What if we reverse the premise of a dungeon crawler and instead of going deeper underground we fight our way up to the surface? That's what Iratus: Lord of the Dead, a turn-based roguelike RPG from Unfrozen has to offer. Here you play the role of Iratus the Necromancer, who is able to raise dark creatures from the remains of the humans he has killed, and your job is to bring him to freedom so he can resume his plan to control the world with darkness.
Here you can create up to 18 different minions, ranging from skeletons, dark knights, banshees, wraiths, mummies, head hunters, and even Iratus' bride. These unholy creatures are the units you will control in battle, and each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, with certain units even more deadly when combined with complementary minions.
The game plays out on a large branching map, with five big maps/levels in total and a boss at each exit. Here you can choose your own path, with the types of enemies you'll face signposted before you engage them. This allows you to better prepare your troops and formations to face opponents that can come in a variety of forms.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead offers a wide variety of strategies, which can accommodate a variety of playing styles. What's more, there are two ways to kill enemies, first by draining their 'vigor' (HP) and the other by sucking their 'sanity'. Vigor, of course, has standard HP mechanics where you use physical or magical attacks to reduce it to zero, where they simply die. Sanity, on the other hand, is not that straightforward; when the enemy's sanity level reaches 0, then the next damage has a chance of killing the unit. In addition, if sanity decreases to a certain point, the enemy can get the 'Insanity' status, which will give them random debuffs, from attacking their own teammates to reducing their stats.
Performing stress kills (by using up your opponent's sanity) is sometimes very satisfying. If you are lucky, a series of enemies who have zero sanity will die together, because every time a teammate dies their own level gets lower. However, this pleasure can turn into disaster when playing on higher levels because instead of going insane, the reduced sanity can also lead to the emergence of the 'Inspired' status that permanently gives them buffs. It seems that sometimes the path is indeed a little luck-centric, something we had a growing aversion to as we played through on the higher difficulty levels.
Developing strategies in Iratus can take time and preparation, however, when everything is going well then it all clicks together superbly. As the game progresses, you will open more minions and they can still be accessed in your next playthrough. This will open broader combinations of strategies. We've even just discovered a new minion formation when writing this review, which we think is better balanced for a higher level of difficulty.
You can also use brains and alchemy to increase your options when playing. For example, if you feel like you've chosen a wrong skill path, you can create a new minion and then use a higher-level brain to instantly increase its level. Of course, this isn't as simple as it sounds as brains are a finite resource, but it's a good example to show that there is always a way to improve your situation even if you make a wrong move.
And that's not mentioning the existence of Iratus' magic spells. Our evil necromancer can light up the fight by chanting magic spells once per round (spells cost mana). He can also gather experience, level up, and pass on passive effects to his minions. The higher the level of Iratus, the more diverse and stronger the spells you can cast.
One thing that also important is your graveyard, the place where you can build supporting facilities that aid your tactical efforts and give you something to think about between battles. Here you can train minions that don't fight, heal injured units, gather more experience for Iratus, and so on. In short, don't neglect your graveyard if you want to go far.
With so many factors to consider, playing Iratus can indeed be overwhelming at the start. However, everything you need to know can be learned slowly by playing it through on the easiest difficulty level. It will provide a much-needed tutorial for you and a safety net for you to experiment over without too much in the way of punishment lurking underneath. Of course, there can be no satisfaction without a challenging enemy and bear in mind that when playing on easy we were able to end the game without losing a single minion, so don't be afraid to turn up the challenge once you've got the hang of things.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead is a deep strategy game that allows for a wide variety of tactics while offering high replay value. The visuals have a dark and gripping style, and more importantly, it's spec friendly and you don't need a monster of a rig to get playing. Although the soundtrack feels a bit monotonous, Stefan Weyte's voice acting performance as Iratus is topnotch. In short, if you are a fan of strategy games, particularly the likes of Darkest Dungeon, this is one we'd happily recommend you dig into.
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