Have you ever been in the middle of a round on one of those browser tower defence games and sat back and just wondered about who exactly is behind the seemingly endless legions of baddies who are practically throwing themselves at your impenetrable defences? Well, Necronator: Dead Wrong, which has just received a full release having recently left early access, is a game to answer that question. Uniquely told from the attacker’s perspective, it combines elements from both the deck-building and real-time-strategy into a proudly quirky and distinctly different experience that will likely have you coming back time and time again for more.
The plot follows the exploits of a young evil-doer fully trained up in all sorts of villainy, having recently graduated from the ‘Undead Academy’, who is aiming to become the greatest necromancer in the rather ironically named fantasy world of Livmore. Joined by a ‘chubat’, an adorably squishy looking winged purple comrade, players must rampage across Livmore winning challenging battles, recruiting armies of troops and just generally leaving a trail of death and destruction in your wake.
When you start the game, there are three available protagonists to choose from with one, the Death Knight, available right away and the other two being unlockable via in-game progression. With slightly different story interactions throughout their campaigns, each protagonist has their own unique abilities and card decks, giving them unique playstyles. Your character’s decks and abilities are utilised in the game’s combat sections, which involve using cards from your deck to dispatch troops along paths, much like the lanes of MOBA titles, towards an enemy base and to heal or provide buffs to your army.
Your current hand is shown at the bottom of the screen and each card is labelled with a set amount of mana which must be spent to play the card. Mana is generated predominantly by your home building or when by captured enemy defences You mana can too be used to discard your hand and draw new cards from your deck – particularly handy a few hours in, when you have obtained a deck of considerable size.
It’s good to be bad
Although the initial few levels being almost incredibly easy, completed in a matter of seconds by simply spamming all your units, difficulty soon picks up and I was pleased to discover that there is a shocking amount of strategy required in order to get past the later levels. Becoming acquainted with the individual stats and properties of the cards in your deck is a must if you want to get very far, and I found that keeping track of which cards I had already played in a game in order to try and predict the ones which would enter my hand next both kept me one step ahead of my adversary, making winning the fight extra rewarding.
No matter how much you think things through however, battles still rely partly on chance. The cards selected to enter your hand are chosen entirely at random from your card pool and the same goes for that of your enemy. Whilst strategy is undeniably effective, this randomness stops the player from becoming too complacent and, despite sometimes becoming a source of unparalleled frustration, keeps each battle feeling fresh and exciting. Keeping battles engaging is particularly important for Necronator; with death converting all of their progress to overall character XP and setting the player right back to square one.
XP levels up your protagonist, unlocking new starting decks and abilities. Alongside gaining cards to bolster out your deck, succeeding on the battlefield grants “souls” which players can spend on upgrades. Cards can be purchased directly in their upgraded forms through the shops littered about the map or alternatively upgraded in camp. The opportunity to set up camp is granted to the player every few levels and allows them to upgrade cheaply, heal or pay a small fee to remove cards from their hand. You can, however, only select one of these options before being forced to move on.
This creates an interesting conflict between maintaining your health and increasing the power of your deck. Alongside better stats, enhancing cards unlocks new visual sprites for your units who are now seen with visibly more durable armour or a more menacing looking improved weapon in their hands. In addition to being a nice bit of attention-to-detail, this helps give a good sense of progression to your deck and I enjoyed being able to actually see my troops becoming more powerful throughout the game.
There are a number of random encounters to be discovered throughout the game, marked by a mysterious question mark on the map. These give the player some choices to make, granting powerful cards if successful but simultaneously run the risk of crippling unlucky players with debuffs. The sheer number of different decisions to be made throughout the campaign, as well as the vast number of cards that can be added to your deck, makes losing feel less like a chore than an opportunity to start over and experiment with new card configurations or discover events and outcomes you may have missed. Furthermore, the inclusion Steam Workshop support does wonders for replayability, allowing players to create and share everything from custom-made game modifiers to full-length story campaigns.
Outside of combat, the game’s map is pleasantly drawn with its soft colours and cartoon-like style complimenting the game’s cutesy hand-drawn character designs well. Battles themselves, on the other hand, are presented from an isometric perspective the presentation of each battlefield in a small square area, which can be rotated and explored by the camera. I found that it was far easier to focus with concentration focused on a small area and kept even the most frantic of fights from feeling too overwhelming. Older gamers will likely find the box-like arenas, three-dimensional scenery and two-dimensional pixelated unit sprites a pleasantly nostalgic combination, being particularly reminiscent of early strategy games like Disgaea.
This influence is also apparent in the game’s writing, which follows a similarly comic tone. I found the light-hearted pre-battle dialogue to be a constant source of amusement whilst the sardonic interactions with the game’s cast of punnily-named boss characters contains its fair share of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a shame that this dialogue becomes far less entertaining when it is repeated verbatim at the same points in every single playthrough. The pre-battle dialogue from Chubat is a notable offender in this regard, which each area only having a handful of lines which play out before each battle. What’s there may be very good, but it’s a shame there simply aren’t enough unique lines to keep you from instinctively skipping dialogue interactions.
The title’s music, although by all means wholly satisfactory, was on the whole a little blander than I expected for a game which is otherwise oozing with personality. This is quite nit-picky, but it would also be nice if the game’s tutorial, which is relegated to a small tick-box on the game creation menu, was made a little more apparent for new players as launching the game for the first time and missing the tutorial made for quite a confusing experience.
Despite having left early access, the game is still receiving frequent content and quality of life updates based on user feedback, so I’m confident that these small nagging issues will be resolved in future patches.
Despite some very minor shortcomings, the entertaining writing and engaging visual flair elevates the game’s experimental gameplay combination of addictive deck-building and unpredictable real-time strategy. Cute and colourful, Necronator: Dead Wrong is one unique strategy experience you won’t soon forget.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.