I Can’t Put Down This Zombie RPG That Mixes Tons Of Great Games

I Can’t Put Down This Zombie RPG That Mixes Tons Of Great Games

Image: Ishtar Games

The second I saw The Last Spell’s first trailer back in 2021, I knew I had to play it. A city builder with Dungeons and Dragons-style units on an isometric battlefield where giant hordes of zombies are dispatched in turn-based tactics combat? And staged to a pulsing metal soundtrack? It seemed like an ingenious recipe, and after playing a ton of The Last Spell over the weekend, I’m happy to report that it is the real deal.

After completely falling off my radar when it entered Early Access on Steam a couple years ago, I recently fell deep down The Last Spell rabbit hole following its 1.0 release across PC, PlayStation, and Switch last week. This included a couple nights of starting the game up on PS5 at a reasonable hour only to look over a few moments later and realize it was already 1:00 a.m. Even sleep was no escape, the music continuing to reverberate through my dreams.

The map in one of The Last Spell's towns shows where the zombie horde will attack from next.

Screenshot: Ishtar Games / Kotaku

Developed by French indie studio Ishtar Games, The Last Spell’s loosely defined premise has you protecting a mystical crystal as a wizard tries to break the seal, banish magic, and make an army of zombies and other demonic foes disappear in the process. In the daytime you upgrade buildings, build defenses, and fine-tune your party. At night your handful of heroes shoot, slice, and bash their way through dozens and dozens of enemies, gaining experience and resources even as your health, mana, and walls are depleted.

An early preview by Rock Paper Shotgun described the formula as real-time zombie strategy hit They Are Billions meets tactical-RPG classic Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d also throw in Loop Hero for good measure, another indie best-seller that combined roguelite city building with grim mystical dread to great effect. I’ve only played The Last Spell for about five hours so far, but its successful “one more turn” approach to progression and combat has me already hungry to play 10 more.

Gif: Ishtar Games / Kotaku

Part of that is due to mixing a bunch of interesting systems and mechanics without making them overly complicated to start or letting them get in each other’s way. Three main resources govern the city building section: gold, materials, and workers. Gold can be used to buy better gear or make new buildings. Materials are solely used for crafting walls and city armaments like ballistas. Workers can salvage material from destroyed buildings or leftover enemy corpses, or be put to work making building perks like restoring mana and health between fights more potent.

On the unit side of things, characters choose between randomly rolled stat upgrades at every level up, and gain perk points that can be invested in various active and passive skills. Outside of their base stat rolls, their class is completely gear dependent. Want an archer? Give someone a bow. Want a close-combat maniac? Give them a hammer and some armor and watch them tear through enemy lines.

A stat sheet displays randomly rolled powerups.

Screenshot: Ishtar Games

The Last Spell’s real innovation, however, is the way it lowkey re-balances the usual turn-based strategy combat to take into account that it’s just a few heroes vs. a giant undead army. Units have action points, movement points, and ability cooldowns that can be used in any order without penalty. Instead of simply moving and attacking, as would be the case in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, you can attack, attack, move, attack, move, move, and attack again.

The result is that while everything is turn-based, you can string together lots of actions, including freely swapping out weapons and their corresponding abilities, at will. It’s both extremely satisfying to watch as someone unloads on a squad of squishy, crunchy undead and also adds a whole new set of options for trying to maximize your zombie-crushing efficiency each round.

The roguelite structure, meanwhile, helps ease the pain of the inevitable defeats. You collect zombie essence with every run which can then be used to unlock better gear that can spawn in shops, higher base stats for units, and new buildings to construct. So far at least, it’s made every run feel meaningful and beneficial, even when an attempt was cut painfully short. Time will tell if the rest of the game feels as generous or starts to get too grindy as I make my way up the difficulty ladder. For now The Last Spell is a pleasant surprise I wasn’t expecting.


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