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Goblin Stone Review

Greenest Dungeon

Inspired by Darkest Dungeon’s brand of 2D, turn-based dungeon crawler rogue-lite, this highly specific genre mash-up has yet to see a truly great successor. Even imitators like Home Behind 2 fell short of delivering a challenging (but not infuriating) rogue-lite with a heavy smattering of random characters, gear, levels, and events. To top it all off, this potentially unwieldy randomness has your fragile army of adventurers, or goblins in this case, suffering permanent injuries with their already weak dispositions. Goblin Stone flips the script on the mortal dungeon crawler with our little green guys escaping from the depths and crossing glades and the occasional cave to free themselves from the menace of heroes that grind them for experience points. It’s a nice trope flip and is backed by appropriately charming art and storybook presentation in an attempt to endear us to this typical fantasy fodder. 

The titular stone, though, marks where this premise and the resulting game begin to fall apart. Fleeing from low-level heroes on the hunt for gear and levels, our modest adventuring party of up to six goblins happen upon a magical stone. Interacting with it gives the goblins the ability to amass and form a civilisation in an underground cave system. This then opens a Fallout Shelter-slash-XCOM side game about building rooms that essentially function as tech trees. Between adventures selected in what is effectively the war room map, goblins that successfully return from their side-scrolling escapades in the wilds will bring with them resources. These are used to construct rooms that will allow players to expand the skill repertoire of the various goblin classes, as well as provide rooms for breeding (yes…), storage, and trade.

Alas, this base management side game sounds great but is in practice a bit thin. The majority of the times your party return from an expedition, there will be no need to develop or meaningfully interact with your base. There’s just nothing to do outside of cash in your junk with your friendly orc merchant, retire goblins that have suffered mortal wounds, and restock your disposable supply of minions by breeding those with the best stats. Rooms can be upgraded for exorbitant amounts of resources that will force players to grind, although there is a very limited supply of room types and they provide no interesting decisions regarding placement or priority. 

Lo, humans are the real, unsightly monsters

The core loop of Goblin Stone has a solid foundation, though. Your goblins bred at home begin as peons, and if bred correctly, they will reach a stat threshold allowing them to change into a class. These are all unique and have the potential to synergise quite well when the game works properly. Guards can be positioned at the front of the party to absorb blows, protect weaker goblins, and blast humans, undead, and beasts alike with powerful retaliation blows. That was, until the latest update which now sees the retaliation ability not function whatsoever. There are various spellcasting classes such as mystics, shamans, and acolytes, which all lend a specific tactical bent to the party such as nuclear damage, utility, or healing respectively. Each class has specific weapons that can be purchased and temporarily upgraded during runs with things like life steal, knockback, and damage-over-time effects. Once you’ve completed a run in an area, it is “scouted”, meaning that the game will advertise what foes await in that zone, so you know best how to compose your party. The potential to craft a satisfying party that triumphs against the consistently high odds is vital and satisfying, as your goblins will suffer permanent death if their health hits zero twice in a run and a party wipe will see all your valuable weapons and loot lost forever.  

It’s a shame then that the game is incredibly slow, making failure excruciating and the broken nature of the core gameplay unacceptable. For a start, combat and movement animation are dreadfully languid, with no option to speed things up. I suspect this is by design; if more than two things are happening on screen at a time, something will cease to function, as the game often hangs whenever it’s trying to process anything other than a basic sequence of commands. For example, the hunter can set traps that have a chance to trigger in succession, but if the game has to process a combo of more than two effects at once, it won’t account for anything after the second trigger. This means that in the late game, against tough bosses, your best-laid plans will fizzle before your eyes as the game simply cannot competently handle more than two basic commands at a time. All the tools to overcome these greater challenges are at your disposal, you just cannot rely on them as the game’s programming cannot keep up with anything more complex than early-game fights.

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Hey, this isn’t where I parked my ring

Visually, at least, Goblin Stone knocks it out of the park. The creatures in this game have cute, cell-shaded animations. The backgrounds you encounter on expeditions have a wind-swept and hand-drawn look about them. The interfaces and icons are all chunky and clear in a modern and parsable way that reminded me a lot of Hearthstone. This served to make a great first impression, particularly if you’re new to this kind of mechanically dense and unforgiving style of rogue-lite.

Functionally though, the visuals and interfaces leave a lot to be desired. Some menus can only be closed with the ESC key, others with the right mouse button. If you try to close the wrong menu with the right mouse button, you might expend a resource or trigger an irreversible action. There are no tooltips or ways to discern how your right mouse click will behave on any given screen, and there’s no consistency between how inputs behave between the many screens. After three updates now, selecting map locations still requires up to dozens of clicks before registering. If a goblin dies due to an event rather than combat, its model will haunt the rest of your run by either floating across the screen or covering up existing party members. What looks like an otherwise friendly and clean interface is plagued with bugs and lacks any signposting, with no discernible improvements after these updates.

Then there’s the grind. After the second chapter, the end of every chapter requires players to go through the missions they have already successfully completed for an arbitrary set of runs. There is no XP or grind here, so these runs succeed at nothing more than making this objective timer tick up. Given the way Goblin Stone’s systems begin to buckle as complexity increases toward the endgame, this forced grind serves as a delay on the game’s worst issues hitting. Each gate gets annoyingly, successively larger too. Earlier gates asked me to successfully complete six runs with mini-bosses. The latest, ten, with each run typically taking 30-45 minutes.

The clear, concise interface visuals stand as some of the best in the genre

Final Thoughts 

The reward for my perseverance with Goblin Stone would be a well-narrated bit of storybook exposition and perhaps a new combat class or weapon tier, before heading back to base to find missing inventory items, goblins, and stats being reset to the impossibly low 0/0/0. It’s just boggling stuff, making for an arguably unplayable late game that kills any curiosity and goodwill that the first impressions made. A disappointment, as there is genuinely a heap of interesting ideas here repurposed from turn-based indie greats, but Goblin Stone forces its implementation onto rails with no fanfare and no incentive or reward for player experimentation or even investment.

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Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Goblin Stone Review
Gobbling My Free Time
There is a fundamentally good, core Darkest Dungeon-like experience somewhere underneath this rushed, languid, and poorly executed turn-based rogue-lite.
The Good
Beautiful hand-drawn animations
Classes synergise well and can potentially reward considered strategy
Nice narration along the critical path
The Bad
Poor interface experience and bugs aplenty
Unnecessarily grindy
Harsh mission gating
Uninteresting base management
4.5
Bummer
  • Orc Chop Games
  • Orc Chop Games
  • PC
  • March 13, 2024

Goblin Stone Review
Gobbling My Free Time
There is a fundamentally good, core Darkest Dungeon-like experience somewhere underneath this rushed, languid, and poorly executed turn-based rogue-lite.
The Good
Beautiful hand-drawn animations
Classes synergise well and can potentially reward considered strategy
Nice narration along the critical path
The Bad
Poor interface experience and bugs aplenty
Unnecessarily grindy
Harsh mission gating
Uninteresting base management
4.5
Bummer
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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