Necronator: Dead Wrong

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Modern Wolf
Developer: Toge Productions
Release Date: July 30, 2020


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PC Review - 'Necronator: Dead Wrong'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 17, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Necronator: Dead Wrong is a comedic micro real-time strategy game with a deck-building twist.

Necronator: Dead Wrong is a tower defense game where you have a deck of cards to build and deploy your units, rather than building and deploying units in traditional ways. Unit movement is mostly automated, and there are signposts that you can swap around to make your units go down other paths, but beyond that, your goal is about managing the large-scale battle, not micromanaging troops. As in other similar titles, your goal is to take the enemy base to win the level. Some levels challenge you to survive or kill a boss monster, but the basic tactics are the same. Your HP is carried over between fights, so you need to minimize the damage taken because it can doom you later.

Between stages, you're thrown onto a map and must pick your next location, gradually moving along various paths toward the boss. There are regular fights, elite fights that grant relics, and merchants that hold special events. Camps let you heal HP, upgrade a card or remove a card. There aren't many twists here, and if you've played a card builder roguelike, you've probably encountered something similar. Don't worry if this is your first card builder roguelike because it's very easy to pick up and play.

The actual deck-building is very similar to Slay the Spire. You build a deck out of monsters, magic spells, and utility cards, which roughly map to STS's attack, skill and power cards. You use monsters to attack your base, spells to buff and defend your troops, and utility to increase your passive abilities. Each card has a mana cost, which regenerates naturally over time, but figuring out how to earn more is key to success. Capturing enemy strongholds during a battle will improve your mana flow for that battle, and there are relics and cards that can grant temporary or permanent boosts to your mana regeneration.

This plays into one of Necronator's current flaws: It prioritizes rush tactics over other strategies. Despite there being a number of cards for playing defensively or slowly building up your troops, the gameplay demands that you pump out troops as quickly as you can. Having people on the field is more important than trying to specialize your troops, and this only gets worse as you get stronger, since you can have lots of powerful boosts, which rewards you for spamming troops. It makes the endgame a bit dull because it becomes a game of pumping out as many troops as quickly as possible, and other sorts of builds feel weaker.

This isn't a game-breaker, but it means that there isn't as much variety in the characters. At the moment, the game has two playable characters: Number 7 the Death Knight, who specializes in beefier units, and Mirabell the Doll, who deploys units more quickly but can't replenish her deck as quickly. Each also has multiple decks and relics to change their starting builds. Number 7 can start with Steel n' Bones, which is a solid all-around deck, or Fresh Meat, which is based on building up powerful troops by using buff cards. She can also choose between her units starting out with improved attack but less speed or improved attack but a higher mana cost.

In comparison, Mirabell specializes in more traditional tower defense gameplay with the ability to deploy units as stand-alone turrets or ones that gradually releases their own units. Unlike Number 7, her cards don't refresh naturally, so you either have to play enough to get a redraw or spend precious mana to manually redraw.

The difference between the two characters requires you to adjust how you play the game, with Mirabell letting you quickly deploy lots of smaller, weaker units while you can use Number 7 to build combos to power up the units more easily. The "rush" problem comes into play for both, but the optimal strategy tends to be different based on their play styles.

They both share a problem, though: The individual battles are very long for this sort of game. A round in Slay the Spire can be over in moments, while Necronator has battles that last for multiple minutes. This isn't necessarily a game-breaking flaw, but it means that it's a lot harder to play the game for a single run the way you can for most other games of this type. Personally, I find it harder to return to this game style after a break instead of starting a new run, so I can imagine people not enjoying this particular twist.

Necronator's biggest problem is that despite it coming out of Early Access, it is still blatantly an Early Access game. Throughout the title, you'll find placeholders for things that aren't complete, including items that still have "beta" markers on them. There's a relative lack of content even after you level up and unlock more. The third character hasn't been implemented yet. All of this is fine in Early Access titles, but it feels bad when the game is officially released and it's still blatantly unfinished. I'm sure that more content will come down the line to fix things, since the game is still being updated, but at the moment, this is an unfinished game. Considering it has less content than Early Access games like Griftlands, let alone something like Monster Train or Slay the Spire, that is a significant flaw. You could have seen the majority of the game's offerings in a couple hours, which is unavoidably disappointing.

Thankfully, the game excels in its visuals. It has adorable sprite graphics that use old-school pixel art to give the game a distinctive feel. Nothing is too animated, but the unit artwork is cute and distinctive enough that it's easy to identify most units at a glance. (The skeletons tend to blend together, though.) The music is nice but not particularly memorable. It's very much a "put on a podcast" style of game, but if you use the in-game music, it works without trouble.

In a few months, Necronator: Dead Wrong could be a solid addition to the Slay the Spire-inspired card builder roguelike genre. As it stands now, it doesn't have the polish or content to stand out. The visuals are nice, the humor is amusing, and there's a lot of potential here, but the game is still obviously in production. Considering the glut of similar games on the market, Necronator isn't worth picking up until it has all of its playable characters. I'd like to be more positive about it, but I can only judge the game as it is, not as it will be. In a few months, I hope that most of my complaints will be addressed, but until then, I'd recommend finding a more complete game to play.

Score: 6.0/10

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