The problem with reviewing is you find yourself lumping titles into boxes. Firstly, there’s the “It stinks but I’ll slog through it if I have to” box. I don’t always want to play something but in fairness to you lot and deference to my ebbing sanity sometimes I have to, but thankfully very few games go here. Secondly, there’s the “I’m playing this for review but I’ve got too many other things to look at to keep going” box. I love a game, and as much as I’d also love to admit I go back and finish everything I start, I’d be lying. Lastly, there is the very rare “I’d forgotten I was supposed to be reviewing this and I’m playing it like I’ve bought it” box. This is where Swag and Sorcery falls; it’s great for when you don’t have a lot of time to play anything else.
There is that little spell of time that occurs most days. I might be getting ready for work, or having a coffee before I go out, or anything really that means I don’t have a lot of time to kill but still want to get my gaming fix. Swag and Sorcery is one of those games that scratches the itch perfectly. I call them coffee break games because it’s exactly what they’re excellent for. I’m not saying you can’t pick this up and play in long spells, you can and I have but just a ten or twenty minute burst can be enough this is brilliant. Right … enough waffle; on to the game.
Swag and Sorcery is the most non-idle, idle game I’ve ever played. As a rule I don’t like idlers. I want to be able to play a title and certainly don’t want my game playing itself for me. This game turns the idler onto it’s head. The core mechanic is basically idle, you send your heroes off and get you stuff or get killed depending on how you’ve prepared them. You can watch them on their adventures but it’s not necessary and while they’re questing you can get on with the best bit of the game. The planning, building, crafting and mission completing that goes on in the background.
This clever little game is by Lazy Bear Games, the same folk behind Graveyard Keeper and it shows. As in the aforementioned game you’re given bugger all and have to do all the work yourself. The majority of this goes on in your town. You start with a guild and this is where you buy your sword fodder, (heroes,) who start out as just your average unfortunate soul off the street. You do this by outfitting them and training them into the classes that RPG fans will know and love. This means erecting more buildings. For fighting equipment you’ll need a forge, for mage’s gear a magic shop and so on. This is where the game starts to get interesting.
All of the buildings in your town are upgradable. Each time you level a shop that building’s inventory expands and you can better equip your characters. It’s not just the town you’re looking after though, you need goods to make the items to outfit your heroes and it’s these items you’re sending them on their quests for. There’s a plot to but we’ll get to that in a minute. So for swords you need Iron ingots. This means you need iron ore. Better swords require better ore and additional, sometimes semi-magical components. These magic ingredients can’t just be found, they like everything else in the game need to be made.
To make a set of semi-decent armor you might need a sorrow stone. To get one of these items you’ll need to obtain ghost tears and take them to your potion shop and make the stone there. Two sets of tears plus other ingredients might equal one stone and you might need six stones plus all the other ingredients for for the item you’re crafting. This is just one item. This principle follows through the entire game and this is where the grind comes in.
The grind doesn’t actually feel all too bad. The reason for this is that you’re always thinking about the next task you have to complete. As long as you have a decent sized party you can send a couple out to get the goods while others remain in town. To make items you have to staff buildings with your adventurers. So the best person to staff a blacksmith is going to be a fighter. The quality of gear from that shop relies on a good strength stat. Fighters are built to be strong so will fare better, a mage on the other hand will be needed for a magic shop as it’s gear relies on intelligence. As long as you can plan correctly there is plenty for you to do other than watch the same quest animation on loop for hours.
Swag and Sorcery has a really addictive nature. I think this comes down to the fact that you never feel like you’ve gotten to a stage where there’s nothing more you can do. You’re always multi-tasking and thinking about the next thing you need to make or how you might train your characters for more difficult battles to come. The fact that you’re constantly concentrating on bettering your town and heroes also means that there aren’t any massive difficulty spikes. If you’re having a tough time you just need to refocus your efforts on building the right gear to succeed and this is all very doable.
I mentioned the story earlier. The basic premise involves a big evil (obviously) and a nasty advisor (it’s fantasy, so also obviously), and the king’s costume. This is where the comedic element of the game comes in. You’re looking for a particular set of garments that will be needed to save the day. These are hidden in places full of really evil things. Most of us would use a wardrobe but each to their own. Leading on from this fashion … really silly fashion … is very much a thing. You can put your heroes into fashion shows to build prestige for your town. This is fun and gives you something different to think about. Not all the gear your make is serious, in fact one of the weapons in an electric guitar. Seriously, play the game it’s really funny in places and very well written.
From the slightly silly story comes your missions. You have main missions which want you to upgrade your town, make specific items, kill bosses etc. These are needed to give the game form and pace and give you a good idea what the hell you’re doing. Then you have sub-missions which are basically fetch quests which might involve killing so many creatures or retrieving a certain number of items. We’ve all seen this in RPGs so nothing new there. Lastly you have events. These are little story elements that crop up at random and require you to make a choice or hand over gold or resources. These can appear at any time and are worth doing as they can yield some pretty handy stuff.
Okay so nuts and bolts. Graphically we’re going back into the 16 bit realm. This is great and gives the game a comfortable retro feel. This is like something I’d have happily stuck into my Megadrive and whiled away a few hours on as a kid. Sound is virtually nonexistent and what is there is a little repetitive. It’s not enough to cause annoyance but not really worth commenting much on either. One notable point on this, though, is the narration which is brilliant. As for the controls it’s all mouse managed which makes everything run smooth and easily. Considering the mental gymnastics that are going on here some simplicity is very much a welcome thing.
As I said at the start of this review I think I decided I liked Swag and Sorcery before I actually decided I liked the game. By this I mean that I was subconsciously playing it for hours on end and then just happened to remember I needed to tell you lot about it as well. This in my opinion says something. I’m not sure whether I’d want to spend an entire afternoon indulging in Swag and Sorcery but for an hour or two at a time this is a great little game.
Swag and Sorcery is a really fun title if you’re looking for something to do that won’t be overly engrossing. If you like crafting games and don’t want something that is asking to eat your life this might be a really good way to go. It’s not a block buster but it’s a really serviceable and fun experience and well worth a try.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.