The Harebrained Schemes team, known for the Shadowrun and BATTLETECH trilogy, with the support of Paradox Interactive, is releasing the tactical strategy The Lamplighters League. We got acquainted with the new product in detail, and are ready to share our impressions in the review.
- Developer: Harebrained Schemes
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Release date: October 3, 2023
A very rare setting was chosen for the new game – the first half of the 20th century, the 30s. Here you will get acquainted with an alternative history: the planet is gradually being crushed by cultists who call themselves the Disgraced, and the “League of Lamplighters” order, which held them back for thousands of years, no longer has the same strength as before.
Hoping for the final breakthrough, the head of the order gathers the best of the worst – mercenaries , thieves , psychics, people with a dark past. Only they can stop the Disgraced – or no one.
The heroes take on an almost impossible mission. The cult, divided into three “families,” has entangled its tentacles throughout the entire planet, and its followers, almost without hiding, carry out their dark deeds – including summoning otherworldly monsters, actively mastering black magic, opening ancient tombs in search of powerful artifacts . Their influence is gradually growing, and therefore the “lamplighters” are forced to act under constant deadlines, because if the enemy’s activity reaches its peak, the normal world will come to an end.
In this regard, The Lamplighters League is very reminiscent of XCOM 2 . Here the Disgraced are also divided into factions – Houses: Nicastro – heretics and fanatics; Marto – crazy industrialists; and the warlike Strums. Each faction pursues its own goals: for example, the Martos want to turn the entire planet into a huge factory, where people will work day and night (normal working conditions and trade unions, of course, are out of the question), and the Strums dream of global conquests. Each faction has a leader who periodically appears during the missions carried out by the heroes – a kind of mini-boss who can cause a lot of problems.
Based on this, the world map changes weekly (with each task taking exactly a week): enemies capture new regions, which is reflected in the “timer” of each of the Houses. As soon as the “timer” reaches one of five marks, the faction strengthens, acquiring new opportunities that are unpleasant for the agents. You can reduce the influence of a House by completing missions related to it: you have to balance and make sure that any of the factions does not increase its activity too quickly, otherwise, being carried away by the fight against one of the Houses, you can delay the strengthening of the others.
At the same time, the League of Lamplighters has its own plan to liberate the Earth: find special resources that represent the sources of power of the factions, and steal them, find four key stones that will allow them to enter the Tower, and defeat the Disgraced there.
Fortunately, in a week on the global map you can perform not just one action, but several: while the main squad goes on a mission under the guidance of the player, a couple more agents can be assigned assignments – to scout out where a character suitable for recruitment is located, find out the location of the next key stone, or just collect valuable resources. This allows you to somewhat equalize the chances with your opponents – as long as there are enough people for the missions.
All actions of the “lamplighters” are planned in the shelter. Here the characters can exchange a few phrases – and these are not necessarily dialogues about the fight against the cult: the characters often just chat with each other about everything. Here you can customize your agents in detail: equip your inventory with grenades and first aid kits, select accessories, armor and weapon modifications with passive effects, heal if necessary, and develop abilities unique to each hero.
There are also allies in the shelter – NPCs who offer their own leveling branches . One allows you to open more effective first aid kits and enhancing accessories, another provides powerful grenades, and the third allows you to relieve stress faster. Finally, right there at the base, you can get hold of consumables: bandages, grenades, modifications and other items that will help in battles.
When it comes to participating in missions, The Lamplighters League again resembles the new installments of the XCOM series , but with caveats. First of all, turn-based gameplay is used only during battles: until the battle begins, you can explore the location in real time.
During the exploration phase, agents can use class skills: a hand-to-hand combat expert breaks through barriers to find a way around, a stealth fighter skillfully climbs special walls and silently eliminates enemies, and a saboteur scatters electric mines. Often opponents can be killed before the battle begins, and some skirmishes can be avoided altogether.
The combat phase is a typical XCOM, but adjusted for the setting and the presence of superpowers in the characters. This is a classic “two actions per turn” scheme, in which you can use movement twice, run up to the enemy and attack him, or attack twice from a place. You can also use the environment: blow up a box of dynamite, push a barrel and set fire to spilled oil, and so on.
Some abilities allow you to add more actions, and here the game allows you to find the most effective combinations of agents. For example, the combination “Eddie + Ingrid” has practically no counter: the first can hit several targets at the same time, the second restores action points when killing an enemy. The scheme is simple: Eddie shoots the cultists, removing most of their health, and Ingrid finishes them off, receiving an action point with each defeated enemy to kill the next one.
Other characters are no less effective: for example, Celestine bewitches opponents, temporarily turning them into allies, Alexandrite creates ghostly copies of herself, each of which fights independently, and the dour Russian Fyodor accumulates rage, enhancing his abilities and can throw enemies into their partners, knocking them down.
Opponents, meanwhile, are not lagging behind. There are ordinary melee and ranged fighters, officers, reinforced soldiers, like flamethrowers, and otherworldly monsters: flammable infernals, summoners casting swarms of scarabs, weak individually, but posing a threat in large numbers, void slaves, and so on. Accordingly, you need to look for a special approach to each type of enemy: take cover behind boxes from the shooter, run away in time from an infernal preparing to explode, send a character with an AoE attack to the void slaves in order to kill everyone in one fell swoop.
The battles in The Lamplighters League are exciting, but they are painfully drawn out. There are almost always more enemies than “lamplighters”, and often teleport beacons are placed in the arenas , which, when an alarm is activated, call several more fighters to help. In a regular mission, the player will have two or three battles, and in key missions there will be even more of them. Not all skills are equally useful, so you end up finding a couple of the most effective ones and using only them.
Therefore, if in the first half of the game you are constantly eager to fight, later you try to bypass your opponents whenever possible, so as not to get involved in skirmishes again. Characters do not accumulate experience, and skill points, common to all, are awarded after completing a task, and the number of points is known before sending on a mission. That is, fighting for the sake of leveling up is pointless.
In addition to long and sometimes difficult battles (the game even gives you the opportunity to retreat and leave the mission – this way you lose progress, but at least you won’t lose your fighters), the disadvantages of The Lamplighters League include the capricious behavior of the camera, which likes to take completely crazy angles during enemy attacks , which sometimes makes it difficult to understand who the blow was addressed to, as well as not very convenient controls. Moreover, the latter applies to both a mouse with a keyboard and a gamepad : a mouse is more comfortable to use in battles, a gamepad is more comfortable to use when exploring locations. Finding a compromise is difficult: you will either have to switch between controllers or get used to the inconvenience.
However, the game has incomparably more positive aspects. In addition to all of the above, the game can boast of a very nice picture , a good soundtrack , an atmospheric setting that successfully mixes the style of the 30s of the last century, mysticism and Lovecraftian motifs, very good optimization – with the excessive load on the video card mentioned in the August preview by the developers managed to figure it out.
Although The Lamplighters League looks like a clone of XCOM 2 in some places, it is a solid clone that takes the best mechanics of the original and adds some original ideas to them. However, one should not expect anything less from a studio with baggage in the form of Shadowrun and BATTLETECH.