Iratus: Lord of the Dead E3 Impression
Gleaning everything worthwhile about a game in the space of a thirty-minute E3 booth appointment — enough to write up an informed impression, anyway — isn’t always that easy. Some games pile on the complicated systems and challenging controls that it takes considerably longer to wrap your head around what’s on offer. Iratus: Lord of the Dead is not one of those games. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple-minded or shallow; far from it, in fact. It’s just that, after only a few minutes of seeing what Fedor Korochkin and Alexander Gonchar from developer Unfrozen had to show me, I already knew the most important thing about the game: I wanted to play all of it now.
Iratus has deep and engaging strategy in spades, and quite a few systems to keep up with. The game puts players in the role of the bad guy: Iratus, Lord of the Dead, an ancient necromancer who conquered death itself and was entombed, has now been set free by some foolhardy miners broke the seal on his prison. Iratus looks to ascend the floors of his subterranean tomb to return to the surface and reclaim his throne. To do so, he must assemble an army of the undead, fighting by their side as he encounters the humans and other hapless creatures on his rise to the surface.
When describing Iratus as a tactical roguelike, Fedor put an interesting emphasis on the word “tactical”, and it soon became clear why. The meat of the game consists of combat scenarios, as Iratus’ shambling army encounters slaves, miners, dwarves, elves, and whatever else inhabits the levels. Movement is done very simply via a rudimentary map overlay, where players simply choose which path their troops should follow; multiple paths of varying length lead to the floor’s boss and exit, and it isn’t necessary to clear them all. When Iratus’ army comes upon an enemy icon, battle that is very reminiscent of the visuals in Darkest Dungeon commences.
Both sides send a squad into combat consisting of up to four units. Tactical information on the battle at hand is available before it begins, and it is up to the player to choose a squad to handle the challenges it is about to face. There are sixteen different unit types to choose between, from Skeleton and Banshee to the fearsome Bride of Iratus, each with unique special abilities. Choosing a squad whose units complement each other tactically is key, as is placing them in the most advantageous order. Which units can attack, which moves they are able to use, and what enemies these abilities can target are all dependent on their arrangement within their four-man squad. Further, some moves require a rechargeable resource called Wrath before they can be used. Then there are various ways of damaging enemy units, either attacking their health pool directly or whittling away their sanity instead. Iratus himself can also intervene with a selection of up to twelve spells tied to their own mana pool at his disposal. There’s a lot that must be considered, and it’s easy to get caught poring over the avalanche of tooltips for each option before finally committing to one.
Getting too lost in the tactical nitty-gritty would mean missing out on one of the game’s most impressive strengths. The character art for the different units is outstanding, and I reveled far too much going slowly and methodically through the character selection screen. All the favorite undead creatures are present and accounted for, including Vampires and Dhampirs, and they’re all lovingly and painstakingly designed and brought to life. Battle backgrounds are also a joy to lean in and take a closer look at; at some point, actually playing the game became a back-burner activity.
I did at least get to the floor’s boss battle. Bosses are no push-overs, using tactics to constantly disrupt the player’s attack plans, putting up blocks, and influencing the unit positioning that’s vital for a well thought-out plan of attack. It’s worth noting that players have the ability to level up individual units, as well as Iratus’ own three personal skill trees full of spells and abilities, and there’s also the gruesome task of collecting viscera and body parts from vanquished enemies that serve as the building materials to construct the next unit to add to Iratus’ forces.
So what is it about Iratus that immediately made me smile like a kid in a candy shop? It’s not entirely unique in gameplay concepts, and it’s not even in my preferred genre of RPG. However, the glee the game displays with being the villain in a brutal, remorseless world along with its intricate focus on deep tactical gameplay makes for a combination that I, for one, found irresistible. There’s no official release date on the table yet, but the first three floors of the game will be available in Early Access via Steam this summer.