I think the first time I took the mantle of dark lord to stop adventurers and would-be plunderers was way back in 1997 with Dungeon Keeper. Since then, I’ve taken the role of bad guy to dispatch do-gooders countless times over the ensuing decades. Being evil in video games can be extremely fun, and while I don’t explicitly seek out games that allow me to indulge in morally dubious behaviors, I definitely don’t shy away from the chance to sow harmless video game-based malice.
Legend of Keepers is a turn-based strategy game that has a few deck builder and roguelike qualities thrown in. You play as one of three masters, each with their own spells and abilities—as you assemble teams of minions to fight off adventurers for the Dungeons Company, a massive evil conglomerate with dungeons that need protection. Deploy monsters, traps, and deal with employee drama in the week to week operations.
There are two main phases that make up the gameplay of Legend of Keepers: the week to week operations, and the turn-based combat. Each week you will be given a choice of what task to perform. These tasks range from resolving events to sending minions out on long term tasks. This is also the time you can engage in commerce: shop at merchants, sell off minions on the black market, and even purchase and upgrade traps. You might even get lucky and find an extraordinarily powerful minion, but events don’t always work out in your favor, and you might find yourself paying gold or even HP if you’re unlucky. Eventually, you’ll have to engage with pesky adventurers.
Combat in Legend of Keepers works a bit like a few deckbuilding games I’ve played, with a few differences. Before combat begins, you can deploy your troops and traps. During this phase, you are given full information about what types of attacks, health, and moral the adventurers have, giving you a hearty amount of intel to use against your foes. You can use this information to deploy your minions and traps to maximum effect. But even with the best information, your minions will die. Death isn’t the end for them, but they can only be resurrected so many times before they’re unavailable and forced to rest. Adventurers, on the other hand, are susceptible not only to death, but to fear. If their morale drops to zero, they’ll flee.
A lot of the fun I’ve had with deckbuilding-type games comes from the synergy I can create on runs. The ability to build your character or minions for maximum damage isn’t missing in Legend of Keepers, but I find it difficult to build satisfying synergy. Even with foreknowledge, adventurers are inherently more powerful than your minions. Even if I had a group with good synergy, they would often be defeated in one or two hits.
Once your minions are defeated, and the adventurers navigate all of the traps, it’s not yet the end, because they have to face your master. Masters have their own abilities, and are exceptionally powerful. While they can defeat most groups of adventurers, attrition through multiple encounters across spans of weeks can leave them vulnerable—and once your master dies, it’s the end of the run. Each master has their own skill tree that retains their skills even after a run. I just wish that progress held over through each of the acts of the campaign. Once you complete a run, everything but your master starts from scratch.
Like a lot of games that have you play as the villain, Legend of Keepers employs humor. I always appreciate a bit of humor to dull the cruel edge of villainy, but Legend of Keepers’ brand of humor feels a little thin, and at odds with the gameplay. Most of what might be considered funny revolves around the Dungeons Company, and the conceit that there’s a globe spanning evil conglomerate that hires dungeon masters for defense.
One of the draws of roguelike games is their replayability, but Legend of Keepers doesn’t feel as endless as others. Each master has their own campaign to play through, and skill tree to build—but once you’re done, there’s nothing to do but move onto the next master. There is an Ascension mode that adds extra difficulty, and an endless mode, but both of these are locked behind a paywall in the form of a supporter’s pack, which is too bad. These modes should be included in the base game, and to have them included only as DLC is a shame. I’m all for supporting developers, and don’t even mind DLC, but locking the basic games modes for money is a little too much.
Legend of Keepers sits solidly in the middle of the pack when it comes to turn-based, deckbuilding style roguelikes. Its humor is a little unevenly applied, and as a result, not very effective. I’d like to say that its combat is its redeeming value, but I found the combat to be uneven. Rarely did I have a chance to get a group of minions together with powerful synergy. It feels like once you play the first few hours of The Legend of Keepers, you’ve seen most of what there is to see.
Legend of Keepers leaves Early Access today.
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