I fear that we’re reaching a stage of saturation with deck-building games. I don’t know why and I’m only partially sure of when, but the deckbuilding genre has exploded in the past year and it seems like it’s here to stay.
Not that I’m complaining, not even in the slightest. I love me some rogue-like elements all shuffled together in a tower of randomness, cut with a benevolent hand of power-ups and items. Perhaps it’s the stupid amount of time I spent being frustrated at Hearthstone that shoved me headlong into the chasm of deckbuilding but even I’ll admit that to make a good one of those games these days, you’ll need to do something special to stand out from the crowd that’s ominously dealing cards below.
That’s a philosophy that Necronator takes to heart, joining deck building with another genre known for its addictive delights: Tower Defence. The wonderful thing about video games is that with a few creative twists, genre mashups usually work wonders and while that can definitely be said for Necronator, it would probably be best to give this one a little more time in the oven.
That’s the thing with early access games, you need to release them in the sweet spot. The place on the scale of production where there’s still enough content coming to keep players invested in every update while still having enough meat on the bones to satisfy those that adopt into the journey from the start.
It’s a zone of content that Necronator unfortunately misses with its early access release because as the game currently stands there’s not a lot of content to pass around. Which is only a problem in the sense that it’s something that will obviously be fixed through the process of early access but as of right now, the game is very thin in terms of content. I could lament this and say how disappointing such a sparse selection is but honestly, I’m more excited by the prospect of the completed game because the foundation that has been established is fairly fantastic.
Borrowing heavily from games like Slay the Spire, Necronator doesn’t try to hide where it’s drawing inspiration from. From the layout of the map to its progression systems, it’ll have you moving through the random nature of different paths that you’ll explore and thus witness Necronator establish itself as a rougelike very quickly. With a run based structure based on a world map with literally tens of thousands of variations, Necronator is very much the sort of game that expects you to play it a few times over to get the full experience.
Constantly adding cards which correlate to spells and soldiers to your army, you’ll be throwing them out to send your dark hordes to slay the armies of man and topple the forts. While the actual tower defence maps do become more complex as the game progresses, requiring you to juggle multiple lanes of friendly and enemy units, the core experience never really evolves much past your standard tower defence experience. Which is made worse by the fact that the units, spells and items in the game at the time of writing are very limited. Ideally every run should feel slightly different as you evolve your card collection and discover more interesting buffs, but for the time being there’s just not enough variety to keep every run feeling different.
Which, and I’ll say it again, is more of a problem with early access than the game itself. When you do stumble upon a deck build that you enjoy the game plays fantastically, pitting you against an AI that’s constantly throwing units at you. Like most deck-builders, the most satisfying moments are those underdog victories when smart strategies and careful planning overwhelm a force that should rightly have you beaten. It’s all the more tangible in Necronator, seeing your units actually hitting the enemy. There’s just an extra level of drama to it, visualising the cards being played as actually units running across dedicated lanes certainly lends the game an extra sense of gravitas even the art style is exceptionally cute. It’s a delightful game despite the emphasis on death and necromancy and the writing is certainly tongue in cheek enough to carry premise of something as knowingly fun as “deck-building tower defence game”.
The only downside to Necronator in its current form is the aforementioned lack of content, which is an easy enough thing to fix but given that both deck-builders and roguelikes require a certain amount of content to hold one’s attention for multiple runs, the fact there is so little variety with the game at this early point does hurt the initial experience. Once the game has seen a few more updates, which I will note do seem to happen very frequently, I could see Necronator taking on some of the bigger deck-builders currently on the market. Its hook is compelling, its gameplay is satisfying and the foundations are solid enough that something really interesting could be built on them.
Something large and compelling in scale, a skyscraper that lets you see a glorious view across the city. It’s just that currently only the first floor has been erected and all you can see are the trunks of the trees in the local park, commenting that they need to grow a little higher.
Last Updated: February 24, 2020