If you’ve been looking for something that does the unthinkable by taking inspiration from titles like FTL and Darkest Dungeon while offering a comparable, if not superior experience, Iratus: Lord of the Dead may be the next big hit for you. It combines large-scale party management, branching advancement paths, and a dark setting to create something that’s quite familiar, but also fresh in many ways, that stands out from the many clones that seem to have flooded the market in recent years.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead has you taking on the role of the revived necromancer himself as some unfortunate miners happened to dig just a little too deep. As you grow in power and push ever upward in your struggle to reclaim the world as your own undead playground, you’ll travel through locations like the mines and the catacombs as you encounter a plethora of not-so-do-gooder foes that will attempt to subdue your growing power and influence.
Though you’ll start off facing off against less impressive foes like slave miners and simple stone golems, you’ll eventually be facing off against powerful heroes that just won’t quit. Lucky for you, you have a variety of tools for the job and whether you slay them all with brute force or terrify them to the point that their heart gives out makes no difference. The enemy variety is truly impressive, and I’ll leave the rest of that for you to encounter on your own without spoilers.
Minions and the Decaying Parts That Make Them
Although you begin with rather modest capabilities in the form of low-level minions, as you progress, they will gain experience and improve. They’ll gain stat points that can be used to improve everything from their damage output (physical and magical) to their dread (stress damage) to their evasion, durability, and health. They’ll also be able to upgrade each of their six basic starter abilities into one of two superior options.
Many of these offer significantly different specialization and grant plenty of customization opportunities for tailoring your minions for specific tactics. For example, one of the minion types that you start with access to, the skeleton, has a move that allows them to take a defensive stance to reduce incoming damage. When upgraded, this move can either reduce even more damage or it can cause any that attack it to suffer a retaliation that deals a noticeable amount of stress damage. This system allows you to build each minion in a different way, sometimes even changing up their role entirely in some of the more extreme situations.
The number of minions available to you is impressive considering that each can already be specialized into differing roles. You’ll only be able to create a select few at first, though the others will unlock as you reach certain milestones. New creatures aren’t recruited in the old-fashioned sense either; they’ll have to be created through the use of body parts collects from your fallen foes, such as bones, hearts, and flesh. Each minion requires four specific pats, though differing tiers of rarity for these offers attribute bonuses that make them far more powerful.
This means that they with a selection of all purple, ultra-rare parts, a new level one monster will begin with as many stat points as if they’d achieved level twenty-five! Fortunately, parts can be replaced and destroyed so you are able to upgrade your long-standing minions that have survived as opposed to creating new ones entirely, though death is a part of the game so don’t grow too attached to them all the same! New parts are always coming along, and the second deaths of your servants aren’t disasters, only inconveniences that need to be corrected.
The Lord of the Dead Rises
Iratus joins in on the party by gaining experience as well. Though he never enters the battle directly, his levels grant many spells that can be used in battle as well as abilities that grant passive benefits whether you’re in combat or not. These abilities are divided into four skill trees that can be built upon: alchemy, magic, ire, and destruction. Alchemy focuses mostly on improving your out-of-control capabilities by increasing the number of body parts that drop as well as making their usage more potent and efficient.
Magic tends to be a mixed bag of spells, some aiding you while others complicate matters for your foes. Ire offers buffs for your minions by improving their capabilities in a variety of way, assisting in them bringing the hurt to your enemies for you. Finally, destruction is what you’re probably expecting; it specializes in directly slapping around your foes with significant damage potential. All of these paths are balanced well and which trees you choose are likely to differ based on your playstyle.
But What About the Murder Itself?
Combat is incredibly fulfilling in Iratus: Lord of the Dead. Every battle feels fairly unique as the combinations and synergies, even among your enemies, is impressive. I never really found myself to be bored at any point, and on several occasions I found myself losing track of time and playing for over four hours in one sitting. For those who have played Darkest Dungeon, it will feel familiar in many ways, but there are several differences that make it stand out. The most game-changing of these is the stress mechanic that attacks the minds of your foes instead of their bodies.
In Darkest Dungeon, your characters suffered stress while the enemy did not. In Iratus, this is reversed as you’re the monsters this time around. Other than that, you have a wide variety of minions with plenty of abilities to synergize with and countless foes that will force you to swap up your go-to strategies to overcome them. Don’t send in a party specialized in causing fear when your enemy’s party is composed mostly of constructs, for example.
The Bottom Line
Iratus: Lord of the Dead is an excellent title and one that I highly recommend to any who enjoy the rogue-lite feel of those who have come before it, especially Darkest Dungeon. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for something that could truly compete with Darkest Dungeon instead of simply copying certain aspects of it, and Iratus has exceeded my expectations in nearly every way. Although I struggle with making a strong claim on either of these games on which is the superior experience, I believe that Iratus: Lord of the Dead may be the one that has finally dethroned Darkest Dungeon and that’s no small feat to be sure; it really is a must-play title for those who enjoy the genre. I can’t praise the game enough for having an excellent variety in both wicked minions and pesky living foes that will keep you engaged and playing long after many of its competitors would have you shutting down to play something else. Give it a try and I doubt you’ll be disappointed!