by Sean Martin
previewed on PC
WELCOME TO GRIFTLANDS
Many of you might remember an interesting game which surfaced its head for the first time last year — Griftlands, an open world choice based RPG from developer Klei. My interest was instantly peaked, firstly because of Klei’s seeming inability to make bad games, but also the amazing art style, which to me resembled a kind of sci-fi Banner Saga. But unfortunately Klei are not always the best at updating their fans on games, or release dates, so though Griftlands was listed as having a release date late last year, it went under the radar for quite a long time. That is, until it surfaced at E3, but no longer an open world RPG, it had shed its skin to become a deck-builder. It’s a change which disappointed me at first, but that was until I actually played it.
In recent years we’ve been spoilt for deck-builders — games like Slay the Spire have found huge popularity, while others like Thronebreaker and its precursor Gwent have explored new and interesting ways to use cards as an aspect of world-building. Griftlands follows in the footsteps of such games, retaining what makes the genre so popular, while also innovating and representing in its own ways. In the game you play as Sal, a grifter returning to her town after having been sold into debt slavery by a crime boss called Kashio. You have one mission, and one mission only: get revenge. Through striking deals and making more friends than enemies, you must find a way to survive 5 days, reaching your final encounter with Kashio, and with it, your revenge.
Griftlands is all about approach — there are two main methods of interacting with the world: combat and negotiation. Combat is mostly as you’d expect, turn based actions, allowing you to play combat cards, wearing an enemy down to the point where they die or surrender. But so often in your violent encounters you’ll find the odds stacked against you, so to aid in this you can hire mercenaries, make friends, or occasionally find wild animals who will become your pets and aid you in combat. Though in truth, these conflicts can often be avoided entirely through negotiation. When you enter an argument with someone, you’ll have to play cards to attack their resolve (their health essentially) but arguments will spawn around it, all of which have their own effect. These might range from causing more damage, to inserting other arguments in place of your own, creating a variety of detriments.
But here’s where things get smart: arguments can also be caused by your actions in the world. Say you’ve made an enemy (you killed their best friend perhaps) and they’ve been badmouthing you — that might add an argument to the enemy that will cause more damage. Or say you have a friend nearby while debating, then they will give you an advantage in the negotiation by vouching for you — a really interesting system. Detriments and bonuses are also added everytime a character either loves or hates you, really highlighting the personal repercussions your actions can have. In Griftlands you must consider approach, but you must also consider the fallout, as if you make too many enemies, and not enough friends, you're going to find it very hard to get your way, or make tangible progress.
Griftlands is also pretty much a permadeath game. Once you die, you get one attempt to retry the day, but otherwise you must return to the beginning of the five days. Upon doing so, the cast of characters will often change around, as will the quests and random encounters, altering your luck for better or worse. It is a structure which mirrors Sal’s obsession with her revenge on Kashio, and how it’s essentially all she lives for. Depending on how far you get into the five days before dying, you’ll also unlock care packages, adding new cards to the pool, and occasionally new snazzy outfits.
A part of me is sad that we lost open-world RPG Griftlands, but honestly, I am already fascinated by its new deck-builder format, and it’s only recently launched in Alpha on Epic Store. The games true genius lies in building upon what deck-builders like Thronebreaker tried to do, constructing a world of cards, representing various elements, and scenarios through the game format. Griftlands is also very focused. Though it can be hard at times, everything is based around Sal’s search for vengeance, and the repeated cycles of approach that teach you street-smarts and how to get by in the tumultuous criminal underworld of the town. Sal’s story isn’t yet completed and there are still two other stories with other characters to come. But even at its current stage of development Griftlands is a really interesting and innovative deck builder that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Keep and eye on this one.