Griftlands Review

Klei studios have had a long list of great games. It started with Shank and continued through Don’t Starve and Invisible Inc. It felt like it was only a matter of time before they made a game that had nothing going for it. Griftlands is not that misstep, although without some perseverance it might feel like it to those that try it out.

Griftlands is a deck-building game, mixed with a roguelite, and a branching narrative. The art stye is very much in the tradition of a more textured Samurai Jack cartoon which has been one of Klei’s strengths.

The story is split across three characters; the bounty hunter Sal, retired soldier Rook, and disgraced royalty Smith. The outcome of the story is entirely dependent on player choices – who they accept missions from, who they chose to upset/fight/kill, and so on. The story has random events so it makes each playthrough feel distinct in terms of narrative and goes a long way towards distinguishing Griftlands from its peers in the Deck-build/roguelite sphere.

The card game itself also adds wrinkles. There isn’t just one basic combat system and set of cards for each character but two. There is Combat in which the player and their associates fight off opponents and Negotiations which can lead to side stepping the combat entirely. Negotiations have the same HP, Attack and Defense equivalents as combat but there are additional elements to pay attention to – both the player and their opponent will have certain items (known as arguments) that float around them that provide buffs or de-buffs. These arguments can be attacked and destroyed and have different outcomes.

There is also a levelling system per-run for cards, whereby using them grants XP and a one-time unlock, as well as meta progress XP that allows the player to start a story mode with more money, health and resolve.

If that reads like a lot of things to absorb, it is. The fact that the game uses a lot of its own terminology in certain situations means that the tutorials at the beginning of the game feel overwhelming for a deck builder like myself. It took me around 3-4 runs before I had a full grasp of the intricacies of the two systems and I can’t imagine what a newcomer to the genre will make of this.

This is not helped by the game’s achievement list that will not give a beginning player much to grasp on to. Instead, the game is focused on end-game goals like ‘don’t upgrade any card and beat the story’ or ‘Cast huge amounts of damage’, anyone looking at the achievements with an eye for short term progress in the game is going to be demoralised.

I would urge anyone that does get stuck to push past it, because once understood Griftlands is arguably the best game in this genre. The story, world and characters are well-written and make retrying a new run worth doing just to see how differently it plays out. For those that prefer to experience only story or combat, the development team has a story and brawl mode to do just that. Once Sal is mastered, Rook and Smith play entirely differently and have their own unique stories.

I fully appreciated Griftlands’s commitment to its world, its systems and huge amount of replayability. This makes Griftlands an embarrassment of wealth and an essential purchase.

Conclusion

A tightly written, well thought out card building game makes Griftlands one of the best in its genre. However, the starting hours need to be pushed through to grasp its complexity.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Great Art Style
  • Deep gameplay
  • Compelling Story
  • Endless reasons to come back
Bad
  • That first couple of hours is going to be a struggle
8.5
Great
Gameplay - 8
Graphics - 8
Audio - 8
Longevity - 10
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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