Reviews - Updated on April 9, 2022

Have you ever thought about what it’s like for any evil spirits to live in dark dungeons? Here the developers from the St. Petersburg indie studio Unfrozen seem to be thinking. Their project called Iratus: Lord of the Dead can be safely dubbed “Darkest Dungeon in reverse.” Judge for yourself: we play as the undead, which is selected from randomly generated depths. At first glance, Iratus: Lord of the Dead may seem like a pathetic parody compared to the inimitable original, but in reality it is definitely not thoughtlessly molded like a carbon copy. The game has just appeared in Steam Early Access, it will still be balanced and filled with content, but already now we can add up the first impression about it and tell you why it can deserve the attention of fans of turn-based battles and dark fantasy.

Rise of the Dead

The game is named after its protagonist, the necromancer Iratus, who controls the undead of all stripes. Once this sorcerer was one step away from conquering the world, but cunning good-natured people overcame him and imprisoned him in a tomb. Years later, luck smiled at Iratus: miners accidentally discovered his sarcophagus. And now our hero – or rather, it is more appropriate to say “villain” – is ready to take the warpath again and gather a new army under his banner.

And to collect in the literal sense. To pass, we create minions from various fragments: skulls, hearts, rags, ashes, ectoplasm and the like. In total, there are currently 16 types of undead in the game. And if in the beta version most of them were available immediately, now in order to open the recipes for creating most units, you will have to try: kill or bring a certain number of enemies to psychosis, defeat three bosses, inflict a lot of damage to your units, and so on. .

As I wrote above, our troops are moving up from the depths of the dungeon upward, towards the sunlight, which is quite atypical for the genre, but fits perfectly with the plot of a dark necromancer who wants to take over the world. The dungeon is divided into several floors-levels, each of which has its own opponents and random events. So, prisoners, overseers and other hard workers live in the mines, elves and people of a higher social status live in the barracks, and inhabitants of the earth’s bowels of all stripes live in the tunnels of the gnomes.

Iratus: Lord of the Dead game review

With each passage, the map is generated randomly, and you can only move forward along it, choosing from the paths and forks the best path for yourself to the exit. Personally, I always try to avoid elite units and open chests with artifacts.

As it should be in this kind of games, units here die once and for all, which is actually strange, considering that the hero is a necromancer. Since Iratus: Lord of the Dead constantly saves progress in one cell with no way to “roll back”, the player risks setting himself into a trap and starting all over again if he loses his armies and resources. However, no one said it would be easy.

Initially, the game was not supposed to be pumping units – only the ingredients from which they were created had value. The rarity of the resources affected the characteristics of the servant: he could, say, attack a little more or have a slightly higher chance to dodge. Otherwise, all the undead of one type were equivalent, which corresponded to the idea of ​​the authors: the player should not have become attached to individual characters, because even for the necromancer himself, his minions are just expendable material and cannon fodder.

However, not everyone who tried the beta liked this approach, and the developers gave up and added pumping to the seventh level in the game. Now participation in battles brings minions experience, which makes it possible to enhance their abilities and, accordingly, make ordinary warriors more valuable and unique. On the one hand, of course, it’s good that Unfrozen listens to the opinions of the players, but on the other hand, it’s a little sad that the authors went along the beaten path and simply abandoned the original concept “The main character is Iratus, and therefore only he develops.”

Iratus: Lord of the Dead game review

Along with the leveling of units in the Early Access version, there was also the construction of a base, the role of which in the game about the necromancer, of course, is played by the cemetery. Here we can train minions and restore their health, replenish our mana and rage, find resources and artifacts.

walking ghouls

Even after the introduction of unit levels, Iratus: Lord of the Dead continues to be a non-grinding game. Agree, it is difficult to grind when you are only moving forward, without any side tasks and endless enemies. The emphasis in the game is on turn-based combat. They are truly complex and require tactics and the competent use of the abilities of all members of the squad.

As in Darkest Dungeon, battles are fought in groups of up to four units. Our undead can attack both the physical health of the enemy and the mental, instilling fear in the hearts of living beings. In a state of psychosis, pathetic little people will attack their own, die of a heart attack, run away from the battlefield, lose in characteristics. It happens, of course, that horror, on the contrary, gives them strength, but this rarely happens.

Each minion has six abilities, and the ability to use each of them depends on what position the unit is in. Skills can be used as many times as you want per fight, except that the last one costs rage points, which accumulate when we take damage. Unlike you-know-what, character abilities in Iratus do not require a purchase, and units of the same type always have the same ones, but are slightly supplemented by your choice as you level up – you can adjust them to your play style.

Does it all sound pretty familiar so far? Yes, the combat system is largely based on the base laid by Darkest Dungeon, but it also has its own subtleties, in addition to the mechanics of psychosis, which works in reverse. So, a visual sequence of moves is implemented here, and instead of attacking the enemy, some units can take a stance, the action in which will work if certain conditions are met. For example, the Bride of Iratus in the stance shoots at all opponents changing position.

By the way, about moving. Minions and enemies here quite often move thanks to abilities, but units cannot just move during combat. In the same Darkest Dungeon, you could spend a turn on this action and stand in a place convenient for the next action.

Iratus has a spell that moves the minion, but it does it only two positions forward, which is not very convenient, and there is not always extra mana at hand.

In battle, you cannot skip a turn or stand in a block. The only option left is to wait until the end of the turn, but then the action will still have to be performed, even if it harms the unit more than the enemy. I had situations where I literally killed my own servants simply because there was no other choice: I attacked the enemy from the stand, which was guaranteed to hit back. It often happens that a fighter is left alone and from his position can do nothing if he is some kind of archer. In theory, it is possible to escape, but this will lead to the complete destruction of the remnants of the detachment.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that in Iratus: Lord of the Dead you can’t habitually heal your henchmen in battle (however, some of them, such as the Vampire, have abilities that restore stamina, that is, health). In principle, it is understandable, the undead being treated sounds like an oxymoron. Even the Lost Soul is able to heal the wounds of another only on the condition that in the next turn it automatically inflicts equivalent damage on him, and the Lich, in order to “cure” a comrade, needs to sacrifice one of his own. Here, in fact, a huge scope for tactics opens up: a summoned skeleton can be used as a victim, but for this you need to accumulate rage, and before being “healed” by the Soul, the unit can be protected by a talisman, and its attack will be blocked.

If the battle was hard and the squad was seriously injured, you can always leave it “at home” and send another four on a trip. As a reward for a successful battle, the stamina of the vacationers will be restored. Another option is to find fountains on the dungeon map that replenish the health of the entire squad or the mana of Iratus. The necromancer is not personally present on the battlefield, but once a round he can cast one spell, just like a hero in some Heroes of Might and Magic III. These spells are learned through the talent tree. There you can also improve your crafting skills for the fragments that make up the minions and unlock perks related to rage.

Iratus: Lord of the Dead game review

In his hall, Iratus can be hung with artifacts, the choice of which must also be approached taking into account the tactics and characteristics of his party.

Welcome to Necroland

By and large, Iratus: Lord of the Dead does not look repulsive, but it still lacks style. On the other hand, if the graphics of the game were more grotesque, it would be even more accused of copying Darkest Dungeon. And she already has enough reproaches. It is easy to see where Unfrozen drew inspiration from when creating the army of the living dead and their abode. The location of the cemetery itself is reminiscent of the same HoMMIII and its Necropolis, and the units are similar to the Hordes of the Undead from Disciples II – take, for example, a pale Banshee flying in a magnificent dress. By the way, the developers themselves write that they are involved in the Disciples series, and this generalization amuses me a little: only the third part was made in Russia, and, to put it mildly, there were not enough stars from the sky.

Even at the beta test stage, the game was criticized for the fact that everything is too slow in it, and the animations seem to be torn, but it didn’t seem so to me: the smoothness and speed of movements during the battle suit me quite well. As is the soundtrack. It’s not memorable at all, but it’s not annoying either. The main character is not bad and with the right amount of pathos was voiced by the actor Stephan Weyte, who once gave the voice to the protagonist of Blood. The great and mighty Iratus does not yet speak, but the authors promise that voice acting will appear in the August patch, and Dmitry Puchkov, aka Goblin, will comment on the player’s successes and failures. A rather strange choice for the role of a necromancer, in my opinion, but it will be interesting to listen.

Unlike the “beta”, in the version from “Early Access” it became clear in advance when the enemy was going to escape. This is very convenient: a coward can now be turned into a vampire without fear of wasting the spell.

***

Darkest Dungeon was mentioned a hell of a lot in this preview, and, as you can imagine, this is quite natural. Even though Iratus has a different setting (fantasy instead of Lovecraftian horror), the overall concept still remains the same: it is a hardcore game about a group of four heroes who walk through dungeons and try not to die in battles. What the developers relied on can be seen immediately, but it is also noticeable how they adapted the idea for their story. There are many details in the game that only confirm this: take at least a local bestiary, which is called a humanist here.

Iratus is very addictive, although sometimes the ruthlessness of the game makes you want to delete it and never install it. Especially when you, say, killed the boss, remained alone in the squad, but one of his remaining henchmen “critated” you. And that’s it, start the fight again with the full health of all enemies. And well, if only fight. There are frequent cases when, due to the fact that there is no place to pump in the game, freshly created warriors simply cannot oppose strong enemies. Obviously, there is a bet on replayability, and, admittedly, each attempt to pass is really different from the previous one.

The full version of the game should be released by next summer. Until that time, the authors will polish the mechanics and fix bugs. So far, alas, there is something to edit and there is something to change. I hope the developers will be able to find the perfect balance: there are very few such games, so why not have another one if it is complex and interesting?

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