I’ve been obsessed with iOS/Android randomised tactical combat game Hoplite ever since Zack Johnson told me about it at IndieCade last month. You’re a Greek spearman descending the randomly generated levels of the underworld, and you have to deal with the steadily increasing demonic population you find there by moving carefully across a hex grid turn by turn, calculating each move to slash, stab or stomp them without letting them get a hit in.
Each level has a shrine that grants a choice of upgrades, letting you incrementally design a perfect build of complimentary abilities until depth 16, at which point they run out completely and you just see how far you can get with what you’ve built.
As the difficulty ramps up from there, the way your chosen abilities play off each other to let you overcome the endlessly increasing challenge becomes elegant, then balletic, then sublime. These calculated chains of sweeps, leaps and thrusts let you dance through a minefield with precision and grace, felling everything around you. It’s hard to fully explain how neat, clever and satisfying it feels – so I made a GIF.
If you’re interested in what’s actually going on here, I’ll go through it frame by frame.
First move. The purple wizards and green archers can shoot along any straight row of hexes (six directions), so I can’t go up (wizard on the right) or down (archer on the left). I head up-right, to get as close as I can without taking damage.
JC, a bomb! The red guys throw these, and they blow up next turn, hitting everything adjacent. This could be a tough spot: every adjacent square gets me hit by something next turn, and I certainly can’t stay where I am. But that’s what your upgrades are for – in this case, Shielding Bash.
Bash lets you knock anything away from you, including bombs, and in this case that lets me neatly blow up these two footmen. But it’s the Shielding Bash upgrade that really saves me here: every time I Bash, I’m invulnerable until my next turn. That protects me from the wizard above.
I’m missing a screenshot after this (I fudged it a bit in the GIF) but I manage to kill the closest wizard without taking damage, leading to this:
JC, a bomb! My shield bash is still on cooldown so I can’t bat it back at the red guys, but they’re low priority anyway – often they actually help. I’m much more interested in getting rid of these wizards.
I can’t Lunge at them directly, because the archer on the left would shoot me in the back, so I Leap right next to them. Leap costs a chunk of your slow-recharging energy, but I’ve also upgraded it to stun everyone near where I land, so it’s worth it to get close and stun the closest wizard.
The wizard I didn’t stun moved down, and another bomb rolls in. If I stay where I am, I’ll get hit by a wizard, an archer and a bomb – crazy damage. But I’m here to kill these wizards, and I can do it rather neatly.
As you move from one tile to another, you Slash any enemy who’s adjacent to both. In this case I Leap over their heads, letting me kill them both in one move, and stunning the red guy nearby.
Moving upward here would Slash the red guy and Lunge the archer, but I notice the archer in the middle would hit me. I don’t, however, notice the archer in the upper left.
Stupid mistake. I kill the red guy and stun the closest archer, but get hit by the one I forgot about across the river. Past level 16, though, it’s OK to take 1 point of damage on a level: the golden fleece you find there heals you by that much each time you descend.
JC, a bomb! Not hard to decide what to do here.
I Bash the bomb at the archer and two red guys, killing all three and protecting me from the top archer because of that shielding perk.
This is not as easy as it looks: you can’t attack an adjacent enemy by moving directly into their square, so no conventional moves are safe here. But as it happens, that last bomb bash was my third killing move in a row, and I have a killstreak perk. There are several to choose from, and I’ve picked the one that recharges your energy, returns your spear, and resets your cooldowns. That means Shielding Bash is ready to go, even though I only just used it.
The blackness is basically a wall, so Bashing someone into it crushes them instantly. It also shields me of course, so the archer across the river can’t hurt me again.
Easy move – leaping towards the archer lets me land into a Lunge, killing him with my spear.
This one’s trickier: if I Slash this guy by going up, the soldier on the right can stab me. If I Slash him by going down-left, killing him exposes me to the archer. I kind of want to kill him but stay where I am.
I guess I could throw my spear? It’s counter-intuitive at close range, and it’ll leave my spear in the archer’s line of fire, but! I’ve just done two consecutive killing moves, so as long as I kill something this’ll be my third, and my cooldowns, energy and spear will be returned.
I throw my spear into his face at point blank range, and it teleports right back into my hand. I love this game.
From here, it’s easy: Slash up…
Leap to chase the archer…
And throw my spear across the river.
It’s a risky move in combat, because without your spear you can’t do the super useful Lunge attack, and it’s awkward to get it back. But for the final enemy on a level, it feels like such a cool finish. Despite being turn-based and cutesy, what’s happening Hoplite’s fights has a spectacular and relentless brutality to it.
Once more from the top: