Gordian Quest: Preview

Gordian Quest, by Mixed Realms, is a fantasy deck building game which features both a tactical/positional element and an attempt to emulate a character-driven RPG-style structure. The game features Realm Mode, an endless or set length seeded dungeon, and Campaign Mode which features the game’s main story. 

Overview

The two modes vary in scope and potentially, length. Realm Mode should be familiar to anyone who has played Slay the Spire or similar deck-builders before. It features multiple paths, each with a combination of different types of encounters; one of three types of battles, two different types of shops, event nodes, shrine nodes (which modify future battle nodes), campfire nodes, and rest nodes. Additionally, each path has a supply cost and can have one of four different bonuses or modifiers for moving across it. This results in a fairly complex tapestry of decision making, both in regards to ensuring the proper balance of locations, managing your supply and fate levels to make sure you have sufficient xp  to level up and to handle bosses with steadily increasing difficulty of normal encounters. 

Campaign Mode features a similar sort of map, but more freedom in what direction can be taken and how to interact with them. It also features more focused and designed encounters. While enemy types and encounter effects are chosen randomly for the Realm Mode, in Campaign they are chosen deliberately and intertwined in a way that fits and supports the narrative. You can also swap heroes in and out of your team after you acquire them, and there are some modes that take advantage of more than just your core three characters. 

There are currently nine different characters to pick from, but the intent is to release 10-16 total heroes, so there will almost certainly be one more before it leaves Early Access –  and there could be up to seven more. Each character has four alternative starts which changes their starting stats and initial deck composition and three attribute stats (Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence) that impact the damage of cards of a specific type and provides some sort of additional benefit; Strength gives more hit points, Dexterity gives a better initiative, and Intelligence provides more elemental resistance. 

Characters have three different decks, each of which points in the direction of a specific build for the character. Often these decks have one or more synergistic elements, for example the rogue and ranger characters have a single deck focused on traps and forced movement, a second focused on turret summons, and the last one focused on mobility and movement. Frequently, these decks are focused almost entirely (or mostly) on one attribute, but there is usually some sort of variation  which encourages reaching out into other decks once in a while to get a specific card that fits with your attribute focus but broadens your capabilities or provides one piece of tech that you need to make your overall strategy work. 

This naturally leads into discussion of your level up boards. Every time you go up a level, you receive a single skill point which you can use to unlock a connected node on your Skill Grid. These nodes can alter a skill in one of two different ways, increase one of your stats, give a perk, and alter the composition of your deck. All of these are mixed and matched in distinct ways depending on the deck board drawn.  How it is placed results in some interesting decision making as well. Do you get one that has skills you need or one that gives you access to a node configuration that you find beneficial? Can you fit this into your overall plan and the total probable number of level ups you will have before you get a new board or the game is over? 

The various ways decks and cards can be customized and upgraded also adds to the game’s overall depth of decision making. For example, it is very rare that an individual deck is going to be single attribute focused. Typically,  an early decision must be made about whether you want to take some talent slots to make it so you can use cards of two (or three!) attributes, or if you want to spend some of your precious card removal nodes or respects to make your deck refocused on that single attribute. Similarly, with a limited number of card upgrades, hard choices have to be made about which cards should be leveled up and which ones should  use a precious mastery node on. Sometimes this is pretty simple, particularly later in the game once a deck is starting to take shape, but sometimes these difficult decisions can extend throughout the game and these decisions are never trivial – there is always more to consider. 

Gear offers a final layer of customization; each character has 10 slots for equipment and two slots for consumables, however it has minimum attributes needed for equipping. Each piece applies a mixture of bonuses, with some providing an extra card that is added to your deck. The items feature several different levels with potency generally associated with the overall rarity. However, some items, specifically those that apply extra action points, can be powerful despite their rarity – which helps even with a character that is specializing in a specific card. For example, if the mage character is specialized into the Magic Missile card, then getting equipment that provides additional Magic Missiles is valuable. This is especially true for the highest tier of equipment, some of which provides big buffs to one specific card, where if you get the right card you can really elevate the power of your build. Equipment also has slots which lets you equip special runes that can modify the gear overall, or sometimes just the card that is attached to it. Equipment is also the only way that you can get access to skills outside of your normal class set, and with synergistic cards this can really transform and elevate your potential builds. 

Battles are a turn based affair, with three, or sometimes four, characters on your side of the field with a variable number on the other side. Player characters get three or more action points per turn, which can be used on a combination of cards from their deck and movement (which costs one action point per node). Enemy characters get one or two actions per turn based on their tier, which is telegraphed on the enemy’s icon and a single seemingly random movement at the very end of the turn.

Battles come in four varieties: Normal battles, dangerous battles, horde battles, and boss battles. Normal battles are the baseline, dangerous battles feature tougher enemies, horde battles feature multiple waves of weaker enemies, and boss battles feature a single extremely dangerous boss and some number of other enemies. Characters have an initiative stat which influences initial turn order, but doesn’t generally change between turns outside of specific bonuses. 

Generally battlefields have three different rows, though there are some exceptions in specific encounters. Terrain tends to be frequent and impactful, with traps, elemental zones, oases, and blocking terrain that needs to be removed before melee attack can be used past them. Characters also feature a variety of types of attack with different areas of effect and range. In combination, this creates a varied tactical environment that shifts from battle to battle and forces you to take advantage of powers in fun and different ways. 

Reasons to Get It Now

Gordian Quest is enjoyable and deep in its current state. I currently have 45 hours played in the past couple of weeks, and this is with me switching to  other games to avoid burnout. The campaign is incomplete but is pretty fun, and the realm mode provides a ton of replayability. With four different versions of three different characters possible, the sheer amount of different combinations to try out is pretty huge, and this is even before you take into account the variation in encountered gear and enemies.

Reasons to Wait or Skip

The game is incomplete. There are still two more planned chapters, anywhere between one and seven more characters, and a lot of potential enemies that could potentially be included in the final version of the game. If you are unlikely to replay the game endlessly and want to be able to get as complete of an experience as possible then it is probably better to hold off. Also with the game being over a year (the originally planned length of Early Access) into Early Access the game still feels like it is pretty far from the finish line. The quality of the content justifies some of the delays, but it does not feel like a game that is going to be finished in 2021. 

Conclusion

As someone who is pretty burnt out on deck-builder’s, Gordian Quest was a very pleasant surprise. The developers have done a great job translating RPG advancement into a deck-building style game and while the game is not complete what is in place is worth playing and exploring. I can definitely recommend it if you are fine with getting an Early Access game. 

Written by
doubt specialized in tactical turn based role playing games, with his particular interest starting with Final Fantasy Tactics and extending from there. He is very opinionated about the subject, and will talk to you endlessly about them on the turnbasedlover's discord.

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