Griftlands; Developed and Published by Klei Entertainment

Hello once again, people of the internet. Today, I wanted to take some time to talk about Griftlands: a game that came out on Epic Games in Early Access in July 2019, Steam Early Access on June 15, 2020, and got a full release on June 1, 2021. It’s a game that’s given me a good amount fun since its release, and it seems like I’m not the only one, with the game having a 95% positive review score on Steam, as well as getting generally favorable reviews from Metacritic.

So, what makes this game worth the praise its gotten?

Well, I’d have to say it’s the unique take on deckbuilding and its RPG elements. For example, one of its strongest features is that to convince someone of something, you can engage them in a Negotiation, which is like a battle where you make arguments and attack your opponents’ claims.

These are fought with separate decks from the ones you use in combat, making the player juggle two types of decks and building them into efficient engines and strategies. Because of this, I’d say the game has a higher ceiling to mastering its deck variations than others of its type. At over 20 hours in myself, I still have a long way to go before I consider myself even good, let alone a master.

On top of this, the game is a rogue-lite, which means that aspects of the game are randomized each time you start a run, and while some things have changed on my various runs, I felt like everything overall felt similar with just different NPCs in each position (save for the most important ones). Now, I haven’t gotten into content that comes after the main campaigns, so I don’t know if I’ll have a different opinion once I do overcome the three campaigns. Come here for the deckbuilding and RPG elements if they’re your thing, but if you’re looking for a good roguelike, I’d say others do variation much better.

How about the different characters? Are they good? Well, let’s take a look at them and find out!

Sal is the first Grifter you’re going to have access to and she’s probably the least interesting in my opinion. She’s a bounty hunter with a bone to pick with Kashio: someone who took Sal under her wing, only to betray her and her family. She was stuck for a decade as a slave, paying off her debt, and was just released upon game start.

Her gameplay is fairly straightforward, with quests that focus on a variety of dirty work with the reward of money, followed by story quests that bring you closer to settling the score with Kashio. Her combat focuses mostly on Bleed or Combo cards that are good at building engines that chip away at your opponents. I found it harder to dish out ludicrous damage with her as opposed to the other two characters, but her continuous damage makes up for it. I’d also recommend buying item cards with her, as it’ll keep you alive much longer and you don’t have much of a need for hoarding money, unless you suck at negotiations. Speaking of, Sal’s gimmick for negotiations is gaining influence or dominance, which are pretty simple buffs. These can destroy enemies when given the right chance, as, like her combat, you can do a lot of passive damage.

I personally found Sal a little lackluster as a character due to her professional need to be neutral to the politics of the world, as well as the fact that bounty hunters are an overdone character trope at this point and I was never big on them to begin with. That being said, her gameplay is a solid and fun experience.

Rook is the second character you’ll be able to play as, and he’s an ex-soldier now acting as a master of espionage. He’s tasked with helping an old friend of his, turned Spark Baron (basically an oil baron), or helping the leader of the Rise: a group of workers standing up to and revolting against the Barons. He’s fun due to the fact that you can choose either side, and both feel equally viable. His decisions seem important in the long run, and he’ll be invested in the cause, even though he started more neutral, and I loved that.

His combat focuses on Charges, Concentration, and Burn. His engine building can make his damage output outright disgusting. I was able to easily deal 50 or more damage per turn in the mid to late game with him, which for reference, a lot of human enemies tend to have less than 100 health. He’s also unique in Negotiations, as he revolves around a coin mechanic, which can be flipped to Heads or Snails for various effects on cards matching the side. So, building your deck around one side of the coin is a good way to make a good negotiation engine.

Rook, so far, has been the most fun in the form of combat and negotiation. I’ve loved building decks around his gimmicks. He’s a blast to play and if you like the witty, washed-out soldier type (another trope, I know), Rook is a good choice for you.

Smith is the last and, in my opinion, most entertaining character of the bunch in terms of interactions. He’s a hot-headed, foul-mouthed, disgusting drunk son of a bitch who was kicked out of his rich family. Now that his parents are dead, his freeloading ass wants some inheritance. He has a sort of attitude that would make you hate him if you knew him, but is so fun to play in a game like this. He has very random engagements with the world around him with obliviousness that should get him killed. Instead, this man is failing upward. Some good examples of things you can see is an encounter in which you find a half-eaten sandwich just lying on the floor and not only can you pick it up, but Smith is outright ecstatic about it. Another great encounter is you trying to write an authentic Admirality (Law Enforcement/Soldier types) letter, in which you can say “your butt” in response to where it’s going and can be absolutely sold as authentic, despite how absolutely ridiculous that is.

His combat relies on drinking, which in turn, gives you bottles to expend in various ways to mainly get you card draws and buffs. He can go through a deck very quickly if you have enough of an engine going and it was fun to see what outcomes are possible. He’s quite capable of dealing a lot of damage with enough setup, and also has an innate ability to heal himself. In negotiations, he uses his family’s renown to pull strings with everyone and it’s a level of audacity that I just have to appreciate, given he was shunned and all.

Smith is an absolute joy to see in conversations and situations within the world that makes him worth it all on its own.

Overall, I’d say the characters are fun to play and don’t feel unsatisfying in any way from my experience, even if I wasn’t wholly impressed by Sal.

The game has a lot of production value and is very aesthetic. The style alone could have drawn me in, and initially did. Like most games in the genre, this game really only works if you like deckbuilding. The RPG elements are nice as well, but I’d say they’re more on par with Slay the Spire rather than Final Fantasy. And if you’re interested in the rogue elements of the game and only those elements, you’ll walk away disappointed.

Overall, I’ve had a great time with the game so far and am more than happy to recommend it.

A pop-journalist in her twenty-somethings that engulfs herself in nerd culture, such as anime, tabletop gaming, and video gaming.