(Disclosure: The reviewer purchased his copy of the game. Ironcast is available from Steam here. Also some unmarked spoilers are present.)
Created by Dreadbits, and funded initially by Kickstarter, this game came running out of the gates with a humble £10,183 (Or roughly $15,601 for the non-Brits in our audience), meeting their £10,000 goal. This also appears to be the first game from Dreadbits — which is lead in an ad-hoc fashion by Daniel Leaver, who is a veteran of prior projects. He has brought together developers and artists interested only in develpment of this particular game. Despite this, they have managed to create a rather rewarding, challenging, and aesthetically pleasant game.
Ironcast is set in the 1886s, during a war gone mad and having gone on for nearly a decade between the English and the French. The player controls one of the eponymous Ironcast: a machine of war roughly 20 feet tall, and covered with all manner of projectile and energy weapons. Powered by Voltite, (an in-universe super energy) they were the latest innovation in a war originally dominated by artillery. They were created by the Consortium of Merit, an order of scientific ladies and gentlemen tired of the war, and they took to the field in these Ironcast. The game picks up with Aeres Powell after the French descended on the English shoreline in hundreds of airships, and their own Ironcast. Becoming the only survivor of this French attack, your pilot moves to defend England, for Queen and country.
Gameplay and Giant Mechs
After a short tutorial, you are thrust into a modern, steampunk inspired battlefield — originally as Aeres Powell but with the ability to unlock four other pilots. As well character choice, you are able to use four Ironcast suits. But these, like the pilots, must be unlocked. The four mechs offer a variety of heavy roles to assist in the the battlefields of England.
Ironcast opens with Aeres Powell and the Dunraven as she awakens from a bomb induced unconscious state. The French are bombing the sea lanes in preparation for a proper assault on the English shores, and you are tasked by your commander to get out of the area as quickly as your pneumatic legs can carry you — but not before a simple test of the combat system.
The majority of the gameplay lies in a Match Three system married to RPG aspects, ala Puzzle Quest. The player is given the means to effect numerous actions across a single turn, with combat being the simplest to affect. With drive speed and shield power which increases your mech’s chances of dodging a shot, and also increasing your mech’s chance to survive an otherwise killing blow, respectively. The final default action is to affect repairs from the Ironcast’s supplies, to return to function a weapon or system that was damaged by enemy fire or other circumstances. Combat is one of the simpler aspects, as you merely choose which weapons to fire and the game randomly determines whether you hit depending on how fast your opponent’s vehicle is running, and how much damage you do depending again on the shield layers they have powered.
However, survival in the field is not so easy, as you are tasked with maintaining the Ironcast’s vital system, ammunition, power, cooling, and repair storage by collecting them from the supply grid. Each of the mech’s actions requires some combination of these resources in order to act, and while you can do each action almost indefinitely, you will need to collect as shredly as you can. You only have three chances per turn to gather resources, before your opponent (often another mech, but sometimes a steamtank or the endboss) gets a chance to act and gather resources unseen, while also acting in the same ways you are able to.
Linking each resource on the grid is a simple affair and can — as long as the resources are touching — make an almost endless chain. This is needed for experience bonuses, and also to make each of the pilots’ special abilities to function. This also helps when collecting scrap, which is needed to purchase new upgrades and abilities once you return back to the base.
At the base, you are provided a moment to rest, recuperate, and repair the Ironcast. A chance to review which weapons you have equipped, drives to increase your mech’s speed, swapping out your mech’s fields, and choosing which pieces get various abilities and upgrades as your pilot levels up between matches. Once this is done, you can head onto the map.
You are given a few days notice, of a massive French invasion being lead by an extremely large Ironcast mech with four legs While the English are doing their damnedest to keep it back, it will slaughter everyone it can on its way to Westminster. To prevent these unfortunate circumstances from occurring, you are to choose one of three to four missions a turn. Orange missions appear to be the default difficulty, with red some of the more trickier missions.
Win or lose — And you will lose a lot — you are rewarded between games with experience that is used to unlock the later pilots (who are some of the most diverse characters this reviewer has seen), and the other mechs. You are also given mech upgrades for your persistence which will stay between games, and effect further playthroughs. Death is not the end for a player. The mech and pilot on that timeline, perhaps, but not for the player.
Should the player survive, one will eventually have to come to terms with the main invader of England and face him in the flesh… err… steel, fighting him in the streets and praying to God and Country that the men you have collected will have been enough to bring him down to your level. A one for one exchange of men to the boss’ final health will occur during this final mission, representing them doing their damndest to slow him down.
From this fight, it is a matter of luck, parts, skill, and prayers to the Random Number God, that you will survive. A numbers game, where the battles are brutal. But it seems as though there are none so brutal as this boss who is armed to the teeth and armoured straight to the gills. Your wins prior to this are crucial to your survival.
Ye Olde Fancy Music & Sound
The music has a charming quality to it, with a variety of classical pieces done with a bit of flare. The menacing version of La Marseillaise during the first boss sent up chills along my spine. Numerous other pieces ensure that your ears are not overly bored by repetition. Warm horns and violins fill out the score, with drums here and there reminding the player of the thunder of war, with cymbals crashing punctuate the success of the mission.
The sound design of the stompy Ironcast mechs themselves is appropriate, and the various weapons available are satisfying as they explode, shoot, cannon, plasma fire, launch rockets and unleash lightning hell on your opponents. The whistle of a steam tank as it approaches its death and other bits of sound add to really round out the atmosphere of the game.
Technical Bits & Settings
There aren’t, for such a simple game, much in the way of settings and there haven’t — for the time played (8+ hours as of time of writing) — been any major bugs either. Dreadbits runs an excellent ship, with the game running quite well, and at a fair speed without slowdowns.
For a turn-based, match 3, rogue-lite RPG, Ironcast is a rather unforgiving game. This is tempered, however, by the fact that the game saves between missions. It is an easy game to get absorbed in but also to pick up and leave as you have time. It is also one of those games where it’s easy to indulge in One More Mission syndrome. Unfortunately, it can get frustrating for those who are not used to the fickle nature of the random number god, with some playthroughs being lost only by a run of bad luck. Even high skill players are not exempt from the wrath of random numbers.
Though the game is is difficult, that is one of its selling points. But it is a fine wine of difficulty. One that can be exceptionally bitter, and is not meant for all tastes. In fact, I have yet to defeat the first boss as of this writing. That does not mean I will not keep trying. I look forward to more from Dreadbits; Ironcast is an excellently made and difficult puzzler.
You can see the original Kickstarter trailer here.
Buy this game if: You are looking for something different out of the match 3 genre and is a challenge to complete
Buy this game at a discount if: You aren’t fond of match 3, or can get regularly frustrated by losing.
Do not buy this game if: You do not care for match 3, and get turned off by the need for persistence.
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