The Keymaster jingles his keychain, summoning more miscreants to take up arms against my undead horde. This, after I so meticulously harvested the vital organs of his initial bodyguards. I start on the grim task of picking them apart again, but the rotund bastard keeps calling them in. My lich goes down and soon my whole formation is unraveled. Defeated, I start raising more of my undead minions to throw at him one more time.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead is a game which can be described in a single sentence: Darkest Dungeon, but you play as the baddies. The 2016 roguelike dungeon crawler was released on Steam after a successful Kickstarter campaign and a full year in Early Access. It was an incredibly hard game that would lure you in with its great art design and aesthetics, only to plunge you into a sea of deep cosmic despair. I love Darkest Dungeon, even though I never quite managed to clear that last, titular dungeon. I had a ton of fun bashing my head (and sanity) against that game again and again.
If you ever played Darkest Dungeon, most of Iratus will feel instantly familiar: your minions are positioned in different ranks on a 2D plane and their position determine what abilities and skills they can make use of. Iratus also utilizes a cartoonish art style, albeit not quite as dark and bleak as Darkest Dungeon. Iratus, the necromancer himself, even narrates and quips in a similar manner to what the old man did in Darkest Dungeon. In other words, Iratus wears its inspiration on its sleeve.
That said, you now seek to plunge the world into chaos and despair instead of saving it. You play as a newly resurrected necromancer named Iratus and your mission is simple: break out of your crypt and murder everything in your way. The slain enemies will have their parts harvested, which you use in constructing new undead minions. If you are lucky, you might even find a brain, which will raise the level of the minion you feed it to.
There are a wide array of minions to raise and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Wraiths, for instance, deal a lot of stress damage to your enemies while they are fairly useless at taking or dealing out physical damage. Again, this is similar to Darkest Dungeon, which, in the end, had a ton of characters and classes you could take with you on your runs.
Speaking of stress, this is also a mechanic that makes a return from Darkest Dungeon. Though, this time you are the one inflicting madness upon frail mortal minds instead of being on the receiving end of such malicious attacks. Honestly, this opens the game up a bit as you now have more ways of dealing damage to your enemies rather than the straight-up physical one.
As mentioned, you spend body parts on crafting minions to replenish or upgrade your undead horde. Though they are not that expensive to craft, they are far from disposable as you use them to man different stations in your crypt. These structures will heal of buff your minions or simply provide you with extra materials after battles. Again, fairly familiar stuff for people who have played Darkest Dungeon.
Unlike that game, though, Iratus himself play a larger role than a mere narrator. As you traverse the dungeons, you will gain XP and gear for Iratus, which grant you access to new spells and abilities to use during battles.
Another thing that differentiates Iratus, but might not be as much of a positive aspect, is that the game is fairly linear. You have a couple of different paths to choose from when going through a level but once you pick one, you are essentially locked in. This means you have little to no chance of grinding things out to become stronger before a boss fight. It’s too early to tell, but it feels like this might put you into some unwinnable death spirals as you lose your high-level units and have to make do with what you can create afterward.
Aside from this, Iratus: Lord of the Dead is shaping up to be a fun, though perhaps a tad too derivative, game as it stands right now. If you are like me, however, you will lap up all the Darkest Dungeon gameplay you can as the sequel is still some ways away and this type of gameplay isn’t exactly commonplace. I, for one, will certainly keep an eye on this title as wrinkles get hammered out during Early Access.