The Lamplighters League
PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S & X
If you’ve ever wanted to play the gaming equivalent of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you’re in luck. I fully know the connotations of what I just said, and my reference was carefully decided. The Lamplighters League features everything you need from an Indiana Jones title; it has Nazis – not by name, but they are – and fantastical elements that may not be quite as good as the Ark of the Covenant, but they are fantastical nonetheless. Offering a worldwide turn-based tactical romp through the 1930’s, it’s time to head out and save the world.
As mentioned, The Lamplighters League is a turn-based tactics game. Naturally, when you hear turn-based tactics, the game everybody immediately thinks about is the 2019 classic Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. Some people may think of other titles, such as XCOM or Jagged Alliance 3, but those people are deviants, and their minds must be purged. But I must point out that the developers, Harebrained Schemes, have tried a few things to make this stand apart from the pack.
First and foremost, The Lamplighters League isn’t wholly turn-based. The turn-based is when you are in combat. Before combat, everything happens in real-time, and you have multiple options for proceeding through the mission. I wouldn’t class it as real-time in the same vein as Shadow Gambit or Desperados III, though, because it isn’t. The real-time ends as soon as combat begins, through you instigating it or an enemy detecting you. Until then, you can use the abilities at your disposal to sneak by or take out as many enemies as possible.
You’ll generally find that you can likely get past the first few groups, and in theory, you could get through an entire level without being detected, but there are more odds of me becoming the next Mr Universe and settling down with Margot Robbie. I can understand this with bosses; they want to set you a challenge, and there are narrative reasons. Other times, it feels like the game has stacked the odds against you so far that sneaking is impossible. It is always worthwhile to thin as many enemies as possible before entering the fray.
The reason for this is that you will always be outnumbered. You’ll also find yourself facing enemies with skills and abilities that are near-on game-breaking. Some enemies are invulnerable or can be killed but will just come back. At one point, in an early mission, I got stuck killing the same enemies repeatedly because the game couldn’t detect that I’d reached what was necessary. I restarted the mission, costing myself a good 45+ minutes, but I eventually beat the mission. The reality is that no matter your enemies’ numbers if you’re tactically astute enough, you’ll likely be fine.
Part of the reason for this is pretty poor AI. The enemy tends to swarm at you. They will try to take cover behind boxes and set up a few overwatch areas, but generally, they feel like they’ve been reading from the Zerg book of tactics. Even the bosses feel like they do that a lot, only more threatening due to their (sometimes) insane health bars and far stronger attacks. If you’re smart, you can often set up kill zones, luring the mindless fools to their deaths.
Another aspect that will help is the “hand of fate” I reference in the title. At the end of each successful mission, you’re rewarded with cards. These cards can be attached to one of your characters, with cards being able to be stacked or even ones with abilities that can be combined. For example, a card that increases the chance of dazing your enemy, while multiple gives an even better opportunity. Generally speaking, any card that can increase your Action Points (AP) will be preferred, particularly one where you can increase your AP significantly.
Between missions, you find yourself on a remote island, fronted by a mysterious rich person. He’s the one who wanted you to collect the weird Yu-Gi-Oh cards from the very first mission, and he wants to stop the sorta-nazis from their evil deeds. He is Mr Lamplighter. From his island, you’ll choose your next mission from a world map where they pop up quicker than a case of thrush, with the hopes that they will help push forward your goal of setting back the three enemy “houses”; these being Strum,
Targaryen Nicastro, Marteau. Technically speaking, it’s a four-horse race, but the reality is that you’re the good guys, they’re all bad, and they don’t set each other back.
You set the enemy houses back by undertaking sabotage missions, which reduces the clock above their names. Other tasks you can undertake will get you new characters; some are support characters letting you upgrade your agents, and some are agents. Other missions will let you send just one character off on their own, gathering intel or resources, which fortunately doesn’t use up a valuable turn. At these moments, you also sit back and speak to your characters, taking in more of their stories and personalities, breathing more life into them and the world.
The problem with this area is that you do a lot of repetitive guff between the core missions. You need resources to level your characters up. You need to get the intel to determine where one of the houses is moving next. You need to stop a house which is getting close to completing its doomsday clock, which results in a last-stand mission if full and a game over if you fail that. Many side aspects occur on very similar – or the same – maps, just giving you a simple target. Yes, this is the same as comparable titles, but those felt like they had more variety.
Despite this, I did enjoy aspects of The Lamplighters League. Particularly the characters and building a team. Each character at your disposal fits into one of three classes: Bruiser, Saboteur or Sneak. It doesn’t sound big if you compare it to other similar titles, but while they may fit into the class, they all have their unique weapons and abilities. The class is the base template for them to sit on and impacts their navigational options. The bruiser, for example, can knock down flimsy walls, the saboteur can lockpick, and the sneak can climb over walls. With your team consisting of three people – yes, just three – and the occasional option to take you to a whole four – I tended to have one of each to ensure I could get everywhere in the maps and take the shortcuts.
With each character having unique weapons and skills outside of their class, the options at your disposal tend to be quite broad. I ended up using Ingrid, a melee powerhouse who also moves during her attacks, making your limited AP go even further; Eddie, a gun-toting merc who can deal damage as well as flush enemies out; and Celestine, a magical Mesmer who can stress your enemies into submission, or even temporarily bring them over to your side (though the shoddy AI comes with it). When you focus on (most of) these characters, you get the best out of Lamplighters League – I will stick with not enjoying Lateef, the less-annoying Short Round.
Working with the characters, which all feel like they’re taken from a pulp film, comic, or novel, you have a distinct art style and story, which is very fitting. The Lamplighters League both looks and sounds good, and it’s genuinely interesting enough that I’d watch a film or series based on it. The downside is simple: the curse of being a game means it had to fill in time, but the way this happens feels too repetitive. Other technical issues, such as the AI, broken mission triggers, unkillable enemies, and more, take away from what could have been a great experience.
The honest reality is that The Lamplighters League was a flop, according to publishers Paradox Interactive. I can understand why, but I also think it is a flop because of the type of game rather than the quality of the game; tactics games have a following but need that hook. This isn’t a great game; the combat and missions can be a little too repetitive, and there are flaws with the enemy AI; the sneaking is generally worthless after the first few enemy groups and the game likes to throw unkillable enemies your way.
However, this isn’t a bad game. For all its flaws, the character design is excellent, the combat is fun and tactical despite the flaws, and the overall story is generally enjoyable, with primarily interesting characters. Harebrained Schemes have also been supporting this with a new free update that adds a new character and looks to improve the issues I had with the hub missions, adding variety. I think it’s too little, too late, but I want to be proven wrong because this is the sort of game I want to support (thus the late review).
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
The Lamplighters League is an interesting and ambitious, albeit flawed, tactical adventure which invokes the fantastical elements of Indiana Jones (plus you’re fighting Nazi’s). The blow by blow gameplay is well developed and features interesting and varied characters, in both gameplay and narrative, but is let down by a large amount of repetition. A few technical flaws also let the game down in a market where stronger competition has already done the game thing. It’s a decent game, and you could have a good time with it, but one to pick up on discount.
- Interesting narrative and premise, with strong characters.
- Supported by good visuals and music in keeping with the premise.
- Good variety in characters and their abilities.
- Some technical issues/bugs.
- It can be incredibly repetitive.
- Relatively poor AI.