Liberté is set in a bizarre alternate history where the French Revolution has been interrupted by the arrival of Lady Bliss, a gargantuan Lovecraftian creature who decided to gatecrash the coronation of Prince Phillip and leave France without a king. Taking inspiration from the real history (to a point, obviously; there weren’t many fifty foot naked plant women in 18th century France – I checked), the story follows Rene, a resurrected warrior created as a slave to Lady Bliss.
It being a roguelite, this is the function by which you’ll return to life each time. With every new incarnation, Rene must travel the streets of Paris, choosing which faction to side with. There’s the Church, the Tribe, the Prince, and the Rebels, which seem to be the narrative choice anyway. Most of your primary allies are part of the Rebels, such as Ana and Maximillien.
Combat is slick and fast-paced, arming you initially with only a basic attack and a dodge which you can turn into an evasive roll with a long press. But you unlock more and more skills using Liberté’s fairly unique deckbuilding system. Each Deck can contain up to 40 cards, including dupes. To begin with you have a Ranged, Melee, and Rogue (stealth) deck, but you’ll very quickly be customising your own. As you venture out on behalf of Lady Bliss, seeking answers to question after question, you can choose a different Deck with each run.
You can build them however you like, but you can only take up to two of any card. These are both active and passive skills which will auto-assign to one of your buttons. The selection is impressive, with over 100 to find or craft throughout. From a single powerful pistol shot to summoning a lightning storm or healing your wounds, the variety is astounding. There are also items such as bombs, poison flasks, and food that conveys various benefits, sometimes for the duration of the run. In order to play a card, you will need Mana, a resource gained primarily from “burning” unwanted cards, though this can force some tough decisions when you’re low on Mana and desperate.
Combat feels a lot like, say, Diablo, as you mix and match these skills to gain distance, deal damage, or stay alive. Instead of a timer, skills require a certain number of hits on any enemy to recharge. It’s a fantastic system that promotes active play instead of just hanging back while you wait for a cooldown and it’s something I’m sure we’ll see in more games going forward. The only real downside to combat is that, now and then, I found my character would pause, or a button command wouldn’t register and I’d suffer damage. This is a major issue later as healing items are quite hard to come by.
As you progress you will unlock new skins for Rene. There are three, and while they all play differently at a basic level (Ana for example uses dual pistols instead of a melee weapon), you will switch back to Rene for character interactions and you’ll always talk in Rene’s voice. It’s a bit weird, to be honest, but often you won’t survive long enough to fret.
The Bliss gets worse and worse as you play. This bizarre corruption gets into people and animals, and can produce deranged zombies or monsters. Periodically you’ll come upon a statue of Lady Bliss, and you can choose to enter her domain to battle the monsters she produces or unleash the Bliss upon the city, causing your enemies to get stronger but boosting Rene’s connection to the magic. Entering the Bliss will put you against high-level enemies and takes serious resolve to get through.
Each time you complete an Act you’ll receive a Bliss Curse and it’s only here that I felt the difficulty skewing against me. These Curses can make your run an actual nightmare, adding damage effects to enemies, causing them to come back as zombies or flesh-eating maggot swarms. These Curses stack up to an insane degree, and they just don’t feel balanced by the cards in your deck.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Liberté is the lack of variety in locations, particularly early on. Even advancing through Acts sees you return to the same streets of Paris over and over. It mixes up bosses, events, objectives, enemies, and which vendors you come across, but for a solid three hours I played the same stretch of Parisian street, the same cathedral, the same Bliss gardens, and it really did start to grate. As a result, it’s probably a game best played in shorter sessions. You can always opt to play local multiplayer, too, if you like. This makes it feel considerably more arcadey, though the overall thrust of the gameplay doesn’t change. If anything, the screen just gets much busier and spotting your character among the enemies and attack effects can be a challenge.
Like Hades, the story in Liberté continues as you play. You will often visit the same areas and talk to characters, revealing more of the story. And each run will give you multiple chances to choose between the four factions to earn Favour and complete challenges. Favour is used to unlock crafting materials to forge new cards from blueprints, or unlock new skins and cards. Everything you unlock persists through incarnations, and so there’s always a sense of progression and you can continue earning Favour and unlocking items and cards even after the campaign story is done.
Liberté feels unique. Deckbuilding and isometric combat may be nothing new, but this combines the two wonderfully well. The story is intriguing, the characters are well written (if not always well acted), and the combat is fast, smooth, and rewarding. It does occasionally glitch and certainly needs more variety in locations throughout, but besides that Liberté is an exciting, fresh adventure in a compelling world and deserves to put developer Superstatic well and truly on the map.
Combat is great
Cards offer tons of variety
Locales can be a bit repetetive