In a fantasy world where one mage found out how to use a spell creating the equivalent of a nuclear bomb, mutually assured destruction was all but assured. The entire world of The Last Spell went through their own apocalypse brought on by this magic.
It wasn’t just the sheer power of these magical blasts that it shares in common with real nukes. These spells also left behind a strange purple mist, which in this world turn those who breath in these fumes to turn into what are essentially zombies.
Now the player, who takes on the role of a commander who seems to have the power of gods behind them to try again after their failures, must protect the remaining mages as they break seals to cast the so-called “last spell.”
This comes in the form of a game with tactical RPG gameplay paired with roguelite elements. Can Ishtar Games balance the two genres to create a fun, engaging loop of battle? Find out in our review below!
The Last Spell
Developer: Ishtar Games
Publisher: The Arcade Crew, Gamera Games, Dangan Entertainment
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC (reviewed)
Release Date: March 9, 2023 (Early Access: June 3, 2021)
Despite the grim nature of The Last Spell’s setting, the story both isn’t as dark as one would expect nor is it at the forefront. Most information pertaining to the plot is drip-fed to the player, where it can take large gaps of time in between to focus more on the gameplay loop.
Characters, mainly the ones whom are not permanent, take their situation rather lightly. Getting kills or starting off nights will see cheesy one liners which add a bit of charm, but do recycle themselves rather quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with the game’s story at all, but it could give some a sense of whiplash after the stunning introduction. Regardless of tone, most of the story isn’t important either. The story mainly relegates itself to the background as players engage in the gameplay loop.
Much of The Last Spell’s gameplay can be summarized into two major parts. First is the sections where the commander prepares their units, from upgrading the town being defended to positioning their units in the correct manner against the horde.
Then there’s the part where players take on the massive horde of enemies in a tactical RPG style of fashion. As opposed to many turned based strategy RPGs where combat relies heavily on smart positioning in small scale battles, The Last Spell is much more bombastic.
You’ll only command at most a handful of units, which is minuscule compared to the literal dozens that show up each night in waves. Instead of focusing more on deciding which move will have the best chance of success, most strategy revolves around killing as many monsters as possible.
Because the The Last Spell centers on defending the mages in the middle of the map trying to break the seal, keeping your heroes safe is mainly an afterthought. Managing your defenses in minimizing the number of those that get close take precedence.
Fortunately, there are a large array of weapons to equip your heroes that all share similar traits. These traits are a selection of attacks that range from single target to AOE which generally cost mana, a scarce resource to manage.
What keeps things interesting are the random nature of how each run can go. While a hero might start off the run as a mage, the best options when choosing what to level up may find them better suited with a gun, instead.
Each run also finds variation from the number of omens that can be set that range from giving buffs to your characters to increasing the odds of certain events occurring. These are unlocked over time as you grind out essences to purchase them.
This brings us to the overarching growth as players progress. With many roguelike titles, failure will come often due to how weak and limited you are in the beginning. In the case of The Last Spell, growth mostly comes in two forms: essence and accomplishments.
The former is simple; survive nights, kill monsters, achieve certain feats, and you generate these souls over time. Spending them will allow players to unlock new buildings, weapons, and better odds for their heroes when leveling up.
The latter encourages experimentation in play to reward players with better tools at their disposal. There is the standard survive in a new map, then there is using action points with certain weapons to gain access to even more powerful ones.
This system means that players never feel stuck while progressing through The Last Spell. You don’t have to grind run after run to make minuscule progress and there’s a sense of gaining strength as you progress through the game.
Though it does take a long while to get into the end game regardless of how well paced it is. There is easily dozens of hours worth of gameplay just for getting through the main course of the game. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending on how the game goes for some.
Each stage also brings about their own unique situations, topped off with a final boss encounter that pushes player’s defenses to their limits. This also tests the preparation they’ve done to set themselves up to this point.
The other half of gameplay that you’ll spend much of your time in is the preparation stages. During the day, when the hordes aren’t attacking, players will have to make decisions on how to fix up and upgrade their town to be better prepared for constant assaults.
A neat concept is that the world truly is in a post-apocalyptic setting. They are barely scraping by, surviving from constant attacks that most stages begin with the town already in ruins. You’ll have to clear out the rubble in order to make room for important buildings.
There’s a balance of managing your limited resources in order to build up places to generate more resources, gear out your heroes, and even defend the town itself with ballistas and catapults. Tough choices will have to be made in order to best survive a night.
However, building up the town can become awkward and cumbersome due to the way building placements are handled. Some structures are not straight lines and you can’t rotate to have them fit better and allow for other useful buildings.
It’s understandable that this is an indie pixel game, so the developers don’t have the resources to create multiple assets of the same buildings. Some could argue this is part of the game’s challenge, but it comes off more as an annoyance.
The Last Spell is a delight to play, it hits that dopamine rush of killing multiple enemies with just one unit. The presentation of seeing a monster’s guts splattering right alongside the sound cue behind the metal rock music makes the game a blast to play.
You can easily set aside a few hours to go for a run and enjoy the ride night in and night out. Not only is the core gameplay loop satisfying in The Last Spell, but there is a ton of content streamed in that’ll keep you coming back for more.
The Last Spell was reviewed on PC using a code provided by The Arcade Crew. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. The Last Spell is available on Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam).