· By Sam Wareing
Shardpunk: Verminfall: A Tactical Steampunk Gem
Tactical Role Playing Games (TRPGs) have been around for many years, from the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics to the dark and brutal Sci-Fi venture XCOM, these squad-based tactical adventures have been testing gamer’s strategy skills since the 80’s. Despite being around for so long, new entries are still springing up today.
In Shardpunk: Verminfall, the Empire’s Capitol has been overrun by the Rat Swarm, and it is up to you to guide a group of survivors in a desperate attempt to escape the city. Throughout your adventure you’ll scavenge your environment for the supplies needed to survive, utilise cover and flanking along with powerful steampowered weapons to hold back the Rat Vermin, find and recruit survivors and upgrade your characters, weapons and abilities.
Along with being a TPRG, Shardpunk throws in some roguelite elements for good measure, randomising the maps every time you die which adds loads to the replayability. And you will die. If you’re not careful, the Rat Vermin will completely overwhelm you, and very quickly at that, so unit positioning is crucial. This is a TRPG after all.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d get on with Shardpunk, TRPGs and I don’t really see eye-to-eye, but my first impression was that it is gorgeous. Stunning yet simple pixel art combined with some of the smoothest 2D animation I have ever seen and controls that were super easy to grasp, just 5 minutes into the tutorial and the bar had been raised tremendously. And it didn’t stop there. As the game progressed, more things were slowly opened up to me, like utilising cover properly, but not in a way that felt overwhelming. By the time I was progressing through the first chapter I felt like I was commanding my squad of ragtag survivors like a champ.
Each level has you guide your crew through a Rat infested zone to a bunker where you can rest and prepare for the next excursion. All the while you have to guard a small robot and get it to the palace in one piece. Fortunately, this doesn’t feel like a long winded escort mission as the robot has its own defence mechanisms and essentially becomes a fourth member of your squad, further rounding out your abilities.
Talking of abilities, upgrading your characters and weapons felt so impactful. Unlocking Team Skills gives your gang access to permanent buffs and each one feels like it matters. For example, unlocking the bunker door starts off by taking 5 turns from initiation, which, when the Rat Swarm is bearing down on you might be 5 turns too many. However you can upgrade your unlocking speed and bring it down to 3 turns which is huge. On the penultimate level of Chapter One I was so close to dying, completely surrounded, and if I hadn’t spent my last couple of upgrades on unlocking speed I would have perished. No upgrade point feels wasted, whatever you choose, you’ll be thankful you did.
I wish I had more time to talk about how utterly blown away I was by Shardpunk: Verminfall. TRPGs and I have had a tumultuous relationship over the years (I’m looking at you Fire Emblem) but Shardpunk has changed my view of them for the better. Not only is it stunning visually, but there is so much mystery to the world you’re thrown into. The lack of information and the subsequent drip feeding of it as you explore hooked me, and then the solid and addictive gameplay loop sealed the deal and reeled me in. I only stopped playing so I could start writing this article, so hats off to you Clockwork Pile, you’ve converted me to the ways of the TRPG. Shardpunk: Verminfall is available on Steam.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rats to exterminate...