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The Lamplighters League preview: Indiana Jones meets XCOM

Harebrained Schemes and Paradox are plotting a brilliant turn-based tactical adventure
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The Lamplighters League begins during a foggy night in Paris, 1932. A panic-stricken courier is fleeing from something or someone, reaching a dark alley where he deems himself safe – his last mistake, as a masked murderer emerges from the shadows to make the false safe haven the courier’s final resting place. Presented in the same charming art style as the regular gameplay, the cutscene sets up an intriguing setting right from the beginning – a mysterious package, a cool-looking assassin, and then our first playable characters: Ingrid, a blonde femme fatale wearing a trench coat, and Lateef, who calls himself the Gentleman Djinn. They have been waiting for that package on behalf of another mysterious man, simply called L.

Tracing the courier’s steps, they eventually find the unfortunate man and decide on following the assassin to retrieve the cargo – they want to get paid, after all. Sneaking above the rooftops of Paris and taking out heavily armed soldiers wearing gas masks, I get the first taste of what it’s like to traverse The Lamplighters League’s maps in its real-time mode. This is the stealth-part of the game: I stay out of sight of the mysterious soldiers who guard these parts, either avoiding them completely or using our characters’ abilities to take them down silently.

Lateef is a Sneak, so he’s adept at never making a noise and can get behind opponents for a quick takedown. Ingrid is a Brawler, so she can charge forward and take out several targets at once without making much of a fuss. An interesting aspect of this, however, is that these skills have a limited number of uses, so you can’t sneak your way through every map entirely. It’s a constant decision-making process for the player – do I take down this guard silently, do I just try to avoid him entirely, or do I want to start a fight in anticipation of a quick victory to save skills for later?

You can seamlessly transition into combat mode to ambush enemies and get back to real-time in case you decide otherwise in the last second – if you haven’t been spotted, that is. Scouting around the map is important: Not only is it a great way of finding opportunities to pick off isolated targets, there’s lots of little lore pieces, useful items, and even secret areas to discover. Again, this will have a constant risk-reward calculation running in your head. A heavily guarded bonus area may contain powerful items and lead to a shortcut to your destination, but a fight might cost you more resources than you gain.

The Lamplighters League secret area.

A bonus area contains useful rewards and possibly leads to shortcuts, but there could also be trouble.

That feeling of not having to fight is one that permeated the first few levels I got to play during this preview of The Lamplighters League, and actually does a lot to make the game feel so perfectly suited to its premise. You’re not playing a military force. You’re playing hired guns and thieves, a band of rogues fighting a mysterious secret organization that seems to have access to otherworldly powers. You’re stealing artifacts and escaping from places.

Clearly, franchises like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider had a big influence on the developers of this game, and think about what Indy and Lara do most of the time: Sure, they have a whip and pistols to go ham on their adversaries, but what they do mainly is run away and get chased by baddies. The Lamplighters League’s early levels really channel this spirit. You grab the lost package and run – you don’t actually have to beat the guards.

The next mission in the harbor of Marseille is all about making contact with your pilot and getting to his plane in one piece. The mysterious assassin from the opening cutscene is there, and she’s really strong – way too strong. So what do you do? You get the pilot, blast some fuel barrels in the vicinity to punch a hole into the ring of goons surrounding you, and make a run for it. That works even better if you find the secret area of the map, which contains a flash bomb you can temporarily blind her with, buying you valuable time. I could hear Jon Williams’ legendary theme trumpeting in the back of my head the entire time as the characters made their way to the plane (no boulder in sight, but we do have Ingrid).

As your party of loveable rogues is growing, so are your options to solve problems. Eddie, a Saboteur, can pick locks and lay out electric mines, which lure in unsuspecting guards by making some noise before shocking them. This works even better on wet floors, where the effect expands to everyone standing in the water. That’s how I easily got into the secret area in Marseille. He also has two pistols in combat, enabling him to fire double shots at one foe or select two different targets. Paired with a passive that grants him some free reloads from time to time, he’s a great asset.

Combat itself feels very good: the UI is instinctive, you can easily change targets, and your odds of hitting, missing, and getting a critical hit are all clearly displayed above your opponents – yes, it wouldn’t be a turn-based tactical combat game without the gods of RNG having a say. There is full and half cover, applied directionally, and an action point system regulating how much a character can do in one turn. Your characters can all take their turn simultaneously, so there is no turn order you need to keep in mind. Fuel barrels, different surfaces, the high ground, and lots of other factors have influence on how combat can go.

The preview, obviously, showed just a glimpse of what’s possible – just enough to whet the appetite. Imagine my disappointment when I found myself back at the main menu after the second mission. It had me hooked – the mystery, the artstyle, the slick gameplay, all of it.

If what wasn’t in the preview – the world map, the character customization and progression, and all the rest of the announced features – hits the mark as well as this slice of combat, exploration, and vibes does, The Lamplighters League will steal the hearts of genre fans when it releases on PC and Xbox Series X|S.