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The Lamplighters League's opening mission confirms it's a hot GOTY contender

The next strategy game from the Battletech devs is shaping up nicely

The case of The Lamplighters League
Image credit: Paradox Interactive

Ever since it was announced two short months ago, The Lamplighters League has quickly become one of the most exciting turn-based strategy games of the year. You may remember I got to see it in action at GDC last month, albeit with developers Harebrained Schemes firmly in the control seat. Happily, I've now been able to play its opening tutorial mission for myself in my own time, and yep, it's looking pretty special, folks.

When I watched the developers play the game last month, I came away impressed by its deep, tactical, turn-based combat, and the real-time sneaking you can do between its big fights. That impression holds up now I've been able to play it for myself, too. Think XCOM mixed with a dash of Desperados 3 (albeit in a pre-WW2, alternate 1930s setting) and you're pretty much there. It also has a cast of incredibly stylish agents to play as, too, as you fight to save the world from three evil factions who are all trying to get their mitts on ancient, supernatural artefacts to help them rule the globe with an iron fist.

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To begin with, you take control of Ingrid and Lateef skulking through the streets, rooftops and docks of Marseille as you chase down a secret package gone astray. Evil forces have nixed the courier who was meant to be delivering it to you, so you'll need to take matters into your own hands to track it down - and that means introducing hordes of gas-masked brutes to the business end of your fists and pistols. Eventually, you'll also meet up with Eddie, completing the trio of characters first unveiled in the announcement trailer up the top there.

The opening mission is a mostly linear affair, teaching you the basics of its infiltration mode before letting you loose on its three main combat encounters - although I was also pleased to see a second, optional route with another very worthwhile fight down it at one point, plus a big boss encounter at the end. During infiltration, you're walking around the environment in real-time, sneaking past small groups of enemies, grabbing resources such as grenades and bandages, and investigating objects as you move closer to your objectives. Your agents will occasionally chat amongst themselves in these sections as well, and they all seem like very good hangs based on what I've heard so far. Certainly a more amiable bunch than the mercs in Jagged Alliance 3, that's for sure.

A guard gets shot by the player in The Lamplighters League
Attacks zoom right in, giving you a good look at the action. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Paradox Interactive

Each agent also has certain abilities you can make use of during infiltration as well. As a bruiser, Ingrid can knock down walls and charge into enemies to take them down, while Lateef can sneak up on enemies from behind to knock them out, and scamper up walls and ledges to get round obstacles. Eddie, meanwhile, is a saboteur, allowing him to pick locks to get into sealed rooms, and lay down shock mines to distract guards and potentially take down whole groups of them (or at least whittle down a bit of their health) if you happen to place one in a conveniently located puddle. Because yep, there are hazards aplenty in The Lamplighters League, and taking advantage of them to thin out the crowds will be vital to your agents' success.

These three infiltration types aren't unique to Ingrid, Lateef and Eddie, though. All ten of the game's unlockable agents will fall into one of these three baskets, but their individual skills in combat will, of course, vary much more widely depending on who you end up recruiting. I quite enjoyed Eddie's turn as a dual gunslinger, allowing him to target two goons in a single action point, while Lateef's nimble reflexes made him a decent choice for taking the high-ground with his pistol and overwatch ability (although he is more accurate up close, to be fair). Ingrid, meanwhile, is a melee-based brawler, so she'll need to get up close and personal to deal the most damage. Being so early on, it's hard to say exactly how this particular group will develop just yet, but even at this stage they appeared to be pleasingly distinct from the aggro-drawing Fedir, the dark magic-wielding Celestine and warrior hun healer Ana Sofia I saw in my previous hands-off GDC session.

Lateef readies his Overwatch ability in The Lamplighters League
Ingrid punches a goon in The Lamplighters League
Lateef prepares to fire his pistol at a guard in The Lamplighters League
Ingrid prepares to slam into two guards in The Lamplighters League
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Paradox Interactive

The boss fight was easily the highlight of this opening mission, though, which pitted your budding trio against a Scion and their gaggle of minions. Scions are big powerful henchpeople belonging to one of the three villain factions, and the one blocking our heroes' exit in this particular mission was Lady Nicastro, a fearsome presence with an evil-looking mask and an equally evil-looking large health bar. You're encouraged to escape rather than engage her head-on at this point, although the layout of the docks means you'll need to be very crafty indeed to make it through completely undetected.

Indeed, I accidentally ran straight into her as I tried to make my way to the getaway plane on the other side of the docks, and a tense fight broke out that saw her cover the battlefield with mysterious, hazy smoke clouds that cloaked both herself and her accompanying goons. She was a formidable opponent, and I only just about made it out alive. It was a thrilling conclusion to the opening mission, and I can't wait to see what else lies in store.

If all that sounds like it might be up your street as well, then make sure you bookmark The Lamplighters League's Steam, Epic Games Store or Microsoft Store pages to keep up to date with its development. Alas, there's still no word on its release date just yet, but we'll definitely let you know as and when it gets announced.

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