The Lamplighters League is framed as a desperate struggle against unfavorable odds. The Tower at the End of the World has the power to reshape existence in the vision of anyone strong enough to claim it, and the three houses of The Banished Court – a malevolent organization that hosts all flavors of crazy – very much want it for themselves.
Pelham Locke, the last surviving member of the original Lamplighters League plans on using its power to thwart the Court’s efforts. But with all the heroes dead in The Great War, he enlists the aid of agents with less immaculate pasts, ranging from thieves to disgraced healers and even assassins who used to work for the enemy.
This motley crew is the backbone of your efforts to discover the tower’s location while slowing down the Court’s progress as much as possible. Akin to XCOM, The Lamplighters League splits gameplay into two big segments. The first takes place in a series of menu screens that comprise your hideout.
Here, you manage your squad’s skills and equipment – freely distributing points and gear across all agents – and improve the capabilities of allies who provide healing services, unlock better consumable items, and make the occult deck of cards you obtain as the game opens work in your favor.
Accessing the world map allows you to track the three opposing houses’ efforts – and how close they are to reaching their goals – while being able to assign agents to expeditions and missions.
The former are essential for obtaining resources such as Supplies, which are used to buy consumable items and equipment. Intel fuels special expeditions that reveal the whereabouts of new agents and crucial missions, while Aether is employed to enhance your allies.
Not quite what I imagined when I asked for a campfire, but it'll do.
Non-critical missions give you control of a team of three agents in predictably structured incursions that alternate between real-time infiltration and turn-based tactical battles. The first revolves around navigating the vision cones and awareness circles of opponents while enabling your Agents to reach advantageous positions or use real-time takedowns to thin the herd before all hell breaks loose.
If the enemies discover you, they get to make a first defensive move before you gain full control of your squad. But if you manually trigger turn-based mode, you can potentially find the right moment to exploit situations that might see a group of enemies casually walking over an oil puddle or past an explosive barrel.
In tandem with a well-lobbed fire bomb or grenade, they allow you to set up some fairly explosive starts to the turn-based battles that inevitably follow. You’re always encouraged to watch out for opportunities like these, since your team is always outnumbered. Furthermore, as the global threat reaches higher thresholds, the enemies themselves become more capable, being very much able to defeat fully leveled agents with a few attacks.
But The Lamplighters League’s biggest triumph comes from how it encourages you to always extend your turns as much as possible, either to devastate the opposition or to help your agents shrug as much damage as they can using buffs and cover. Not having a designated order in which characters move further increases this flexibility.
Resident femme fatale Ingrid’s passive ability allows her to recover one action point every time she delivers the killing blow to an enemy. While she may not always have the damage to do so on her own, pairing her up with allies who fight at range allows them to soften foes up before she charges in.
Her signature ability then allows her to sweep several enemies off their feet, guaranteeing that your team’s attacks always hit while the targeted foes must spend their next turn getting up. Add some speed buffs to the mix – whether from equippable cards, items, or abilities – and you can have her quickly zip around the combat arena, which you wouldn’t expect from what’s initially presented as a bulky melee brawler.
One less enemy to worry about later.
Conversely, Eddie favors his dual pistols, allowing him to target multiple enemies, mark them for enhanced damage on subsequent attacks, and, as a perfect finisher or starter, strike all foes within a broad cone area in front of him. Meanwhile, Ana Sofia, an indispensable medic on my team, can bestow buffs that elevate hit chances and mitigate damage. She can also restore one action point to an ally, and with upgrades, even two of her teammates.
Under the right circumstances, I can easily eliminate several enemies before they even have a chance to retaliate. As you unlock new agents, you get access to more of these puzzles, and figuring out how to effectively use your roster’s skills and synergies across The Lamplighters League’s crowded battle arenas makes each turn surprisingly engaging.
Purchasable items like weapon mods and armor further improve the capabilities of Agents, while the Undrawn Hand cards – rewarded randomly at the end of missions – can grant a final, unexpected edge.
Not only did Lateef – the team’s main sneaky person – inherently receive stacks of Evade when moving, but having The Leech card equipped, gave attacks a chance to cause opponents to bleed. Subsequently hitting these targets healed him, turning a squishy thief into a surprisingly resilient damage dealer.
There is a wealth of bigger and smaller combinations like these to discover, often taking the idea of well-established archetypes and giving them a different flavor.
But while The Lamplighter League’s characters shine thanks to their abilities, the predictable structure of non-critical missions is a double-edged sword. You enter each of them in infiltration mode and they usually involve two mandatory turn-based encounters (potentially more if you’re going for optional objectives).
Allies add another layer of improvements that make agents more efficient in the field.
This works in the game’s favor because it prevents hoarding consumables. It only takes a few tries to develop a sense for tough encounters and you’ll never second guess your decision to use signature abilities early on when you know that only one more fight remains.
On the flip side, it also makes things a bit tedious, especially once these filler-style missions begin to overstay their welcome after the halfway point of the game. There’s some variety in terms of objectives, but whether you’re assassinating a character, stealing items, or blowing up radio towers, things play out a little too similarly.
Although you can rush for the designated escape area once you’ve completed your main objective, sometimes it spawns just too far from your position to completely avoid that second encounter. Although turn-based fights are quite snappy early on, towards the final stages of a campaign they do tend to drag on as more unavoidable enemy reinforcements are added to the mix.
The levels themselves are rarely anything to write home about. You’ll sneak and shoot your way across jungles, ruins, and city streets but, while they are true to the spirit of the Pulp magazines that inspire them, they fail to give the Lamplighters’ (mis)adventures a “global” feeling.
I always had this sensation that I was revisiting the same few movie sets, only with a few props moved around in an unsuccessful attempt to hide the fact that it’s very much the same location.
Furthermore, while some missions might set up patrol paths in a way that allows you to exploit hazards like explosive crates, oil, or water puddles – which always feels great to do – there were a few times when I had to brute force my way through battles.
Eddie can shoot up to two different targets with his basic attack.
The presence of the aforementioned reinforcement towers also means that you do sometimes have to spend turns setting overwatch angles and waiting for the timer to tick down after dispatching the initial group of opponents, which isn’t particularly exhilarating.
The Lamplighters League uses some amount of procedural generation to determine both its level layouts and enemy compositions. Sometimes, reloading the game – even though you’re technically intended to accept failures and move on – sees you facing weaker opponents as part of that reinforcement wave that previously wrecked your team.
As non-critical missions began to drag on, I couldn’t help but wonder how The Lamplighters League would have fared as a more directed experience that featured more handcrafted content and allowed for more in-mission character banter to flesh out their personalities.
As it stands, the bulk of their personal stories are told at the hideout, where you click on their models to hear short dialogues. While these exchanges do establish them as actual characters, giving nuance to the cold-hearted assassins, slick thieves, or twisted mind manipulators that make up your roster, they also feel pushed to the side.
The lore items you can track down during infiltration also feel misplaced. The text delivered via plain text boxes again helps flesh out the setting and villains, but stopping for a read in the middle of a museum, harbor, or jungle that’s teeming with enemies never feels like something rogues and scoundrels would prioritize.
Grouping and ungrouping characters during these real-time sequences is also rather fiddly, while the ability to only control one character at a time doesn’t quite let you quickly react and use a final takedown before you’re discovered.
Ingrid's ability to continue chaining attacks after dealing killing blows is a great way to keep on dealing damage.
Heists – critical missions during which you secure important items and information – are thankfully less prone to these pitfalls, thanks to their dedicated locations, slightly more freeform structure, and added challenge.
They’re discovered via expeditions and come with a few Phenomena (conditions) attached. Up to two of them can be removed by completing preparatory missions.
This does mean you’re taking longer to complete your main objectives while giving the other houses the ability to further their plans. However, having to deal with fewer (or weaker) supernatural enemies and hazards, is well worth it and might ensure your agents don’t get return wounded or stressed out.
Taking damage is an inevitability in The Lamplighters League. Even on normal difficulty, I had plenty of missions where escaping – while hanging by the skin of my teeth – after completing my main objective was preferable to facing a horde of enemies.
Agents can be downed and helped up three times before they’re lost. On the first two difficulties, this is temporary and you have the option of mounting rescue missions later. On the hardest, losing an agent means they’re gone for good, leaving a gaping hole in your roster.
The world map, where you choose which expeditions and missions to prioritize during each in-game week.
Stress breaks are another factor to take into account. Stress mounts as units on both sides are attacked. When enemies break, they’re exposed to a finisher that instantly kills them without consuming action points.
When agents suffer the same fate, they lose one of their two action points that turn and receive a break card that debuffs them in some way for a number of turns (reducing speed, or effectiveness of healing items).
You either need to take them on another mission while avoiding further stress breaks or let them rest, which means you will have to adjust tactics to accommodate the loss of their abilities for a while.
Aside from a variety of masked goons who wield an assortment of weaponry ranging from submachineguns to flamethrowers, each of the three houses also fields supernatural soldiers.
Marteau likes his undead ghosts who lay down patches of mist that make units harder to hit. Sturm raises resurrected summoners whose scarabs heal allies and damage foes. Nicastro’s eldritch fish creatures quickly apply stress and can bite multiple agents during their turn.
In addition to these fearsome foes, you’ll also occasionally contend with the Scions of each house. These characters have special abilities that put them on par with any of your agents. Facing them in tandem with their minions can quickly spell doom for your team but, generally, isolating them turns them into punching backs with a strange sense of style.
She heals, but she also kills.
Often, your choice of missions will be determined by the ever-increasing levels of threat associated with each house. Once threat passes a certain threshold, you cannot move the needle behind it – unless you discover and complete special missions that aren’t readily available – while that house gains bonuses, often making their troops even more deadly.
The Lamplighters League is, ultimately, a race against time and it doesn’t take long before you feel the pressure mounting. As I got close to entering the tower, two of the three houses were inches away from winning.
You do get a final chance to stop them from achieving their goals and – even if I didn’t get to see these special missions for myself – there was never a moment when I stopped feeling that, as capable as my agents were and as close as I was getting to the Tower, I remained the scrappy underdog fighting for every inch of ground.
THE LAMPLIGHTERS LEAGUE VERDICT
The Lamplighters League’s stimulating turn-based battles encourage you to carefully consider your actions each turn. Use your agents unique abilities in just the right order and you can go well beyond the default number of action points, while taking down entire groups of opponents.
Pairing different agents allows you to unlock ability combinations that, aside from being outright satisfying to pull off, also help even the odds, given how you’re always outnumbered.
Although its aspirations for a global adventure fall somewhat short and its commendable writing seems overshadowed, the procedural generation doesn’t consistently invigorate the experience. Nevertheless, guiding this band of unexpected allies on their quest to save the world is undeniably rewarding.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Using Eddie’s dual pistols to soften up multiple enemies before having Ingrid rush in and punch them all to death, effectively halving the numbers of foes I had to face during my very first turn.
Engaging turn-based battles
Ability combinations allow you to significantly extend turns and increase damage
Items, card, and ability upgrades meaningfully impact your characters' capabilities
Decent amount of enemies that do put up a fight
Procedural generation doesn't always keep things fresh
Doesn't quite nail the feeling of a global adventure
Character and world development feels pushed to the side