I’m a sucker for a tactics game built around a setting that’s atypical for the genre. For instance, I was a fan of Paradox Interactive’s Empire of Sin in 2020, which turned prohibition-era mob management into a tactical strategy RPG. So it’s no surprise that I’m already digging The Lamplighters League and the Tower at the End of the World.
Developed by Harebrained Schemes, the unusual game draws on pulp spy thrillers. It follows a ragtag team of 1930s misfits traveling across the globe to thwart a cult’s nefarious plans. Though rather than playing out as a typical adventure game, its a fusion of real-time adventuring and turn-based combat, akin to something like The Miasma Chronicles. As it turns out, that concept works quite well in a pulp thriller. I played a few missions at this year’s Game Developers Conference and found a stylish action game that gets how to translate spy tropes into tactical play.
My Lamplighters League demo would serve as a thorough introduction to its basic gameplay, a few characters, and its airtight combat system. My first mission has me stealthily moving across rooftops with a squad of two heroes. When not in combat, I’m able to move around freely, sneaking around enemies and avoiding their line of sight. If I’m spotted, a battle begins and I’m thrown into a traditional turn-based tactics encounter on the fly.
The spy theming pairs with that idea naturally. One of my characters, for instance, is a “sneak” named Lateef whose able to instantly knock out enemies if he can sneak up on them before being spotted. It’s a basic ambush idea that’s standard in a lot of tactics games, but its given a natural thematic flair here. Lateef has a few more special abilities too, like the ability to stay invisible in cover and nimbly clamber up walls. It helps that I can split the party up at any time during exploration too, allowing me to sneak into an area with just Lateef, take down an enemy or two before an encounter starts, and get out.
Other agents have entirely different playstyles and abilities. One character I controlled could knock down loose walls and dash into multiple enemies to knock them out. In a later mission, I get to play as an a spy who wields dual guns and can aim them at separate targets like Mario in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Each agent already feels distinct from the others both in how they explore the environment and how they can get an advantage in battle.
The combat is fairly classic otherwise, taking an “if it ain’t broke” approach. Each member of my squad gets two action points during a turn, which can be spent to move, shoot, or trigger special abilities. There’s a bit of environmental mischief in play too. In one mission, I toss a Molotov cocktail at a pool of oil to light up some cultists. Everything in my demo moved smoothly, avoiding some of the genre “jank” that was present in Empire of Sin.
More than anything, though, I’m simply hooked on style here. The artists at Harebrained Schemes seem to be having a field day here riffing on 1930s history and pulpy aesthetics. It has a playful Pixar-like look, with everything draped in a layer of earthy browns that give it an almost sepia-filtered tone. All of that further helps give it a strong visual identity that I’m ready to fully soak into. From its core tactical combat to aesthetics, everything about it feels vintage in the ways you’d want and none of the ways you don’t.
The Lamplighters League and the Tower at the End of the World will launch on PC and Xbox Series X/S later this year.
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