For most games set in a post-apocalyptic world you’re tasked as the dogged and determined remnants of the human race. You battle for survival against the odds and celebrate as you re-establish humanity’s place in the world. Despotism 3k isn’t most other games. Instead, your role is one of totalitarian domination. As a surviving AI despot, your only goal is to use-and-abuse your puny human meatbags for the benefit of your own existence. If the pathetic fleshy idiots don’t like it, fling em’ in the bioreactor!
Despotism 3k is a 2D resource management game with a strong emphasis on managing increasingly competing demands with limited resources (read: puny humans). It’s core concept of managing weak and energy-limited humans is enjoyable and tense in full-flow. Despotism’s humour also elevates its moment-to-moment gameplay with that kind of “WTF” hilarity that has you wanting to see what other humorous text dialogue it has up its mechanical sleeve.
Which made it all the more disappointing that Despotism 3k relies so heavily on RNG and randomly generated events that can ruin your campaign run in an instant. The idea was clearly to add variety to its singular mode offering. Sadly though, this idea consistently maddened me, destroyed my most productive runs and in the end turned me off the game completely. It was a sad end to a despot that had so much maniacal potential.
There are two campaigns, the second of which is locked initially until you complete the first. Each run you attempt has no checkpoints or saves. Despotism channels a lot of ideas from the rogue-like genre, with intense, challenging gameplay and little room for error. If you run out of power, your primary resource, you lose and have to begin your campaign of dominating humans again.
Each run starts on day 1, with the ultimate objective to reach day 25 (30+ on the 2nd campaign). For each day, there are 5 cycles that occur every 20 seconds. Each cycle demands a certain amount of power to sustain your evil despot ass and an allocation of food to keep your fleshy slaves working. Of course, being the ultimate dictator AI you obviously are, you can’t be doing any of the hard graft yourself. That’s what organic meatbags are for.
You start with a handful of human servants, whom you happily put to work to serve your needs. There are 4 main areas of production. The hamster wheel generates power, the aforementioned essential resource. The food production facility provides sustenance for your slaves, how unfortunate they need food at all. The human storage area is effectively a flask which houses your newly-bred or resting humans, allowing them to recover stamina. Lastly, you have the breeding ground, which includes quite a graphic depiction of a collection of pink pixels doing what needs to be done for humanity. The breeding ground animations were immaturely hilarious and depicted… well, acts you certainly wouldn’t describe in the birds and the bees talk.
Each facility can and will need to be upgraded to increase their output and capacity for further enslaved souls. This is where the strategy of the game comes to the fore. Each upgrade requires an increasing amount of power. Typically of pathetic organics, humans can only work within the limits of their energy. If you don’t stop them working in time, they implode out of existence from exhaustion. You know, how real life works. Your humans are your resource so you’re required to manage them carefully and efficiently to succeed.
Annoyingly, giving humans recuperation time removes their ability to work, reducing your productivity and potentially endangering your power output. A delicate balance and dance therefore ensues as you desperately try to move the puny fools from facility-to-facility, switching them in-and-out frantically. As you breed more humans to service higher power outputs, you need more food and more humans to do the breeding. Moving humans takes precious time and you only have a limited number of mechanical arms to move them around. If you time things wrong you could end up having no arms left to save that poor exhausted person from combusting, what a shame.
It must be said, this part of Despotism 3k is its best mechanic. Carefully and efficiently managing your enclave of slaves as you shift priorities to different areas is satisfying when you get to grips with the game’s unforgiving demands. Each day that passes increases the threshold of required power, so you’re constantly forced to produce more of everything survive. You also have the option of throwing helpless humans into the bioreactor to exchange death for power and food if you’ve got the souls to spare or you’re in a resource recession. Quite frankly it never got old just ruthlessly plucking them from the haven of the storage and mercilessly dropping them into acid. Being evil has its rewards.
Despotism’s other highlight is its devilish and creative humour that permeates throughout your runs. At the end of each day, a random event will trigger. Whether it be a Cthulu monster demanding sacrifice, a talking tree shitting out coal as a thank you for giving it directions to the nearest woods, or a not-so-friendly dog appearing from the ether. There are a plethora of events that can come up with some great pop culture references and comical progressions which I won’t ruin.
The events all have varying outcomes, some may offer you bonuses in the shape of a character or improvement to your facilities. Some may do nothing at all and leave the status quo once completed. And then, there are the punishments. This was the deal-breaking mechanic for my time with Despotism. Some of the debuffs, punishments and negative outcomes of events are straight up brutal. There’s nothing more infuriating than spending however long on a run to 10-20 days to have it completely succuppered by an event which triggers half your population to die instantly or stop your facilities working indefinitely.
In most rogue-likes, there’s a sweet spot of balancing where RNG debuffs put you up against the wall, testing your resolve in adversity. Usually though, your ability to recover or overcome these challenges is based on your skill. Despotism simply doesn’t achieve this balance, at least not in my experience. It was just so incredibly demoralising to have multiple solid runs where I’d perfected my strategy to a fine art ruined through no fault of my ability or skill.
Events will usually have multiple options or branching paths and your previous responses are noted. In theory, this would give you the mental muscle capacity to memorize more favourable outcomes. In theory, that works great. In practice, there are some events that completely bottle your run no matter what option you select. Your experience may of course be polar opposite to mine depending on your luck and choices, but this mechanic in Despotism torpedoed my experience and left me cursing its RNG.
It’s a real shame, because the events are so well-written and humorous I genuinely wanted to experiment with different branches. Due to the potential to make me rage quit from its unnecessarily punishing debuffs however, I simply stuck to what I knew would cause me least harm. I ended up dreading the end of each day because of it. What should have been a highlight of each day became a schrodinger’s cat fear of whether I was going to get screwed or actually have a chance of reaching the next day.
With a bit more fine-tuning and less brutal punishments, I would have loved this random element of Despotism. As it is, it proved too much of a heartless bastard to stomach for extended playtime.
Outside of the resource management strategy and random events, there isn’t much more to the game. The second campaign adds a layer of extra gameplay. It adds a new component of sending any spare humans out on expeditions to points on a grid. You don’t have control over this, you simply assign as many humans as needed to increase your chance of success. This is RNG based too, as after they’ve completed the expedition it goes to a bar with a slider. If it stops on green, it’s a success. If it stops on red, you’ll scream at how a 90% chance of success can result in 14 fleshbags dying. It’s blood-boiling.
Again, one unlucky expedition can effectively result in you having no means of recovering your run. Most locations require a lot of humans to have a feasible opportunity for success, and after a handful of failures on 80+ odds ending successive runs I effectively didn’t want to bother continuing. Consequently, the second campaign did little to salvage my enthusiasm to keep playing.
Presentation wise, the game takes place on a singular screen (with the second added for the 2nd campaign) so you’ll be looking at the same “level” for your entire time with Despotism. It has a decent retro look, but it isn’t anything special. Some of the animations of your puny humans are again decent, but there’s nothing to get excited over. Despotism doesn’t really bother with graphics or overall narrative and that’s alright, as it’s clearly not the priority.
Outside of the two campaigns there’s an endless mode which is more of the same. Each option has “chips” which provide variables to your runs. One of the chips for example has your mechanical arms turned into tentacles which transport your slaves quicker, at the expense of a heat wave which makes them exhaust 100% quicker. They add some slight difference but in reality they change little of the core gameplay.
The one chip that grabbed my interest would turn off the randomisation elements of the game and I got excited at the prospect of enjoying the strategy without the RN-bullshit. Agonisingly, this chip is locked behind getting every other chip first… a feat that requires dozens of hours and hundreds of runs to do with their difficulty and reliance on luck. Needless to say, I gave up long before I even contemplated attempting that.
I’ve certainly been hard on Despotism 3k and I will state here that there is a fun and somewhat addictive resource management strategy game in here. If you enjoy randomisation and RNG variables you’ll certainly have a lot more patience and fun with it than I ended up doing. The humour is great and creativity in text dialogue is suitably pleasing.
Unfortunately for me, all of this was completely overshadowed by the game’s brutal and off-putting negative consequences that simply derailed any momentum I developed with the game. It’s RNG, so maybe you’ll have a superb run where that rift in time doubles your puny human’s stamina and you’ll have a great time. Based on my luck, it’s more likely to swallow up the universe and spit all of my humans back out legless, drunk and cannibalistic.
Despotism 3k has a solid strategy resource management core and some excellent, creative text dialogue events oozing with humour. It also has one of the most punishing and demotivating RNG event simulators that can break each of your runs without mercy and will happily kick your progress to the curb. It’s a decent game, but just like its real life despot counterparts, holding onto ultimate power will always be impossible to enjoy when a Cthulu monster decides it doesn’t appreciate your delusion of grandeur.
Despotism 3k is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer; Konfa Games
Publisher: Konfa Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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