Gloomhaven Digital Console version impressions
Over the past few years, I have fallen in love with board games, expanding my horizons outward from my longtime loves of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. For the longest time, there was one game whose name I kept hearing about over and over: Gloomhaven. This epic narrative-driven dungeon-crawling board game almost single-handedly began the crowdfunded board game boom we currently find ourselves in. It remained a curiosity that I had to have, my big white whale, and then I bought it, opened it up, and was instantly overwhelmed. This oppressive feeling remained, and while through sheer force of effort, I occasionally overcame it and managed to play a decent amount of the physical game, but things changed in 2021.
Gloomhaven is a game with an intimidating presence and asks a lot from its players — from taking a long time to set up, requiring a large space to play, and dedication to see through its 95 quest campaign —but back in October 2021, thanks to the efforts of developers Flaming Fowl Studios and Saber Interactive, much of that intimidation was removed thanks to the release of the digital adaptation of Gloomhaven on PC. Now, two years later, console players can jump on board, and I can now enjoy this amazing game from the comfort of my couch.
Sitting down with my Switch, controlling this version of Gloomhaven was instantly comfortable and simple to use, and this ease of use extended into all facets of gameplay. Gloomhaven uses a card-based design for its combat, with movement handled on a grid, so there isn’t anything overly complex that a controller’s reduced number of buttons would impact. My only real control complaint was the inability to turn off the “press to hold” method of selecting things; I much prefer a nice quick button press.
All the various console versions feel identical, with the only real difference being the visual quality and loading times. Unsurprisingly, the Switch fares the worst, lower resolution textures & reduced lighting details paired with its longer load times. The PlayStation and Xbox versions look nearly identical to the PC version, but admittedly, playing through a game like Gloomhaven from the comfort of my bed, reduced visuals or not, makes the Switch version an attractive prospect and was my preferred platform.
The included content of these console versions, when compared to their PC big brother, is almost identical - you get the main campaign and you get the brand new 100-quest Guildmaster mode (which is exclusive to Gloomhaven digital), while the digital version of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion prequel and Solo Mercenary Challenges are available as purchasable DLC. The tutorial and “How to play” material are also present and easily accessible and are by far the best way to learn how to play both the digital and physical versions of Gloomhaven. The only omissions from these console versions are the mod support and the level creator, but in its place, crossplay has been added, letting you play through the campaign with friends regardless of what platform they are on, which I think is a worthwhile tradeoff.
For new players, if you go into Gloomhaven expecting this to be a video gamey experience, similar to that of XCOM or Midnight Suns, you will be in for a bit of a shock - this digital version still feels very much like a board game. Gloomhaven is not for everyone; it can be punishing, it is a big time investment with its 40-ish hour-long campaign, and there are aspects that rely heavily on chance and less on strategy, but if you approach it with an open mind, you may just find yourself in love with it. There’s a reason that Gloomhaven remained the number 1 board game of all time for over five years on BoardGameGeek.com (the defacto board gaming forum and information website).
After spending time with the console versions of Gloomhaven, I can’t foresee a scenario where I would willingly go back to the physical board game instead. There are just too many features that are automated that speed up the gameplay while all the important bits remain that make Gloomhaven feel like Gloomhaven. The fact that I don’t have to lug a 20-pound box off my shelf and set everything up to play is enough of a reason, saying nothing of the fact that online play makes it a lot easier to organize a Gloomhaven night with my friends. Here’s hoping a digital version of FrostHaven (Gloom’s sequel) isn’t too far off to alleviate the oppressive feelings I have of trying to play that, too.
*Keys for the console versions of Gloomhaven Digital were provided and used for this coverage.