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Gloomhaven Review (PS5) – Who Needs Friends, Or A Table?

Gloomhaven Review (PS5) – Along with my adoration of video games, I also have another guilty pleasure. Hobby board games. We often gather around a table at the weekend and have an alcohol-fuelled board game night. Gloomhaven is a behemoth in the board game world; until recently it was the number one board game in the world according to Board Game Geek.

I have not played full-fat Gloomhaven as it’s massive, takes one hell of a commitment and I have not found the right group yet. I have, however, played Jaws of the Lion, which is a quicker, smaller and easier jump-on-point in the Gloomhaven world. It’s a dungeon crawling, scenario-based legacy game and I was very keen to see how that translated to the PS5.

Gloomhaven Review (PS5) – Who Needs Friends, Or A Table?

From Cardboard to Pixels

Gloomhaven is a campaign-style game. What I mean by this is that you play through a long story, upgrading your character over numerous scenarios. Sprinkled into this is a bit of choose-your-own-adventure style story and some set dressing to fill out the world-building side of things.

What you do see though and what most people really enjoy is character progression between missions and even characters being removed from the game. This means, sometimes you need to pick another dungeoneer and ‘go again’. Seeing your character progress through upgrades and new equipment or cards is always rewarding and constantly satisfying.

In the console version of Gloomhaven, you have a handful of tutorial missions to get you into the game. I thought they were average at best and to new players would have been rather lacking. It’s only because I had previous experience I got through them but even with that I found some of the presentation, wording and explanations to be confusing.

Along with that, at least with my version you could jump into Jaws of the Lion, which I mentioned earlier is a lighter, shorter, easier-to-play version of Gloomhaven or jump into a full campaign. During this campaign, which I played with a partner, you first select at least two characters and jaunt off into the night, seeing what beasties and treasures you may bump into.

Time And Effort Needed

At first, I found the UI and general usability of the console version of Gloomhaven clunky and very user-unfriendly. In fact, I would go as far as to say, those first few missions were horrid. I eventually got to grips with it but I think coming from the PC, this version could have done with a tad more console-based testing and user feedback. There are patches planned to improve this so hopefully that will help.

Once you’re on a mission, you’re placed in some dire, dank setting with a task to complete, usually having you kill everything in the area. It’s a turn-based strategy game so planning and tactics are key. Gloomhaven is also a deck-driven game, each character has their own deck filled to the brim with abilities and actions.

Every turn you need to pick two cards from what’s available and each card is split in half, with an action or ability on each side. When executing your turn you need to pick the top from one card and the bottom from the other, making planning your turns vital and sometimes it can be excruciating picking what to do.

Painful And Narrowing Decisions

Along with what is already a heavy set of decisions to make, you do not get the cards back until you rest. While you may think that isn’t too bad, let me assure you, it is; it’s just so painful as you have to burn one of your cards to rest. This system is in equal parts intelligent and torturous. A short rest and a long rest have slightly different outcomes but both burn cards. This means your options narrow as the mission progresses and you may not even make it to the end, I didn’t, many times.

Each of the starting character’s decks and abilities are wildly different and combo together in weird and wonderful ways. There’s taunting and rage and an all manner of buffs and debuffs to get your teeth into. Learning your character’s weaknesses and strengths is half the fun and especially when playing with others, working together will often win you the fight.

Missing Components

Gloomhaven Console Edition, like I said earlier takes quite a bit of investment to get your eyes and brain around. As mentioned previously, the UI is unfortunately clunky and unintuitive; which I suppose is a bit like the actual game. The size and scope of it scares off most players. However, if you persevere and put the graft in you will be rewarded with a decent dungeon crawler.

I do feel that some of the fun of sitting around a table with friends is lost within this digital implementation. Pushing minis around a board, holding cards and all the physical tactility is lost. On the other hand, it does help with not having to set things up and tidy them away, so it’s swings and roundabouts I suppose.

A Mixed Presentation

Graphically, the developer has done a great job, and to be honest, it would have been so easy to make the game look identical to the board game. However, Gloomhaven Console Edition is a fully 3D dungeon crawler that at times looks a lot more than just a normal tabletop adaptation. Enemies are impressively rendered, locations are varied and the animations are on the whole solid.

On the sound front, I was slightly less impressed. While everything was there and functional, I had a few weird issues. I don’t know if it was how it was supposed to be but some of the narration did not work properly in the tutorials, either that or only some of them were voiced. It’s weird either way. On top of that, I found most of the music and sound effects to be quite average and uninspiring.

Hard for Newcomers But Great For Veterans

Gloomhaven Console Edition will be loved by a lot of people, especially Gloomhaven fans. I think that the bar of poor tutorials, bad explanations and poor UI for consoles will be too high for new players. There’s an entertaining game here underneath though, so if you can grab a friend and get through the first few hours of adjustment, you will find an evolving, dungeon-crawling epic that will change and adapt as you play.

Watching your character get stronger is always rewarding as is finding new loot and clearing rooms of enemies. Throw in some decent story and decisions to be made outside of the battles and you have a larger-than-life experience for a decent price. I just feel a lot of players may not get that far and give up early doors, which is disappointing to say the least.

Gloomhaven is out now on PS5 and PS4.

Review code kindly provided by the publisher.



The Final Word

While I enjoyed Gloomhaven in the end, I found the tutorials and general usability to be lacking. I also found myself missing being around a table with friends and playing with board game components. Apart from that, Gloomhaven offers a massive sprawling campaign that is very moreish when it gets going and It will keep players entertained for hours upon hours. I just wish some of the sharp edges had been filed off and new players' hands had been held a bit tighter.