This latter aspect is like other games I’ve played before including Final Fantasy 14’s original class/job system, Vindictus and even Skylanders. The characters are all interesting and evocatively designed with some real diversity in species and class design that strays away from the most obvious fantasy tropes. You unlock more characters through gameplay, another RPG staple mechanic, which for me at least is a strong motivator to actually work towards the achievements. I happen to like getting more classes as I’ve written about before.
The bulk of the gameplay is combat, there’s not much else to the dungeon delving except defeating opponents though it is entertaining enough, hopefully, to keep us engaged for some time to come. Looting gold dropped by creatures is an action economy decision, your character has to move to a pile of gold and end turn on it to pick it up, when the last creature in a map dies all un-collected gold is lost. That’s a mechanic that I’m less keen on as it could easily lead to low group funds in a game where gold and ability upgrades (a k a card enhancements) seem pretty expensive.
The card as abilitybar reminds me somewhat of Guild Wars or Wildstar’s limited abilityset systems. You have more cards than you can wield in a given adventure. Some cards when used become ‘burned’ and cannot be used again, others when used are discarded, and there are more ways to get discarded cards back than burned ones. So the gameplay is centered on what cards you have available now, what you have used and ensuring that over the length of the scenario you do not run-out. It is easy to go too full out early and to start to ‘run dry’ before reaching the final fight. If you have less than two cards available either in your hand or your discard pile, then your character becomes exhausted meaning they are inactive for the rest of the adventure.
One major aspect of the gameplay is the randomisation that is applied to each attack, via the modifier deck mechanic. Each character has a modifier deck, and the attack is modified by a random pick from that deck. The numbers of each type of modifier (e.g. -1, +0, *2) is applied to damage before it is dealt. It seems to lead to somewhat ‘swingy’ combat results. That or the random number generator system doesn’t like us, we always seem to draw the dreaded *0 modifier each every single scenario regardless of its rarity. I imagine in MMORPG terms I’d find this amount of rng that so overtly modifies my character’s attacks in combat to be annoying. Complete misses or 0 damage hits seem rarer, I think, in WoW or similar games outside of specific boss mechanics. In Gloomhaven characters make a lot fewer attacks that have more importance compared with MMORPG gameplay, so the rng feels much more impactful here.
Overall this tactical-rpg has proven a surprise hit that could last a few months of sporadic sessions. It’s still in Player-Test mode and more content is promised so there scope for a good amount of longevity too. We’ve not delved into the depths of character customisation yet (said enhancements), it’s early days and money is tight, but hopefully in conjunction with swapping to different team setups, it’ll be enough to keep us interested.