Gordian Quest

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Mixed Realms
Release Date: June 23, 2022


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PC Review - 'Gordian Quest'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 17, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

With a unique blend of tactical combat, strategic gameplay, and boisterous animated heroes, Gordian Quests takes players on a journey to defeat an ultimate evil plaguing the land.

It takes a lot to make a deck-builder stand out these days. Some attempt to alter the playing field, others add action elements, and others try unusual mechanics. One of my favorite methods is incorporating deck-building into a larger campaign-driven game, like Griftlands or Steamworld: Quest. Gordian Quest is the latest of these, and its long time spent in Early Access really shows. It isn't perfect, but it is one of the heftiest deck-builders on the market.

Gordian Quest is effectively a combination RPG and deck-builder game. You gather a party of heroes and go out adventuring, progressively fighting harder battles unless you retreat to base, all in the name of advancing the story and earning that precious loot. The general structure is straightforward but less linear than many other games in the genre. There's a plot but it's "go and defeat evil" stuff that offers enough to be interesting but not stand out. The gameplay is where it's at.

Combat is a deck-builder through and through. At the start of battle, each character rolls an initiative dice, and then friends and foes take turns beating the living crud out of each other based on their initiative order. Every character draws a random selection of cards from their deck and can expend energy to use them. This allows you to build up defense, damage enemies, or use buffs and debuffs. Since this is a team game, there's an emphasis on making sure abilities synergize with one another, since status effects are way more powerful if multiple people can exploit them.

Combat arenas are divided into rows and lanes, with both friendly and opposing sides having their own sets. The exact number fluctuates in battle, but friend or foe, every character is positioned somewhere. This adds an element of battlefield planning to the gameplay, as your (or your enemy's) moves can only hit certain spots, so it's important to keep vulnerable characters behind strong tanks. However, there are also special cards that activate on another character's turn when certain conditions are met. This allows you to set up some seriously damaging combos, but it can involve bringing a character to the front of a row.

Overall, the combat is fun, but the game structure means that it takes a little longer to get going than something like Slay the Spire. You need a fair bit of time to get character builds started, and some of the earliest moments of the game drag more than they would in other deck-builders. Once you get started, there is a ton of room for customization and cool builds. Nothing is as satisfying as setting up a synergy between all of your various move sets so that poor groups of enemies don't stand a chance before they explode into piles of EXP.

While Gordian Quest is a deck-builder, it's also an RPG, and that means you need to manage a very large amount of stats and equipment. Cards are governed by stats (Dexterity, Intellect or Strength) that you can raise by leveling up or equipping gear. Gear also can grant passive bonuses or add rare cards to your deck as long as they're equipped, which gives you bonus customization options. As they level up, your character gains skill points, which can be used in a skill tree to specialize in a specific type of card build or gain useful passive skills.

There's a solid amount of variety to the characters. There are nine different characters, each with their own special talents. Lucius is the default character, an all-around good swordsman, but he can choose to focus on one-on-one duels, crowd-clearing AoE or leadership buffs. Catherin the Cleric can focus on becoming tanky and durable or building up channel stacks to cast extremely powerful spells for a lower energy cost. My favorite is Jendaya, who is a Golemancer, which means she has a pet golem that fights alongside her and can either be the focus of your damage or a useful tool to power up her considerable skills. You choose one character to begin with but can recruit more as the game goes on.

Outside of combat, your characters have other ways to be useful. There are special event sequences where you pick a character to complete a physical or mental challenge. To succeed, you need to roll above a certain amount that's determined by the character's stats. You can choose to use one of their cards to boost your odds of success, but this gives you a slot-wasting Exhaustion card (rarer skills give more Exhaustion). This is a nice way to encourage diversifying your characters; having someone who can handle different challenges goes a long way toward earning valuable loot while keeping a low level of danger.

Gordian Quest's biggest flaw is that it is an extremely busy game. It has a lot of interlocking and overlapping systems that can leave the game feeling bloated. Part of what makes card builders so fun is that every choice matters to your builds. Gordian Quest's Gordian Knot of mechanics can run together and detract from the fun of getting something new. Some things, like the camping mechanic that lets you get buffs, feel extraneous, and the process of building a cool deck involves too much micromanaging. This won't be a negative for everyone, but I feel like it leaned too hard into the RPG part for the deck-builder aspects and too hard into the deck-builder for the RPG aspects. That doesn't make either part less fun, but it prevents it from having the same "one more run" feel of a Monster Train or Slay the Spire.

It also runs into the problem of "bigger is better." Some of the battles feel way too large, with too many enemies coming in waves. It isn't that it makes the game feel difficult, but it makes things drag out longer than they need to. There were times I wished a battle would be over because I was in no serious danger of losing but had to clear out a lot of chaff. In harder fights, it can be even more annoying because you have to manually investigate various enemies to double-check dangers and buffs.

I want to note that none of this ruined the game for me. Gordian Quest was still a darn fun roguelike deck-builder with an absurd amount of content and a lot of fun elements. There are a lot of characters, and each character has unique traits but can start with a variety of different decks that allow them to excel in different types of gameplay. I had a lot of fun with the title, but I don't feel the same gnawing need to keep going with it that I did with other games in the genre.

That said, the game offers some more punchy game modes. There's a Realm mode, which is similar to Griftland's Brawl mode in that it's focused on a quicker runthrough of the game, which brings it more in line with other deck-builders. There's also a dedicated PvP mode where you can take on other players' characters. Both add a lot of extra playtime to a game that is already stuffed to the brim. If Gordian Quest gets its hooks into you, you probably won't need another game for the next year or five. Trying out different character builds can also go a long way.

Gordian Quest is also a charming-looking game. The character artwork is quite nice, and the animations and character models are pleasant to see. Like a lot of games in the genre, there isn't a ton of distinct animation for each unit, but there's enough flair to give it some personality. The music is nice but not too distinctive. It has a generic "big, dramatic RPG music" feel that seems to be everywhere these days. It isn't bad, but it doesn't exactly stand out.

Overall, Gordian Quest is fun deck-builder that's similar to a Griftlands-style campaign that's absolutely packed with content. It goes all-in on the RPG elements, which is both its greatest strength and biggest flaw. It's not as addictive as some of the strongest games in the genre, but it's still fun to play. I wish the developers had trimmed off some of the fat, but since they didn't, it means that you're getting a game with tons of content for a very reasonable price.

Score: 8.0/10

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