It’s been an odd couple of years.
Not too long ago a game like Hero Generations would have blown minds. A Roguelike, town building crossover game where you play as the successive descendants of your original hero? “Finally, someone made that weird thing I’ve been daydreaming about all these years…” In 2015 though, it’s business as usual. Hero Generations finds itself up against stiff competition in a world of Rogue Legacies, Darkest Dungeons and Sunless Seas. Where developers Heart Shaped Games have set themselves apart is despite making a game full of the requisite doses of death, doom and eldritch horror, the overall result is overwhelmingly cosy.
This is a game to wallow in. Much of the moment to moment gameplay is lightweight monster bashing and loot grabbing combined with lush storybook visuals and floaty music that stays just on the right side of twee. There‘s fun to be found just exploring and bumbling around the narrow confines of the game world and although death is permanent you have to go out of your way for it to be a genuine threat. The real meat of the game is to be found in building up towns, expanding transport links around the map and ensuring each successive hero garners enough fame and fortune to woo a mate and continue the family line. The range of available buildings and the effects they convey are wide enough to support varying strategies but structures slowly fall into ruin when neglected. Without diligent planning the grand designs of one hero become crippling obligations for their offspring. It’s a game of mapping out and perfecting routes through the game world over successive generations where resources can be gathered, repairs made and the long term fortunes of your lineage are kept in delicate equilibrium. The satisfaction to be found managing the economy of your home region makes it tempting to remain rooted in your starting area but soon enough a prophecy of global destruction rears its head forcing you further afield.
The clockwork microcosm of Hero Generations’ game world plays tricks with your perception of time. The lives of individual heroes are fleeting but your grand strategies play out with dreamlike slowness while as the world around you remains timeless and unchanged. Even the countdown to the end of the world is measured in generations. In a genre obsessed with mortality as a way of enforcing difficulty Hero Generations’ philosophical approach stands out.
There are a few technical and presentation hiccups with the game only running in windowed mode at a few preset sizes and the 1080p option maddeningly doesn’t fit a 1080p desktop. In combat or towns the background art is a narrow strip framed by acres of wasted screen real estate and out in the gameworld the wobbly headed, paper cut out characters always feel slightly too small to appreciate the wealth of little details. It’s a shame that a game with such charming artwork fails to present it in the best light possible.
Hero Generations offers players a roguelike sandbox where your theories and hunches on how to exploit its systems and untangle its mysteries can be tried and tested within a single play session. It’s a relaxing antidote to the casual disregard for player blood pressure that permeates many higher profile roguelikes. Genre diehards might protest the lack of difficulty but the depth is there for players content to meander at Hero Generations’ own pace.