Iratus: Lord of the Dead is an unapologetic rethinking of Darkest Dungeon (DD); in fact, in their FAQ on the Steam forums, the developers directly address how Iratus differs from DD. While clearly lifting generously, the differences merit time with Iratus. Back in 2016, I came away with mostly positive takes in my review of DD with one of my most noteworthy grievances being the price of random deaths and the grindy nature resulting from bad luck.
Iratus addresses these concerns with simple, yet intelligent methods. In Iratus, you don the rotted flesh of an immortal necromancer long since sealed by heroes. Of course, ne'er-do-wells break the seals and Iratus — the necromancer — begins building a new army to destroy all humans. Because. Being a veritable alchemist of the undead, this grants you the power to willy-nilly piece together body parts from slain heroes to create skeletons, ghosts, dark knights, and so on.
That is the answer to DD's biggest problem. In my early version of the early access, I found it pretty easy to spam creations and keep my ranks flush with highly leveled units. After each fight, several body parts are rewarded, in addition to possible equipment and resources. Each potential unit requires some combination livers, hearts, bones, weapons, etc. totalling four. Just fill in the recipe and presto: instant soldier. Sure, each unit starts off at level 1, but brains occasionally drop, which can hasten level-ups. With each level, players can upgrade one of six abilities all units always have access to depending on their position. What's more, body parts can be combined simply between battles to create better parts, which improve the stats of the unit when created.
That's the flow of the game, basically: battle, plan, battle, plan, battle. During the planning screen, players can create and upgrade buildings in the graveyard, each with a basic ability, like increasing Iratus' mana, healing the allotted unit to full, or earning a random body part after battles. These all require units, but don't require much thought or strategy. Just use the buildings, because why not? Other ventures during planning include equipping Iratus with artifacts to improve performance in battle, equipping units with basic add-ons, and, of course, creating more undead.
If you've played DD, you've played Iratus. Battles play out almost identically, except instead of managing your own sanity, you can alternatively kill the heroes, driving them insane by attacking their stress level (in addition to killing them the old-fashioned way, of course). Units have access to certain abilities depending on their position in the four-person team, and units can move around depending on abilities used. Iratus can impact the battle by using spells, and units have access to "ultimate" abilities by expending built up rage over the course of battle.
My present take on the whole experience is "potential." What's here is entertaining, if not a bit repetitive, but the most egregious flaw right now is that it feels too safe. Darkest Dungeon had its fair share of problems, but no one could deny that it bled style. The aesthetics and atmosphere of DD are undeniably macabre, with a haunting, yet cartoony vibe. Iratus: Lord of the Dead is obviously going for the same feel, but it comes across as basic. The artwork, while competent and pleasing, just doesn't pull me into the world, and design decisions don't feel "grand." Several of the units have similar abilities, just matched up in different combinations. Perhaps this is one of the problems they were trying to address about DD, though. In DD, the players' units could grow into powerhouses with extraordinary abilities, but so could the enemy. Sprinkle in a healthy helping of luck, and wins felt incredible, while losses felt horrible. Don't get me wrong: what's here is enjoyable and worth supporting Unfrozen, but I hope the final product adds some flair and oomph.