Heads Will Roll
At the risk of spoiling the rest of my review, I wanted to like Dice & Spells. Developed by T-Bull S A, this turn-based RPG features excellent artwork and 100 levels of dice-based combat. However, while there is much to like about the game, it didn’t take long before the grind started getting to me.
The story of Dice & Spells begins with an injured Knight waking up after a blow to the head. With the aid of a mysterious Merchant, he battles his way through the undead guarding a nearby castle. The Knight encounters and recruits other characters as he progresses through the corrupted halls. These include a mad gladiator, a ruthless assassin, an alchemist, a voodoo sorceress, and a mysterious master of illusion.
Dice and Spells also really want to be Darkest Dungeon. This is most obvious in the visual design, which seems to have taken influence from that series art style. During battles, messages will pop up saying things like “Bleed them dry” and “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Again, it has a similar energy to the narrator from Darkest Dungeon. However, it loses something without that game’s voice acting.
This isn’t nearly a bad thing and is part of what caught my eye about Dice & Spells in the first place. The art looks pretty good and fits with the game’s post-apocalyptic dark fantasy setting. However, art and atmosphere are where the Darkest Dungeon influences end. I’m not accusing T-Bull of plagiarism or anything. Red Hook doesn’t own that art style and is not one-to-one. Still, I worry that the similarities might give players the wrong idea. It also had the presumably unintended side effect of making me want to play Darkest Dungeon again.
Each round in Dice & Spells starts with the AI rolling one die for each enemy and three dice for the player. Instead of numbers, each side represents a different ability. The specific skills depend on the player’s chosen Character and their equipped weapons. These abilities include basic attack, shields, stamina regeneration, buffs and debuffs and combinations of the above. Most dice also have a one-in-six chance of no ability. Players who aren’t happy with their current role can reroll each die once per turn.
Most dice also consume Stamina. While there are spells and abilities to restore Stamina, discarding dice is the primary way to do so. The more the die costs to use, the more Stamina players get back from discarding it.
While I like this system in theory, I think it’s too random in practice. Any game built around a dice roll will come down to probability. However, Dice & Spells offers a few options for mitigating risk. In tabletop games or other turn-based video games, players make choices before the dice role. If I play something like XCOM, I can decide whether to gamble on a risky shot or take a safer option, like falling back or putting up a smoke screen.
Dice & Spells, however, is entirely about playing the hand it gives you. I wouldn’t complain as much, but sometimes the dice rolls leave you completely defenseless. XCOM and Darkest Dungeon have their broken enemies, but failure in those games usually means you gambled and lost. In Dice & Spells, you are totally subject to the whims of fate. Maybe some people enjoy that, but it doesn’t fill me with a desire to roll the dice again.
Magic and Money
Of course, the game is called Dice & Spells, so we need to talk about magic. Most spells are more powerful versions of the more exotic dice abilities. All Characters pull from the same pool of Spell cards, and players can only have three of each. Each Character also has a limited, non-recharging Mana pool, limiting you to one or two spells per battle. Spells can help tip the balance but are not as integral to gameplay as the dice. Players don’t regenerate new Spell uses over time, instead getting them from the in-game store.
Regarding the store, get ready to drop some cash if you intend to finish Dice & Spells in a reasonable timeframe. It doesn’t take long for your stats to fall behind, and regular item drops only get you so far so fast. The game is technically free but be ready for a grind if you don’t want to cough up for microtransactions.
To reiterate what I said at the beginning of this review, I really wanted to like Dice & Spells. I like a good dark fantasy, and I like the game’s art style. However, the dice-based gameplay wore out its welcome, and the grind killed any sense of momentum. I respect T-Bull’s attempt to do something new and different, but Dice & Spells just didn’t work for me.
Is It Hardcore?
It could have been.
While Dice & Spells has some interesting ideas, the randomness and grind ultimately killed my enthusiasm for the game.