Shardpunk: Verminfall is a briskly-paced amalgamation of XCOM-style turn-based tactical combat and a branching-path, survival-focused roguelike, such as Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus or The Hand of Merlin.
You control a band of human survivors in an imperial kingdom overrun by rat-men, on a desperate quest to cross The Capitol and deliver an automaton to the Empress, hopefully turning the tide of the war. It’s a process that involves tactical battles or tactical fleeing, using a traditional two-actions-per-turn structure.
Open space is to be feared; positioning and cover are crucial to maximizing or minimizing chance-to-hit-percentages; strategic use of limited items or abilities on a cooldown is essential to surviving never-ending reinforcements; while constant scavenging during brief periods of downtime provides the medical supplies, upgrade parts, and rations you need to refresh your team during the mid-mission bunker sequences.
Now, if you’re a fan of any of the games that inspired Shardpunk: Verminfall, you’ll find few real surprises but it has several interesting designs that keep things fresh and the sensation more-ish.
If I had to pick, I’d say Shardpunk: Verminfall’s most interesting feature is that combat and killing are rarely essential.
The goal is to reach and breach the bunker at the end of each stage – a task that does potentially involve holding that position for a few turns – while sometimes you’ll need to complete a more complex objective like simultaneously hitting switches or escaping an area within a turn-limit.
It’s a design that encourages you to push forward, focusing on flanking and flushing out enemies to waste their action points, before briefly hunkering down to secure an exit.
The other highlight is just how much mechanical depth and player choice there is – despite the short stages and simple objectives.
Progression across a branching over-world map forces you to weigh up mission parameters – like the chance of looting more salvage in the face of more frequent reinforcements – and the state of your crew; new units the vermin army gains as you progress can be mitigated through risking optional missions; the semi-randomised stages usually offer a mix of longer sheltered paths or quicker and terrifying open spaces; and the mission-critical automaton can become a powerful ally – but only if you’re willing to risk detours to upgrade stations found in most stages.
There are, of course, light RPG elements to bolster your chances.
The first is character levels and scarce resources that let you invest in a limited number of character, party, and weapon upgrades, all of which felt immediately impactful.
The second is persistent upgrades that include new squad tactics organically unlocked as you play, along with points – tied to unlocking achievement milestones – that you can invest into unlocking new team abilities, weapon modifications, and even recruitable survivors to pick at the start of a run or rescue mid-mission.
There are plenty of granular systems to engage with too.
Stress levels – in addition to HP damage and healing – must be managed, along with automaton repairs and item crafting using mid-mission abilities or between-mission bunker activities that consume a limited, shared AP pool and scavenged supplies. Similarly, “Fusion Cores” – presumably the “shardpunk” element that powers weapons and devices in the universe – are a rare and valuable item that allows survivors to auto-revive once per stage, instantly breach bunker doors, or deliver a devastating area-of-affect attack.
It’s a lot to take in (and I’d follow Shardpunk: Verminfall’s when it suggests reading the codex as new abilities are unlocked) but you’re either progressing fast enough or failing quickly enough that new abilities and persistent unlocks come thick and fast during the opening hours.
There are a few things Shardpunk: Verminfall could improve with a patch or two.
The stages – despite their rigid grid-like design – look fantastic, the detailed character animations and audio make combat feel impactful, and the soundtrack adds a great atmosphere; however, you’ll quickly spot repeating map chunks within a few runs. Even without new assets, perhaps a less rigid adherence to filling out every space on a rectangular canvas might help.
There are also a few control and command issues. You can toggle Xbox and PlayStation gamepad prompts if you like playing on the couch, but selecting a grid for movement can feel imprecise; menu-ing, cycling through abilities, and targeting AoE attacks feel cumbersome; and the UI feels small and cluttered from afar. There are also a few weird decisions, like how selecting “overwatch” immediately applies it to all party members with remaining action points instead of just the selected character.
Wrapping up, I’ll admit my love of roguelikes has waned over time but I enjoyed Shardpunk: Verminfall’s brisk pacing, the constant sense of progression, and pixel-art aesthetic. If you’re looking for tactical turn-based combat with abilities that evolve quickly across short stages, it’s easy to recommend. Better still, it’ll be a great fit for Steam Deck with just a few tweaks to the gamepad support and UI – and here’s hoping a Nintendo Switch or mobile port is on the cards.
A review code for Shardpunk: Verminfall was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
- A compact, tactical, turn-based roguelike experience
- Simple structure but plenty of mechanical depth
- Short stages tap into that just-one-more-go impulse
- Stylish pixel-art visuals and crunchy audio provide satisfying feedback
- Narrative elements and world-building are negligeable
- Repetitive stage layouts quickly become noticeable
- A few odd commands, cluttered UI, and fiddly gamepad support