(Review) Swag & Sorcery

Swag & Sorcery is another game I fist saw at PAX Prime 2018 and it drew me in with its beautiful pixel work, charm and wit. What I played was bare bones, but I easily found it enjoyable. Having now been able to play the full-fledged experience, I can say that I’m of two minds about this game. Its got a bit going for it, but does it have the lasting power? Does it get boring or does the story carry you forward? What’s the crafting system like? (That’s an important thing for me for RPG’s (even if this one is “streamlined”) and a lot of them miss the mark.) There are a few of things to figure out so let me break it down for you.

The farther you progress, the more missions you can head out on with more meat shields at the same time. I meant adventurers… not meat shields, but essentially…

The impression the game gives off at first is that of a city management/hero sim, similar to games like Soda Dungeon or Merchant or one of many others. You’ll have your main screen where progress is more visibly made and you’ll send out heroes to take on runs where bad guys are fought and materials are gathered. You’ll need to manage your characters by equipping gear and leveling them up to make them more effective at what they do and craft better gear to make your runs easier and more efficient. The more baddies you fight through, you’ll get more materials that you’ll need to upgrade your buildings and craft gear to either equip or sell for money. All of this is in order to find the King’s missing “suit”. There’s also a bad guy magician who’s trying to hinder all of the things plus a talking cat that is essentially one of my favorite parts to the game due to his voice acting (which may say something about the game proper).

Not only can you relax at the spa, but you can gain buffs here that you’ve researched at the library.

Another system included is a fatigue mechanic. Your heroes won’t be super efficient in crafting or adventuring if they are too tired so you’ll need to recoup energy at the local spa. When your heroes are well rested, they do better on their current task be that adventuring or crafting. If you want to find more resources while on the hunt, be well rested. The same goes for the crafting. If you want a higher chance at crafting a nicer piece of gear, being well rested gives you better odds. That being said, it’s not the only thing that will benefit you. Each character that you hire will have traits that have them leaning towards one character class or another. If they are more of a fighter, they probably have more strength and stamina. The former would make them better at smithing ingots and plate gear while the latter will help them be better at crafting potions. (I assume the reason for this is because the time spent crafting them is so much longer so you would be standing for a while.) While you can “control” how much better the chances of getting a better quality weapon you make is, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy because it’s RNG based. Some weapons will have a random skill or stat bonus, but most have preset bonuses like damage or defense. How those points get distributed and whether or not the weapon is a common or higher grade is up to the computer. So you could be making guns or boots for a while to get one you actually like.

Finally a gun! Guns are cool; that is all.

Some of the gear you’ll make will have stat requirements and/or level requirements. This is where the games starts to fall apart for me. As characters level up, they will naturally gain in specific stats more than the others. You can also have them train to level up specific groups of stats as well. You know, if you need an extra bit of agility to wield a crossbow or gun or if you’d rather have a mage and can’t afford to hire another random NPC. This doesn’t come free, however, you’ll need to spend money. Leveling up will always cost you money. The price of this process goes up substantially as well. It’s nearing 10k to hire the next adventurer currently. So my options are that I could either save up and buy a level one character (that would require leveling naturally) or spend that all on leveling my current group of adventurers maybe one or two levels. You get money from doing runs (but not much), selling crafted gear and from fulfilling quests. You’ll be doing a ton of runs, but you’ll see no experience for them no matter the level of bad guy you kill (elite or not). When they said “Grind for resources”, they weren’t kidding. There’s a bit of that going around. You’ll also need money to upgrade buildings and do research into spells you can cast to “help” during runs, but that makes sense so that aspect doesn’t really bother me. I wish you would get experience for fighting monsters though.

I have a hard time finding gear with a color other than grey (neglecting weapons that is). It’s a little frustrating.

I mentioned quests above so let me touch on that real quick. These are essentially fetch quests. Some of them will have you deciding what to do with a thief caught stealing or if you’re behind on resources to give some out. The majority of the time, you will be required to go on a run and kill X number of specific bad guys or collect Y amount of the required items. These do net you some money, but you’ll not be relying on them to fill up your coffers. A different quest that you’ll come across is the “Trendy” quest. You’ll need to deck out your people in specific colors or whatnot to try to win a fashion contest. Early on, it seemed to give me the “welcome to the game difficulty” and it eventually tends towards the “you actually need to start trying” difficulty. I could show up with my weapon being the only thing that matched the color scheme and I’d get “7” to “10’s”. Now I’ve got to monitor what I craft to see if it has a different color, not just mind the stats, to keep just in case. (This still hasn’t happened very often.) The rewards are pretty decent for winning. That said, the contests aren’t always going on, so you won’t be relying on them to get tons of cash either. More runs. More crafting. More questing. More selling. Now you can level up one character one level, but you need two more levels to equip that breastplate, but your archer needs… blah blah blah.

From the outset, the Swag & Sorcery comes off as something I’d really want to play a ton of. It looks like all of those sims you see on your phone that promise to be deep and such, but end up cutting you off at a certain point with the need for a ton of grinding to progress. I had hopes that since this was a full-release, buy-to-play game this wouldn’t be the case. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. There are a lot of elements that are pretty cool and aesthetically it’s great too. (tinyBuild seems to gather great pixel art developers…) As much of a fan as I was of Punch Club (which didn’t come off as too grindy for me), I found Swag & Sorcery to be a bit more grindy that I was willing to endure for a PC game. Had this been a phone app (like it feels), I would have expected this, but hoped for the best. In the end, it comes off as many of those other phone apps that appeal to the grind that I inevitably delete within a few days. On sale, it could be a cool game to log in and do a couple of runs and come back to later. If it’s not on sale, you’ll have to be in the mood for a bit of work or find that optimal path to riches that I didn’t. It’s not that the game is bad, but it isn’t great either. (PS: It is on sale as of the launch.)

Further Reading on Swag & Sorcery: Facebook / Official Page / Steam / Twitter

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