Turn-based strategy meets tower defence as you fight to destroy magic forever in this brutal roguelike

Art of three heroes posing in The Last Spell.
(Image credit: Ishtar Games)

You know a game's hardcore when you've seen a magical nuclear apocalypse before you've even reached the tutorial. In the world of The Last Spell, arcane warfare has gotten so out of hand that the world has been left a wasteland, and its heroes have decided there's only one thing to do: destroy magic forever with, you guessed it, one last spell.

That's easier said than done, of course, in no small part because at night, hordes of magically irradiated monsters shamble out of the darkness eager to tear down your makeshift fort and stop your ritual.

(Image credit: Ishtar Games)

By day, you build up your settlement—placing buildings and defences such as walls and turrets, and equipping your small squad of heroes. Nights play out as a turn-based battle against waves of enemies, your heroes using their attacks and special abilities to hold back the tide until morning. If the monsters breach your defences and destroy your ritual circle, you lose, but if you can survive you're rewarded with resources for your camp and level ups for your heroes to spend ahead of the next assault. Keep going for enough nights and you get to face off against a final boss encounter.

I'd describe my default state of being playing The Last Spell as "overwhelmed". The game delights in throwing huge numbers of enemies at you, and splitting your attention across multiple fronts—a daunting prospect considering you start each map with only three heroes, and so far I've only been able to get to four max. 

But by pitting the odds so far against you, the game reaches a wonderful strategic sweet spot. With so many enemies on screen, you're forced to make the most of every turn, and a creative and varied suite of hero abilities make that an engaging puzzle to figure out. When you do turn back the horde, you feel like a genius. Usually a sweaty genius with a lot of wooden walls to repair.

Each hero's powers are determined by their equipped weapon, modified by the stats and perks chosen as you level them up—and you can give them two weapon sets to swap between in battle. A hammer, for example, grants a hearty single-target slam, an AoE strike that can hit two enemies in a line if you're positioned right, and a ground pound that stuns everyone around you in exchange for some precious, limited mana. Admittedly these abilities look suspiciously like that magic we're trying to stamp out—especially the spellbooks that let you throw fireballs—but a little hypocrisy is a small price to pay for cool attacks. 

(Image credit: Ishtar Games)

There's a rock-paper-scissors element to these attacks—that hammer slam is unblockable, for example, making it a great counter to shield-bearing enemies, while a hand crossbow can throw out armour-piercing attacks effective against otherwise daunting armoured foes. Really dive into the web of possible synergies and interactions, however, and you can go far beyond these simple counters into wild and wonderful builds. My blackpowder-loving favourite Fara gains damage based on how far she moves in a turn thanks to her high Momentum stat—after softening up a group of enemies with a grapeshot blast, she grapple hooks between them delivering the killing blows, building up her damage buff until she can unleash a pistol shot that uses up all her accumulated Momentum in one devastating hit to take out a key foe. 

I'm only a few hours in, but I'm having a blast so far—the combination of roguelike, turn-based strategy, and tower defence is a potent soup, and the day-night circle is perfectly pitched to keep you coming back. "I'll just do one more night," I tell myself futilely as the clock winds on.

Runs do go a bit long compared to what I usually like from a roguelike—a map seems like it can easily take two hours to complete, and though you can freely save and quit halfway through, it does feel like a big time investment, especially considering how brutal the boss fights can be at the end of it all. But at least every run earns you various unlocks—buffs, buildings, weapons, and more—that up the variety and give you a boost for your next attempt, so it's never wasted time even when things go horribly wrong. 

Freshly launched out of Early Access, The Last Spell is available now on Steam

Robin Valentine
Senior Editor

Formerly the editor of PC Gamer magazine (and the dearly departed GamesMaster), Robin combines years of experience in games journalism with a lifelong love of PC gaming. First hypnotised by the light of the monitor as he muddled through Simon the Sorcerer on his uncle’s machine, he’s been a devotee ever since, devouring any RPG or strategy game to stumble into his path. Now he's channelling that devotion into filling this lovely website with features, news, reviews, and all of his hottest takes.