I’d never heard of Gloomhaven prior to a few weeks ago. It is, as I’m sure many people already know, an extremely well regarded board game that sees you play with up to four friends in a fantasy campaign. A lot of work has gone into a PC release of it and a partial early access in July of 2019, and they’re finally ready to release the full game on the 20th of this month which will include a full campaign mode for players to enjoy.
The campaign takes place around the town of Gloomhaven, and your actions within the game world will impact how the town grows and how its citizens will view you. Completing tasks can net improvements for the town with the merchant having access to greater merchandise at prices dictated by your reputation within the town. You’ll have to have a party of at least two members from a selection of different classes, all of which come with different perks and drawbacks. Each time you add a new member to your party, the task at hand becomes more difficult, which makes the campaign a consistent challenge. If you have two team-mates, you’ll fight perhaps six or seven enemies. With four? You’ll likely be up against fifteen or even twenty to try to overcome. Battles aren’t straight-forward hack ‘n’ slash affairs either. You have to choose two cards which each have two abilities on them – a top ability and a bottom one – and you enact one of each during your characters turn, so you need to try to think strategically about what the best moves to take will be.
There are a lot of quests – side quests and main – to undertake and you’ll stumble upon new locations to visit as you travel to and from your quests. Each journey results in a random event happening which, depending on the choice you make, can give you great benefits. You may uncover new locations, you could trade for an overpowered item that will aid you in fights or you could get blessings that could give the edge against a particularly nasty foe. Alternatively, you could get absolutely wrecked and if you choose poorly, you could take damage, get poisoned or even have to burn a few of your cards at the start of the fight limiting your options and chances of victory. As you play through the game, you’ll probably notice a few of the same prompts, but they don’t always have the same effects, so having your wits about you and trying to think through every decision is something you really need to do in Gloomhaven.
I really enjoyed everything about the presentation in the game too. There’s a little bit of voice acting, not your playable characters beyond a few grunts, but a narrator explaining what your next quest is, or describing an area you’ve just popped up at. The voice over sounds almost creepy, but it has a tone that makes you want to listen to it more and more. With every word that comes out of his mouth you’re gripped and wanting to learn more about the world you’re in. All the sound design, for that matter, is of incredibly high quality. Every footstep, every swing of your weapon and trap that you set off is an audible delight, and none of it seems overused or out of place. Graphically as well, Gloomhaven is a delight. There are lots of different art styles, but they all blend together really well. The world map looks quite old-timey, visiting people in town people look more detailed and interesting and when you’re in a dungeon, killing bad guys, it always looks magnificent, with so much attention to detail.
I do like the battle system in Gloomhaven, it’s challenging and tactical, but it is also quite unforgiving. It is also my only real negative for the game. I spent hours just trying to beat the first quest, because no matter what I tried, I’d always fall short. Almost always it’d be because I’d run out of cards before I managed to kill the final enemy. I did eventually beat it, but it took a lot of grinding, and I levelled up numerous times just to beat that first dungeon. Maybe it was due to my lack of skill with the game, but I did feel fairly hard done by with the game not offering me enough leeway in the first mission of the game to learn about battle patterns or anything. I just kept going in, attempting something slightly different until eventually it worked. I’ve not beaten any of the other dungeons in the game yet, it seems very much like a game I’d have to grind at to become any good at – even on easy mode. For me, that’s not really feasible. I have a young family and I don’t have the time or desire to try to “git gud” at a game anymore.
I did really enjoy Gloomhaven, despite the difficulty. It’s not a game I can see myself ever finishing because I’m terrible at it, but if it wasn’t so punishing for awful players, then I’d definitely be putting tens of hours into it to try and see all of the story and everything else the game has to offer. It’s a very fun game with great mechanics and a solid strategic elements that make it a lot of fun.