Welcome to our review of Griftlands, the deck-building rogue-lite. As the name suggests, the game is all about grifting. If you take the gameplay and mechanics of something similar to Slay the Spire, or Hearthstones single player content, and add a sprinkle of underworld flair and boom – you have Griftlands! Naturally being a deck-building, the player will advance through the levels of the game and gain cards and various augmentations that will help them in the next encounter. Curious about how the game stacks up against it’s weighty competition? You’re in the right place, we’ll get there in a bit.
The game is brought to the world by it’s developer and publisher Klei Entertainment, owned by Tencent – the Chinese monolith of a gaming/entertainment company. Griftlands has been in early access for a few years now, and only just recently celebrated the release of the full game on the second of June here in Australia. So, has the game been refined to an experience worth your time and money, now that the full release is here? We’re going to find out.
We’re going to dissect Griftlands from a variety of angles, we’ll give each angle a score from ten, and then give you our final verdict. We’re going to score the game on:
1: Difficulty – Is the game challenging enough, to maintain your interest through the entirety of a playthrough, especially during those early stages where the cards are few and the enemies are simply. Or is the game so easy that it becomes boring quickly, with a lack of challenging depth? Are the varying difficulty modes, how are they handled? That’s point one, difficulty.
2: Appearance – How does the game appear graphically? It is visually appealing to the eye, or does it appear rough and lacklustre? We’re going to go over how demanding those graphics are, and whether there are any frame drops in graphically intensive sections of the game.
3: Sound – Point three is sound. That’s going to include a few points, that together will form the overall score. The first being sound effects, the second being the games soundtrack, and thirdly voice acting – if there is any. How do the sound effects hit the ear, is the games soundtrack pleasant and thematic, and how are the voice acting performances and casting.
4: Story – Games similar to Griftlands in the genre have historically not focused heavily on the games story, and simply focused on making sure that the gameplay is solid, without telling much of a tale. Does Griftlands fall into this crux, are there story elements at least, or is there a solid and interesting narrative behind the gameplay. We’ll get there in point four.
5: Fun – Strip away all the finer points about the review, and stick simply to the purpose of video games in general – fun. Are you having fun when you sit down to play Griftlands. Can you have fun in a 20 minute session, can you have fun in a 2 hour session. Does the game feel good to play. It’s as simple as that, when we score the game on fun.
6: Price – Does the amount of time and enjoyment that you’re going to get out of Griftlands, stack up well against how much money you have to fork over. Is the game overpriced, is it underpriced, or have they gotten the pricing for the game just right. We’ll see whether it’s worth you time and money when we reach point six in price.
3:40 – Difficulty 9/10
The difficulty in Griftlands is easily measured and explained well, the game offers you the explanation of how it will handle the challenges it throws at you by treating the difficulty of the game as a gameplay mechanic, not just something that toggles up the healthbars or damage done, like in other games.
I like this. It doesn’t happen often enough. That is, dynamically using the difficulty scale to engage the player, rather than simply having them select an option that inorganically raises the challenge without any punishment or incentive. It happens a lot, and I’m glad that Griftlands steers clear and actually treats difficulty as a tool.
How does that work, and what does it look like? I’m glad you asked. The higher or lower the difficulty is, directly affects just how pliable characters are to negotiation with, whether that negotiation be the tongue or the sword. It also affects what the quest rewards will be, and just who you can bring along. I would liken the difficulty in Griftlands to a word in strictness. The lower the difficulty, the less strict your behavior need be, and the behavior of the characters opposite will be in reaction. The higher, well .. you get the idea.
The longer your playthrough goes on, the stricter the game becomes with higher difficulty. I like this for a few reasons.
A) Like I said earlier, it’s something that is done dynamically and uniquely with some forethought and provides some interest, and;
B) it provides the player with enough leeway to get familiar with the game, then naturally builds the challenge.
So, for the execution I cannot help but score Griftlands well for difficulty. I didn’t feel overwhelmed when getting the first few encounters in, but I also didn’t grow bored the deeper I got into a run and the more developed my understanding of the game became.
5:45 – Appearance 9/10
Griftlands is graphically undemanding, but that doesn’t mean that the game is visually unappealing or without artistic charm. Because if there is one point to be made about the art within the game, it is charming. I say this because the characters in the game are pretty difficult not to enjoy. They’re all wacky, interesting, but yet manage to fit thematically in the game.
I imagine this is difficult to achieve, when you’re trying to have a constant visual theme between a rogue-ish sword wielding desperado, and squid-face alien with a mallet. But, nevertheless, they all do seem in place within the game, and they’re created not give the game a lighter tone in juxtaposition with the activities within the game. You might be trying to have a serious swindle operation going, but you’ve still got a clumsy squid head to offset the tone.
That’s the for the art, but for the meat and potatoes of how the game actually runs, like I mentioned it’s really undemanding. We played the game on a moderately powerful PC, and the game always felt smooth and didn’t ask overmuch of the GPU.
Animations for the game are not overly flashy, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the score. If anything, it helps the game be easy to follow. There are a lot of mechanics and there can be a lot of considerations, as such you don’t want a lot of visual clutter. The card and action animations are simple, but they’re recognizable and serve their purpose. So, appearance gets a 9.
7:24 – Sound 8/10
I’m glad to say the Griftlands does indeed have voice acting to bring the game to life, and I’m ever more pleased to say that people on distant planets do not speak English with North-American accents. That’s the kind of thing that happens in space-faring games often, and is rarely addressed. How Griftlands tip-toes this issue, but allows the player to still comprehend what’s going on, is very ‘Sims-esque’.
Yes, the voice actors might be saying gibberish designed to emulate a foreign, alien language, but it’s all given an appropriate timing and tone so that you can infer from context. I like this a lot, and it’s done well. The game feels otherworldly, without being confusing. Kudos to the voice actors and the decision-makers who put that feature together.
The second point I will make in regards to sound is the games sound effects. I mentioned earlier that there can be a lot going on, on the screen at any one time. I feel like sometimes that the sound effects for these actions can get lost in one another. Sometimes effects from cards and abilities will be so alike, or produced in so close to one another, that there can be audible clutter, and it makes one sound effect really difficult to differentiate from another. They’re too alike, and they come too rapidly to be so similar.
Moving on to the games soundtrack, of which I having nothing but praise. The outlook for this aspect of sound was always going to impress, from the very first trailer. I’m happy to announce that it has translated from hype-building videos, to the game itself. Each OST fits in thematically with the game, and even dynamically evolves depending on what is happening. It’ll seamlessly transition the music depending on what occurs, as you push through phases of a boss fight, as you are harmed or are doing major harm, the soundtrack will smoothly transition to match the pace and situation of your activity. That’s sound, and I’m giving it an 8 overall.
9:27 – Story 10/10
Admittedly the competition for telling a good story in the genre isn’t hard, if we’re sticking to deck-building rogueish games. The largest competitors that come to mind are obviously Slay the Spire, and Hearthstone. Neither have the greatest of story-telling, despite having all the tools to effectively do so. They have interesting settings and characters, but do very little with them. That isn’t the case with Griftlands. In fact, I might go so far in to say that perhaps Griftlands was designed to buck this trend with the aim of introducing great story elements to the genre. Or is that a reach? Either way we’re pressing on!
Each character that you can choose to play from will have their own personality, and whilst their motive behind their actions in game all revolves around selling their sword for as much dosh as possible, that doesn’t meant that the experience is quite similar from one play to another. There’s plenty of lore within the game, and through the supplementary material, if you want to go looking for it. The game doesn’t feel bogged down for this though, you won’t be button mashing through hours of dialogue and lore dumping just to get the game play, it’s woven cleverly throughout, and it’s introduced well at your playthrough’s inception.
What sets Griftlands apart in a good way, is that the story is quite dynamic. It feels like it belongs with the rogue elements of the game. A card or ability choice can define the rest of your run, and dramatically change how successful you are. What’s great about Griftlands is that the same can be said for the story. Sparing an enemy or making a deal with the devil can create a butterfly affect for the rest of your run, from a story perspective. Cards and story choices matter, and the fact that they’re both in sync makes Griftlands stand out from the pack, and earns it a 10 for story.
11:25 – Fun 7/10
Griftlands has all the great elements to make a fun game. The writing is witty, the gameplay is entertaining, and it all comes together quite well. My praise for the game is quite obvious considering the points we’ve previously gone over. However, it doesn’t have the longevity that I would have liked to have seen. It’s all a fantastic experience, your time with the game might just not be as long as you’d have come to expect from similar games in the genre.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolute blast and the game certainly does get a check mark from me in regards to how fun it is, just not how long that fun lasts. The diversity in runs is there, and so are the unlockables, everything you’d expect from a rogue/card game. The deck building is solid, and you feel like you make overall progress each time. The issue I have is there just isn’t enough here at the full release. I had anticipated maybe another character, or a lot more cards for those characters, or some more diversity in builds when it comes to decks, but that’s just not where we’re at yet.
I say yet because I fully anticipate DLC to solve this issue. I would love to see more challenge modes from the game, a greater variety in playable characters, and some balances patches to specific builds in the future. However, as I want them from the full release, and have to wait for them, I can’t help but give Fun a score of 7. The game is genuinely super fun, it just doesn’t sustain you for long enough, and I think these additives would help.
13:12 – Price 10/10
You might think that given my single complaint being that the game’s longevity is not quite where I expect it would be, that I would think that the game is overpriced for the content. Simply put, it’s not. You’re still going to get plenty of playtime from the game, and you’re going to love every second regardless. But, the fact that the game is only $28.95AUD makes it well underpriced.
Even if we take the amount of time that you get from the game and halve it, I’d still say the Griftlands is underpriced. But, the game’s score for price isn’t solely based on how much time you’re going to get out of the experience, but how quality that time spent is also. That’s why I have scored Griftlands so high in this respect.
Dollar for dollar, this is the best rogue/deck-building/card game. This game has a better platform for a long-term experience than Slay the Spire does, and it is a better experience at launch also. It’s better written, it’s better polished, it’s much deeper, everything about it is simply better. As such, if you’re looking to get the best experience, this is the game you need to buy. And you know what? It’s cheaper than it’s chief competitor in Slay the Spire. So, being able to buy the better game, at a lower cost, earns Griftlands at 10 for price.
Final Verdict 9/10 – Almost Perfect!
That’s going to wrap things up for our comprehensive review on Griftlands! If you’ve agreed or disagreed with any of the points we’ve made, or just have your own two cents to add, we’d love to hear from you on the MGN.gg blog, our YouTube channel MGN TV, our new Twitter @MGN_TV, and our new Discord. All of the links for which are posted in the description of the video review. Thanks for checking us out!