What happens when the heroes aren’t around anymore? That’s the core premise of The Lamplighters League, a new tactical RPG by developer Harebrained Schemes, who you may know from its work on the Shadowrun series. In a race against time, you must scrape together a motley crew of misfits and scoundrels in the 1930s to destroy a cult called the Banished Court before they end the world as we know it.
Thugs, thieves, and cutthroats, oh my
In a hands-off demo shown at GDC 2023, The Lamplighters League combines multiple genres together. While the game primarily features turn-based combat on a grid like X-COM, it has sections of real-time infiltration, a character-driven story, and a deck-building mechanic for extra skills. It also makes several nods to tabletop games like Pandemic and Arkham Horror, in that you have a limited amount of time to prevent several evil entities from ending the world. Specifically, you have around 35 weeks to stop three groups of the Banished Court — Nicastro, Marteau, and Strum — by stealing their treasure.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to reform The Lamplighters League from scratch after the main group of heroes attempted a cavalry charge against the cult and failed. After choosing one of three difficulty settings as well as whether to start a custom game or a randomized one, you’ll need to start recruiting new team members, mainly by rescuing them from whatever plight they’ve gotten themselves into. After a few weeks rebuilding the facilities at headquarters, you will have a larger team to pick from when heading out on main missions and when setting certain members on side expeditions, which works in similar fashion to the operations you can assign from the war table in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
However, you’ll need to make sure that the characters you choose aren’t under too much stress before going on a mission. Without enough rest and relaxation, team members can become overtaxed and begin to panic or become reckless, which can make you lose precious turns or break an otherwise well-planned infiltration. Much like in Darkest Dungeon, you’ll need to rotate members so that they are as close as possible to peak mental health.
Teamwork makes the cult-killing work
To show off three of the roughly ten characters that will be available in the game at launch, the developers paired together Fedir, Ana Sofia, and Celestine on a sabotage mission. This created a well-balanced party with Fedir as the shotgun-wielding bruiser, the sneaky Celestine who can mesmerize foes, and Ana Sofia who can heal allies within a radius.
On top of that, a special support character at headquarters can unlock additional skills and perks in the form of equippable cards from the Undrawn Hand. Like the infamous Deck of Many Things from Dungeons & Dragons, this deck has a mix of positive and negative traits that can be drawn. But since chances are that it will enhance a character’s abilities, they will most likely tip the odds in your party's favor, and you're going to need every advantage that you can get.
It's diffi-cult work
The first part of the mission the developers showed required that the team deactivate an energy barrier to proceed further. In this real-time infiltration phase, the party hid in some grass and waited for a patrol to walk over a bridge so that Fedir could tackle the soldiers off the side and into the water without initiating combat. That helped save the party from accumulating some stress later in the mission.
After sneaking toward the main combat area and scoping out where all the goons were, which included a few mummy sorcerers, Fedir used his signature ability to throw an enemy as a weapon and provoked all the enemies to target him. Meanwhile, Celestine mesmerized a soldier to the party’s side to thin the herd, and Ana Sofia healed the party and gave them more action points as part of her ability. Unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to get rid of all the enemies before a signal tower was able to broadcast the assault, sending additional reinforcements to the area. The demo sadly ended there, leaving me in suspense, but at least it left me wanting more.
The Lamplighters League is set to release in 2023 for PC and Xbox Series X|S. No special editions have been announced so far. The game can be wishlisted through Xbox, Microsoft Store, Steam, and Epic Games Store.
This preview is based on a hands-off PC demo provided by the publisher at GDC 2023.