Ironcast Review

By Mike Sousa on March 1, 2016

Dreadbit's steampunk strategy-puzzle Ironcast was originally released last year on PC, and even though it wasn't a blockbuster success, the game did well enough to motivate the developers to release it on other platforms. Now releasing on PS4 and Xbox One, the game promises to deliver the same roguelike and challenging experience it did on PC.

Ironcast takes place in an alternate Victorian era, a time where France and the British Empire were at war. This war began due a dispute over a substance called Voltite, a substance that was considered the most valuable material in the world. During this time of war, a group of private businessman built powerful war machines called Ironcast in an attempt to bring an end to this war.

The game starts with a quick tutorial that teaches everyone you need to know about the gameplay. It offers a simple turn-based system with a color-matching puzzle game thrown into the mix. By matching at least three nodes of the same color the player will earn resources and XP, which will be crucial in battle. Purple nodes give you ammo to attack using your weapons, orange nodes provides energy to your Ironcast to move and raise its shield, blue nodes give you coolant to prevent the Ironcast from overheating and damaging itself when taking an action, and finally the green nodes allow you to repair mech's systems but not your overall HP. There's some other nodes, that although rare, they add a more variety and strategic options. These include the link node, which allow you to link two different types of nodes, and the overdrive nodes that boost the effect of your next action. There's also scrap nodes that give you money to buy upgrades between battles.

Although it looks simple, the game is not a walk in the park, as every bad decision could very well result in your defeat. In every turn, you are only allowed to link nodes three times, so you always need to think what you need to prioritize in the current situation and what exactly you have available on the board. Should I focus on Amno, on Energy or repairs? The game will constantly make you wondering what move would be best, and in the middle of these decisions, you can't ignore coolant as doing any action without any will damage your Ironcast. Added to this, each mission has a set amount of turns you can take before the mission is considered a failure, which means that you will can't focus too much on defense alone.

In terms of missions, the game offers enough to keep things fresh. There's normal battles where you just have to defeat the enemy, there's battles where you only need to survive a set amount of rounds, and missions where you have to collect a certain amount of boxes in the matching puzzle. There's even occasions where you are given the choice in certain events, such as letting an opponent go after he surrenders, negotiating to get some scrap, among other situations.

After each battle the player earns scrap and experience. Scrap can be used to repair the Ironcast after a battle and buy new equipment for your mech. As you level up, your overall HP will increase and you will earn abilities that you can equip on your Ironcast. There are different kinds of abilities, which can range from offensive abilities such as using missiles, to more subtle but effective abilities like stealing nodes from your opponent or change the type of nodes in the board. These can easily give you the edge in combat, as they don't require any kind of nodes to be used.

One of the things that makes this game even more challenging is the fact that once you lose a battle you will have to start all the way from the beginning with zero XP and scrap. This might seem a bit unfair, but at least the game rewards you with Commendation Marks based on your performance in the campaign, which can then be used to unlock stats boosts, new abilities, among other bonuses.

Despite strategy being an important part of the gameplay, the fact that it sometimes relies too much on luck is a bad aspect of it. There were times where I desperately needed a particular type of node and tried matching other nodes in hope that the ones I needed would come next, only to have nodes that I didn't need appearing on the board. It felt like the developer could have done a better job here, as even an expert player would be cornered in this situation. I also found a bit annoying that some combat missions have more than one enemy and the game doesn't give you any prior warning, which could lead you to take a more slow strategy to defeat one enemy when in fact there's more than one and you run out of turns to defeat the following enemies. Situations like these, added to the fact you have to restart from the beginning after you fail a mission, make the game frustrating in such a way that you kind of lose the motivation to try again.

The game doesn't leave a strong impression when it comes to the visual presentation. Although the design of the Ironcast and the other mech in general are quite impressive and detailed, the same can't be said of the background designs as these are often too bland and empty, while also lacking some variety. The soundtrack and sound effect, although not perfect, do a far more passable job, even though they get repetitive after a while.

Final Thoughts

Ironcast is one of those roguelike games that is quite simple to learn, but complex and hard to master, offering a strategy-puzzle gameplay system that will test the skills of expert players. One false move and you could very well be fated for defeat, but it's also this that makes winning each battle, as well as finally completing the campaign, very satisfying. While it's true that some of its flaws might lead you to frustrating moments, if you manage to overcome these, you are bound to find an enjoyable experience.

Solid gameplay system that combines the best of strategy, puzzles and RPG.
Great variety of abilities and weapons.
Challenging, but rewarding combats.
Flow of battle can sometimes rely too much on luck.
Poor visual presentation.
Challenging difficulty that might drive away casual players.
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