Meet Despot. He likes craft beers, his older brother AM, and killing all humans (I made the first two up). But seriously, Despot really does like killing humans. And when the odds are stacked against us, there’s only one thing to do. We need to assemble a team!
At its core, Despot’s Game is an Auto Battler. Cut from similar cloth as Teamfight Tactics and AutoChess, the majority of the gameplay is positioning units and drafting, with a heavy focus on drafting. You’ll be picking weapons and mutations from shops and rooms to craft your team.
Despot’s Game draws from the classic dungeon crawler loop. Your ragtag team navigates a procedurally generated map, encountering a variety of rooms and events before fighting the floor boss and descending to the level below.
Weapons can be bought from specific shop rooms and give the baseline humans (called noobs) their class and some stat bonuses. Weapons of higher tiers also provide a unique ability to the noobs. Once you have enough unique units from the same class, you get a bonus class ability! These bonuses range from passive buffs, like from the Shooter Class, to more active buffs like the Thrower buff, which lets them throw a big bomb on a short cooldown.
Mutations are the other way to affect your team composition. These come in two forms: class mutations can be picked from altar rooms or events, while team mutations can be bought from the menu. Team mutations mainly buff your team’s stats, whereas class mutations only affect units from the specific class. However, class mutations can drastically change a class’s role, for example, a mutation that makes Throwers throw other units at the Enemy.
The map, however, is very much inspired by roguelikes, notably taking strong visual cues from The Binding of Issac. Similarly, the shop and altar systems are effectively the roguelike perk drafting system, except for borrowing mechanics of modern auto battlers like the economy system and rerolling.
The New and the Different
The new mechanic that Despot’s Game introduces is the Food System. While you still engage in typical dungeon crawler gameplay of exploring rooms and fighting enemies, moving from room to room now costs food. This mechanic initially takes some getting used to, and it incentivises min-maxing your pathing through rooms. The penalty for running out of food is not major though, with a 40% damage and armour debuff applied to your team that eventually scales up to 70%. More importantly, it works to limit the early-game cheese strategy of just spamming cheap units and overwhelming the early levels through numbers.
The biggest difference with Despot’s Game, however, is probably the multitude of game modes that become available after beating Despot. Despite the dungeon crawler roguelike experience being a mostly solitary one, Konfa has managed to insert PvP modes into the game. The most prominent one is King of the Hill, where the team you used to defeat Despot in the current run is pitted against other players’ Despot-killing teams. The battles are AI run, however, and at the end, you are placed on a leaderboard. There are also a few other multiplayer game modes such as Brawl, where you face an opponent’s team every 3 rooms.
Despot’s Game is quite fun but I definitely feel it lacks engagement. The most you do is buy units and place them, and the game even provides an auto-arrange button for you. As soon as the actual fight breaks out, you just sit back and watch the 8-bit massacre commence. In Auto Battlers, the engagement comes from watching your tactical decisions match up against other players, which isn’t quite the case in Despot’s Game. Even in multiplayer, there are often 40-odd units on the field, and it devolves into a cluttered sprite brawl where positioning isn’t really important at all.
Even in the PvE, there are only a few enemies that can reach the backline and none that really required repositioning to defeat. The problem is worse in PvP, where something like positioning would add some much-needed engagement to the game. Instead, those mutations are locked behind RNG. Tricksters have a mutation that allows one to teleport behind the furthest enemy unit, but it’s not offered every game meaning that kind of positional gameplay is not often required.
It’s also quite difficult to tell which units are effective because there are no damage numbers or a way to track how much damage anything has done. I understand the decision, given the already chaotic fights, but it only reinforces the notion that there isn’t really much tactical depth to this game. Something like a post-battle recap or damage stats would be an extremely useful tool to see the effectiveness of your team comp.
The reason I focus heavily on engagement is because that’s what the replayability of this game hinges upon. The game modifiers are fairly limited, meaning PvP and trying new classes are what bring players back. While the classes are distinct from each other, the fact that unit numbers aren’t really capped means that there isn’t really any point in splashing a new class when you can just include all the units in your comp anyway. Furthermore, there’s no skill-based economy management that lets you minimise the effects of luck; all you really can do is just pray you get the right mutations. These factors work against the game since there is a focus on multiplayer. In the PvP game modes, the lack of ways to mitigate luck feels much worse, especially when builds are pretty dependent on them to work.
It’s not all bad though. There is great variety in mutations and the different classes are quite distinct, even if there isn’t much variation in weapons. The best way to enjoy Despot’s Game is to play casually in short sessions. This also allows you to slow down and enjoy the charming sprites and goofy sound effects, which show a lot of personality and passion from the devs. The game is chock full of references, from sci-fi icons like Daleks and Robocop to Guts from Beserk and Sailor Moon.
While some of the humor felt a bit forced, namely a weapon called the Periodic Table that was just a table (hah), it genuinely caught me off guard at times. Out of all the places to run into a reference to Disco Elysium, I was not expecting Despot’s Game.
Overall, Despot’s Game is fun, but just a limited amount of fun. The content will get stale fairly quickly as there isn’t much depth and that means no matter how the PvP is adjusted and implemented, it will never beat just winging it with a half-assed team comp. Resist the urge to min-max and just go in trying to make the dumb stuff work. The devs are fairly receptive, and with some reworking, the game could really be great.
As it stands now, the game is worth picking up if on sale or just for a bit of lighthearted weekend fun. The simplicity of its mechanics means that the best way to play it would be on mobile, but it’s available on all consoles and Steam. Hey, doesn’t Despot kind of look like a pho– PAY NO ATTENTION FELLOW HUMAN. EVERYTHING IS FINE. GO ABOUT YOUR DAY.