Hoplite was one of the best games of 2014 and would have certainly been in the running for a place on our celebratory calendar if it had been released on PC. It’s a fiendishly clever puzzler/roguelite that uses a small set of skills and enemies to create a tense and tactical battle of wits. Originally developed as part of the 7 Day Roguelike Challenge (it came fourth), the final version is available on iOS and Android.
Now there’s a new version of the game in development, planned as an entrant in the next 7DRL. It’s a Challenge mode, providing players with a random (?) combination of skills to play with. In the original game, skills are unlocked through progress and every run begins with the character as a blank slate. You can play the new mode here, now.
Unfortunately, knowledge of the base game is all but a requirement if you’re going to get the most out of the Challenges. If you don’t know what the abilities of any given build are, or how best to use them against opponents in various configurations, the whole experience will be short and not-so-sweet.
The key thing to keep in mind is that combat isn’t initiated by bumping into an enemy. A great deal of Hoplite’s design is a direct result of working around that tradition. Instead, your soldier attacks when it moves from one hex adjacent to an enemy into another adjacent hex, killing them instantly. There are four enemy types – footsoldiers with a melee attack, archers that can fire at distant targets but cannot attack adjacent hexes, demons that lob bombs and wizards that function like upgraded archers, able to frazzle the player up close as well as zapping from a distance.
Each map is divided into safe places and dangerous places, and every time you move the enemies move as well, rewriting the landscape. A strip of tiles that were previously in an archer’s line of sight might now be safe, while a bomb might have made another route impassable. There’s a chesslike quality, as you attempt to work out which spaces are covered by an enemy, and which ones will be on the next turn. The abilities that you’re given provide alternative means of movement and attack, but the basic principle is to control the board, ensuring that enemies are manipulated into positions of minimal threat and that your character always has available exit routes when the crowd thickens around him.
The Challenge mode is a brilliant extension of a remarkable game. However, I can’t imagine playing it if I hadn’t played the original – it seems like a means of extending Hoplite’s life for those who have mastered the main quest. Taking away choice of skills and progression makes for a stern test and having advanced moves available from the first turn detracts from the beautiful simplicity of the game somewhat.
One for the veterans perhaps but I’d be delighted if the Challenge Mode created enough of a buzz to make a PC version of the original feasible.