There seems to have been an established way to set up deckbuilding games. I think many developers were taking cues from each other, and especially from massively addictive Slay the Spire. That’s why the time I’ve spent with Tainted Grail: Conquest is so refreshing: it takes a lot of the standards that other deckbuilders have set and turns them on their heads. It also takes place in a death metal version of Arthurian legend.
Tainted Grail: Conquest is a hybrid of roguelike role-playing game meets deckbuilder, but leans heavily towards deckbuilding. Each run you venture out of the starting village, into the inky Wyrd, to fight monsters, find villagers, complete quests, and defeat area bosses. It’s almost a perfect mash-up of story driven role-playing game and roguelike deckbuilder—there are many NPCs to encounter, and there’s also a quest to complete. These quests can take place over multiple runs, always giving you an excuse to play “one more run” with its addictive gameplay loop. It doesn’t hurt that Tainted Grail: Conquest has an absolutely insane number of unique classes to play.
I have never played a deckbuilding video game that has as many character options as Tainted Grail: Conquest. Each class unlocks as you play, with nine total. While some classes are similar to other classes, each one is unique, with its own twist on deckbuilding. This is one of those rare games where I’ll happily play any class, because while I don’t prefer a couple, there are no classes that feel weak or useless. It’s crazy how much variety there is, with each class having its own unique cards, abilities, and ultimate ability. There are summoner classes who summon minions to fight and take damage for them, and those that stand toe-to-toe dishing out damage. Each of these classes requires you to use your deck of cards in significantly different ways, requiring you to learn different playstyles to master each class. Most classes also have a different specialty you can select into, that tweaks their playstyle slightly, giving even more variety.
Tainted Grail: Conquest loves to dangle that carrot in front of its players. Not only are there quests to complete, there is a buttload of progression to eventually grind out in Tainted Grail: Conquest. There are also different difficulty levels to challenge yourself once the base difficulty starts to feel too easy. But I definitely got my butt kicked the first few runs as I acclimated, and before I collected better cards and started unlocking other classes. If you enjoy a game that requires you to keep grinding away to keep unlocking content, Tainted Grail: Conquest is a perfect fit—and one where I actually didn’t want the progression to end.
Another huge departure from other deckbuilders is Tainted Grail: Conquest’s use of exploration. As you venture out of your village, you control your character in a third person exploration mode. It’s not much different than the branching pathways other deckbuilding roguelikes offer, but it does invoke a sense of discovery—if only superficially. Outside of the starting village, the island is covered in an inky fog called Wyrd. This psychedelic fog of war contains hidden threats that are revealed with the burning of candles. While I enjoyed this mechanic at first, I realized eventually the “open world” was just a few branching pathways, and while you can go backwards and forwards, weren’t much different than the norm. And while I really enjoy the characters you can meet, and the random encounters, walking around the overworld started to feel like a chore after a while.
Production-wise, Tainted Grail: Conquest is a bit mixed for me. While I adore its gameplay, and love its soundtrack, I’m not a huge fan of its graphics. My first impression was that it was very Diablo-like, especially the first two games. But the art style, while amusingly horrific, doesn’t look very good. Monster designs are generic, and character models seem low poly with high resolution textures slapped on them. The cards themselves occasionally have some good art on them, however, and the game’s overall aesthetic works to create an atmosphere of dread.
I have to say that Tainted Grail: Conquest might not be the most refined deckbuilder I’ve ever played, but even despite that, it’s one of the best. It takes so many of the genre conventions and ignores them, much to my delight. I’ve never played a game that took story driven role-playing games and fit it so neatly into another genre, too. This is definitely something that I’d recommend checking out if you missed it when it released in May, or during its year of Early Access, you’ll definitely do yourself a disservice if you skip this entirely.
Tainted Grail: Conquest is available on Windows via Steam, and is on sale for 30 percent off until July 8th
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