Team Bandit Gang is excited to present a first-look into a new early-access game: Draft of Darkness. Bigdaddy843, Dr. Corchit, and Decode discuss their thoughts on their experiences so far and give some helpful tips
What’s the game about?
843: Slay the Spire is the immediate thought everyone will probably have. I love Slay the Spire and Draft of Darkness (DoD) mimics some key aspects of the game, such as the rogue-like experience, card drafting and turn-based combat with energy management. DoD does add very interesting twists to this formula, particularly in the horror and resource management aspects.
Decode: I’m not going to lie, I don’t scare easily and this game made me scared! DoD has a neat approach to a card game, but really shines at the atmosphere and spooky effects. DoD successfully captures me with the rogue-like hook, and I keep telling myself “I want to get further”.
Dr. Corchit: The game reminded me a bit of Throne Breaker, the singleplayer version of Gwent. Exploration and combat were closely intertwined, and it was easy to run into monsters while navigating the game’s atmospherically dark rooms. It reminded me of some of the classic flash games I played back in high school, particularly the Sonny series. I don’t mean that as a bash–many of those games were very well done!
843: Yeah, especially with the pixel-art style, I think the game is heavily reminiscent of games from the 2000s. The atmosphere, turn-based gameplay and slower pace and movement evokes Darkest Dungeon, though that may not be to everyone’s taste.
Decode: Helpful tip! If you don’t like the pixel-art style, you can turn it off in graphics options. I very much preferred the game in that way and enjoyed the game’s excellent 2.5D art assets in that form.
Dr. Corchit: The gameplay isn’t anything you haven’t seen before–you run around a map and fight monsters in turn based combat, in a manner reminiscent of Pokemon. What this game brings to the genre is its atmospherically dark theme and card-based combat mechanics.
What’s the gameplay experience like? Also any advice?
Decode: The bread and butter of the game is actually resource management. While the game system is a rogue-like dungeon-crawl with deck-building/card game-play, the key to succeeding is Resident Evil-like in that if you can use your consumables correctly, you’ll do well.
Dr. Corchit: I liked the survival features implemented, whereby the player has to maintain energy, ammunition, and batteries. This was one of the more well-developed mechanics of the game as it was intuitive to understand and hit a sweet spot of complexity. Despite my best efforts though, I was thrashed by the boss on my first play-through. Looking back, I tried to fight every monster in order to gain XP, a strategy that works in most games. It seems that Draft of Darkness may require a more tactical approach when choosing to engage enemies.
843: I definitely agree one should avoid fights initially, at least until you pick up better gear, maybe a companion, and some resources. Dodging fights to explore before engaging for loot is helpful. One has to take care not to over-explore as ticking down some status effects require new ground to be covered. You also don’t want to accidentally walk into an encounter unprepared or in a bad state. I’ve managed to clear out stages fine with this general strategy. Speaking of status effects, Decode, as our key theory-crafter, what do you think of some of these mechanics?
Decode: Hah, I sort of just sped through it with a mix of exploration and some unavoidable fights. On decks, the best way to play is having one draw/tutor card and a boost card or two in the deck. You only need one tutor card, since, starting deck is 10, so you can achieve consistency quite easily, then it’s about stacking boosts and maintaining defenses before getting your finisher. You should also really bear in mind the game’s “conserve” feature that allows you to use weaker attacks without expending resources.
Dr. Corchit: Personally, I felt that the game could develop its TCG aspect more thoroughly. I found that I wasn’t paying much attention to the cards added to my deck, and many of them were duplicates anyway. In my opinion, a truly challenging and well-designed card game should feature rare cards and precise strategy. Merely drawing and playing the same attack cards every round of combat doesn’t really scratch that itch.
843: DoD’s game-play is super engaging to me, you have to do the math before you execute a plan in terms of energy and resources, a combination of different moves (conserving or not), the order of moves (e.g. performing attacks before using a move that consumes your offensive boost). I really need to think my moves through.
Decode: Yeah, bear in mind each character’s equipment/weapon specialties and perks as well. These can hugely impact your strategy in exploration and the deck/equipment builds that you go for. Personally I find dual-wielding and specializing in one particular card type to be the best way to play so far. Also, be persistent. You need to finish the game to unlock things, so even if you keep dying, getting more cards unlocked to improve your starter deck, learning from your experiences and getting to completion is the path to success.
What’s the state of the game?
843: Ok guys, bear in mind this is early access, so there’s a lot more all-important fine tuning to be done for a deep detailed game like this. How do you feel things are so far? For me, I like what I see in terms of potential, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. The pace is on the slow side for me. I understand that it’s horror-survival, so it sort of wants to be slower? But in terms of frequency of adding/removing cards, getting new items/relics to play with, and having excessive equipment/loot, it could be faster paced like its counterparts.
Dr Corchit: I think the game has decent potential. Games in early access are a mixed bag, and can vary from barely playable to virtually complete. This game has a considerable amount of polish and feels almost ready to be released. At the same time, the core game-play is a bit on the shallow side, though the graphics and vibes are impressive. One suggestion I have for the games developers: when you play cards from your hand, it might be interesting to have the player only redraw the cards they didn’t play from the last round. This would encourage tighter deck-building, and would punish players for having cards they never play in their hand. Additionally, I think that some persistence between hands is required for the game to feel like a card game. Redrawing your hand every round ruins that feeling.
843: Yeah I totally agree that this is really good for an early access stage.
Decode: Same, but there’s some large issues, regarding the procedural room generation. One run, I got an unavoidable boss in the third room.
843: Hah! I got one in the middle of my first run and died a painful death. So we all agree that pacing and the instance dungeons need work.
Decode: That said, there are some super cool things that surprised me considering where the game is.
Story-line actions have consequences via a hidden mechanic. Good actions increase the light stat while being evil increases the dark. Also, try staying on a level for a really long time. If you stay still too long, there’s a HORRIFYING surprise waiting for you.
*SPOILERS END HERE*
The game is scary. Yeah. I do find the lore somewhat under-developed, the dots don’t connect yet even though I have completed the existing content twice. I am curious to learn more though.
Dr. Corchit: Yeah, I don’t know, the cut-scenes don’t make sense? I think I accidentally skipped the first cutscene, though I remember reading something about being a hacker with access to a couple hundred servers. I found my character starting in a rather dark area that looked like an abandoned office building, with little explanation as to who I was or what I was doing. To be fair, I didn’t progress much past the first level.
843: Things do pick up at stage 2 when we learn a bit more about the world. Personally I’m just super curious in general so it was alright. Hah, Decode probably ran through stage 1 so fast he got right to the hooks. Alright, so people will have to be aware that the game is still in development and things are improving.
What do we hope to see moving forward?
Decode: Well we know the developers are going in a good direction. Their Discord says they’re working on the UI and that’s something that sorely needs improvement. For instance, the HUD on the upper left is too small to catch. There’s a lot of unused space at the bottom which can be put to good use. Some UI customization options could go a long way.
843: Yes I think improving the UI would help with many of the game’s teething problems. There are transparency and clarity issues. Card rarity is indicated but not explicitly explained, nor are any number of mechanics such as dual-wielding and many of the status effects.
Dr. Corchit: I was confused by the massive number of status effects that I found in only the first level. There was even a status effect for being covered in spider webs! I’d prefer if the devs toned it down, introducing only a few per level. Status effects make the game more complicated, but they don’t always make it more fun. At least that’s an easy fix, and the sort of thing to be expected from a game in early access.
Decode: Yes I saw all of them on level 1 and it was overwhelming.
Dr. Corchit: I’m still not sure what the meta objective of some statuses is, such as radiation which is especially confusing. The status effects did have an explanation that displayed when you hover over them, but reading them all–especially when there’s so many in just the first level–can be a slog.
843: According to their Discord, radiation may be made positive later in the game with the right items. I guess it’s one of the added layers of complexity in trade-offs that are present in the game or will be developed further.
Dr. Corchit: Speaking of complexities, I noticed there was an option to use or conserve ammo. Conserving ammo was often a beneficial strategy, and definitely an aspect of gameplay that I’d like to see in the final version. Yet, I noticed that turning on ammo conservation mode costs one energy, which felt counterintuitive. Besides that, default builds on companions can be really silly, like the cop having flashlight cards but no flashlight equipped. Also, it would be nice to use consumables during battle, perhaps for a modest cost in energy.
Decode: That’s some good quality of life stuff which would be nice. I think we could do away with the need to manually save every time you modify the deck. We also desperately need a profile screen. Having the option to start from scratch, save, override, delete multiple profiles is essential to roguelikes. Enhancing left click functionality will also go a long way, like allowing us to use it to examine things on the map or bring up tooltips/details/explanations in menus, inventory, etc.
843: Well not to worry, I believe the community has noted the developers’ receptiveness to feedback and no doubt we’ll see at least some of these implemented in the future. We look forward to seeing this game in its full fledged form!
Draft of Darkness by Crawly Games will be available for Early Access on Steam from the 31st of July 2021. Do check the game out here!
Update: The developers Crawly Games have proven immensely responsive, immediately rectifying bugs reported by Decode.