In the war between humans and machines, the humans always win. But not this time… hopefully.
In Despotism 3k, you’re taking on the role of the machine. The humans have been enslaved and you’ll need to put them to work. Every twenty seconds you’ll be charged with an ever-increasing amount of power. Run out at any point and it’s game over. You’ll be overthrown and the humans will win. And we can’t have that now, can we?
To help you maintain your grip on things, there are four machines you’ll need to subject your humans to. This includes a giant hamster wheel, a breeding tube (complete with rude animations) and a food generator. Of course, you can always throw humans into the bioreactor for a quick boost to power and food if you’re feeling particularly mean too.
It’s easy to pick up, but this is really resource management on a knife-edge. You’ll quickly learn that you can’t just chuck hordes of humans onto the giant hamster wheel, because annoyingly, they have needs. You need to ensure that you have enough food for them to live on and that they don’t die from exhaustion. You’ll also need to make sure there’s always a steady stream of new humans to exploit.
You can upgrade your facilities to try and keep up with demand, but as you’ve probably guessed, this costs power to do. It’s a fine balance, and one wrong move will see the entire house of cards come tumbling down.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll have to deal with the various scenarios that pop up each day. You’ll be greeted with three answers and your choice will have long-lasting effects – either good or bad – usually for the rest of the game. Choose right and you’ll be rewarded with some powerful buffs to your human farm. Choose wrong, and it’s usually the beginning of the end for you.
I found these to be a double-edged sword, showcasing the very best and very worst of Despotism 3k.
It’s with these scenarios that the game’s wonderfully dark humour is showcased in full. In one, I had Satan turn up… only to quickly end up in the bioreactor when I decided I didn’t want to deal with him. Another time, the humans got their hands on the works of Kafka, had an existential crisis and proceeded to start killing themselves in the holding chamber after I let them keep reading.
They’re often to your detriment, but they’re so bizarre that you almost want to keep trying over and over to see what wacky scenario is going to pop up next to ruin your day.
They also bring about some environmental changes, which are much needed for a game which consists of just one screen (which is beautifully designed and animated in its own right, by the way).
Unfortunately, their welcome quickly wears thin. After a few runs, it becomes clear that the outcomes of these scenarios are too powerful. Entire runs feel dependent on which scenarios pop up. If you don’t get some of the powerful boosts at the start of the game, it’s almost not worth continuing. And even when you do get those boosts, a run can easily be derailed by a scenario that kills off a large portion of your humans or shuts down one of your facilities. At times, it seems picking any option will cripple a run no matter what.
The end result is tons of resets. And it’s not fun to make it to day five, fifty times only to run into a scenario that completely cooks the run. The concept of easy to learn, hard to master works really well because you can see the results of your efforts as you get further and further with each attempt. Yet that concept is fundamentally broken with Despotism 3k, because you can’t account for the randomness of the scenarios no matter how hard you try.
Put simply, the RNG is simply too overbearing; it dragged down the entire experience, to the point I was done with the game after a few hours.
On top of that, half of the achievements don’t unlock either…
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a punishing game. In fact, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in failing and then trying something new and seeing yourself improve. But Despotism 3k feels like one without the other. It’s punishing, but comes without the chance to improve. It feels like a game entirely at the mercy of RNG.
It’s a shame because Despotism 3k’s wacky sense of humour, unique concept and beautiful animation are all great and should have been the makings of a brilliant game. It still could be with a few tweaks to the gameplay. Right now though, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.
Despotism 3k is available to download from the Xbox Store