Roguish Fun with a Difference
With attributes like procedurally generated levels, permanent death, and a steady flow of ability augmentations, the roguelike has become a dominant sub-genre. But its popularity has also cultivated a legion of titles with nominal distinction. Those seeking a bit of divergence from the typical action roguelike might want to give Curse of the Dead Gods a try. Although Lyon-based Passtech Games’ (Space Run Galaxy, Masters of Anima) effort is still in Early Access, several clever design decisions reveal the title’s potential. Hopefully, the developers can build on some solid foundations.
Deftly, Dead Gods doesn’t squander much time with backstory, permitting players to jump right into the action. The developers are striving to offer four different environments, but currently players can only explore the Jaguar temple, with options for undertaking short, medium, long and extra hard expeditions. Irrespective of your selection, each extends multiple routes with a rudimentary map showing the location of features like weapons, gold, or altars.
Blades, Bows, Spears, Shields, and Your Trusty Torch
Two elements immediately demonstrate astute design decisions. The first is a rather sophisticated combat system that’s regulated by a stamina bar. Every melee and ranged attack as well as a dash consumes a bit of energy, prohibiting players from button-mashing their way through legions of adversaries. Spend too much stamina on attacking and you’ll be unable to dodge their far-reaching strikes and projectiles. But if you’re quick, a well-timed parry can restore your energy.
Pleasingly, you won’t just be hammering away on a single button. The game’s explorer can charge melee strikes, time ranged shots for extra power, or even swing a lit torch at foes. Truthfully, the latter approach isn’t all the effective, but you will want to use the flame to ignite combustible objects. While explosive barrels can damage, lighting containers of flammable objects means the game’s enemies incur additional damage in illuminated areas. Similarly, their attacks hit harder in darkened spaces.
The game’s other smart design choice centers around a wealth of risk-reward mechanics. Altars offer perks and stat boosts in exchange for any gold you’ve gathered in the dungeon. And when you don’t have enough of the rare metal to pay the price, they’ll accept your blood. Gradually, enemies siphon away your health, and you’ll come across restorative fountains. But drawing from these wellsprings increases your level of corruption. Eventually, these lead to curses, which introduce new variables like making foes explode or splitting damage between your pools of health and wealth. Naturally, you’ll encounter a steady supply of new weapons that might offer perks like elevated stats or an increased chance of critical hits.
A Few Balance-Based Blemishes
Dexterously, Dead Gods’ combat encourages players to use combos, with gold bonuses for uninterrupted assaults. But I’ve love to see a bit more strategy, potentially with more elemental damage. Currently, swinging at adversaries with your torch has little impact, but it would be gratifying to witness a slow decay of opponent health with a poisoned arrows or even acid burns. Fighting feels visceral but using brain as well as brawn could provide additional depth. Another issue- the procedurally generated environments can sporadically toss too many enemies at players. While randomness is part of roguelike formula, no one likes to be killed by an army of twenty monsters at the very beginning of a run.
With hazards like crumpling cliffs, spike traps, and fireball-emitting statues, Curse of the Dead Gods’ dungeons feel sufficiently threatening. And it’s always satisfying to lure foes into the game’s environmental traps. But all too infrequently the game pushes players off the main isometric-perspective path. Sporadically, there’s a bit of gold or a split that forks off to another path, but there’s often a scant feeling of exploration; most of the time you’re just steadily advancing toward the final boss(es).
Temples of Doom
Undoubtedly, Curse of the Dead Gods has a unique and striking visual style. Elements like cel-shading and a “fog of war” that darkens unilluminated areas provide a pulpy look for the action. The seven types of subordinate enemies exhibit a unified visual style, but they’re distinct enough so you can differentiate between healers and reanimated, projectile tossing virgins. And you’ll definitely need to prioritize your targets if you hope to make it out a temple alive. Sonically, the decisions to eschew a soundtrack for ambient sounds and advising sound effects adds menacing vibe.
Even as its Early Access state, Curse of the Dead Gods is enjoyable in short bursts. Further development success hinges on the ingeniousness of additional variation. Not only will new traps, foes, and weapons, add variety but they could elevate some intriguing risk-reward mechanics. Right now, Dead Gods works best as an appetizer between large, more sophisticated experiences. Hopefully, it will progress into something closer to the main course.
Curse of the Dead Gods is available on PC and
currently available via Steam. The game is priced at $14.99.