Stuck in the swamp with Swag and Sorcery

Fallout Shelter was released to moderate acclaim in June 2015, announced during the Bethesda conference that year. It allowed you to create your own little Fallout vault, customize the layout, assign vault dwellers to different tasks and eventually send them out to explore the wasteland. It was a free-to-play game and naturally had some microtransactions, but nothing particularly egregious. It was good for an idle 15 minutes on a bus or a train, but not something you’d want to play for straight hours at a time. I have much the same reaction to Swag and Sorcery, the latest title from Lazy Bear Games.

Down in the village.

Swag and Sorcery is set in a stereotypical fairy tale world, and has a semblance of a story holding it together. There’s an old foolish king, a power-hungry sorcerer and a talking cat who sounds like he’s from Brooklyn. You’re in charge of trying to recover the king’s magic suit, and to this end embark on a series of quests by hiring explorers. Occasionally cutscenes will interrupt your experience to unfurl a new titbit of story, but I was never invested in the plot and the characters where extremely one-dimensional. The voice acting however, both from the narrator (who sounds like the Magic Mirror from the Shrek films) and from the Black Cat was enjoyably funny.

Your main involvement in Swag and Sorcery is sending out adventurers to clear the forests and environs around your village of various animals and monsters. This is the main method you collect resources, which allows you to craft new items and construct new buildings. You don’t really get involved in the questing; all you do is set them on their way and hope they survive (very much like exploring the wasteland in Fallout Shelter), or else trigger the retreat command to fall back with the resources you’ve already gathered if an enemy is too challenging. If your adventurers die, they simply lose whatever you collected in that quest before returning to the village with no health, before it slowly starts ticking up again. You can pay to heal your explorers, but it’s usually better served just waiting. Once you’ve gathered enough resources, you can craft new gear and upgrade village buildings, before its back to questing again. There is a “fashion show” element to the game where you can compete to be the best-dressed adventurer in court, but the scoring for the show felt very random and I never knew what costumes were considered winning apparel.

I admire his purple plumage.

The main problem here is that the game seems to have been designed to be a free-to-play game, but one that you pay for. Crafting items has a timer. Turning logs into planks has a timer. Turning ore into ingots has a timer. On top of this, watching your adventurers’ questing is 95% non-interactive, your only choices being whether to retreat at any point or to use a spell on a particularly tough enemy. Whereas in Fallout Shelter you could customize the layout of your vault to your choosing, the locations of all buildings within the village are pre-determined here, and unlock only after achieving the prerequisite quest. A lot of time spent “playing” the game can actually be basically twiddling your thumbs, enjoying the cool music and the nice visuals, but not actually doing anything. This issue is compounded by the exponentially tougher enemies, meaning you’ve got to grind for gold in lower level environments to be able to build up your explorers. This takes yet more time, and makes you feel like you’re making painfully slow progress.

I can’t criticize the art or sound of Swag and Sorcery however. The pixel-art style is exceedingly common in games these days, but it’s done proficiently here and new items you unlock look appropriately different when equipped on your characters. The general UI is also good, with some satisfying sound effects when constructing new buildings or gear. The village, although mostly non-interactive, looks lovely, with the townsfolk bustling to and fro. Same goes for the music, which suits the game ideally. It sounds very similar to Graveyard Keeper’s music (so much so that I wondered if I’d heard some tracks before from that game) but given both games are set in very similar thematic worlds, this isn’t particularly surprising. There’s nothing super memorable, but it serves the purpose competently.

To quest again, and again.

Swag and Sorcery is almost, but not quite, an idle game (ala Cookie Clicker and its ilk). It could be designed to basically “play itself”, but the elements that require human interaction get in the way of this concept, and instead require constant micro-management.  Quests end after about a minute or so depending on the difficulty, and there’s no method to set adventurers to just keep going on quests indefinitely (even though there’s no way for them to permanently be killed). Crafting anything new requires dragging adventurers over to the respective buildings, and you can only queue up a limited number of tasks. In the end, while there are things to enjoy about Swag and Sorcery, its lack of respect for the player’s time is its biggest complaint. The game is great for a relaxing 15 minutes were you want a low stress, low hassle activity to entertain you. But if you want a fully-rounded RPG experience with deep and interesting mechanics, you will not find it here.

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