Reviewed on: PC. Copy supplied by publisher.
It’s no surprise so many devs are no desperately trying to reproduce the winning formula of Dark Souls – it’s fantastic. From Software’s series has become a legitimate classic in every sense of the word, and the industry wants to cash in on this success. We’ve seen good copies of the formula, such as the excellent Salt and Sanctuary, and we’ve seen ones that are simply okay, like Lords of the Fallen, and promising upcoming titles like Nioh. The less said about the mobile game, Slashy Souls, the better. The latest in the long line of Souls-a-likes is Necropolis from Harebrained Schemes.
Available now on Steam, and coming to consoles later this year, Necropolis is a clear homage to Dark Souls in the kind of edgy, and ‘cool’ art style we’ve come to expect from the indie scene. It’s third person dungeon crawling through procedurally generated levels, with Souls-style stamina-management and defensive combat. Here you can use your weapon and shield in the same was as in From’s titles, and as you attack, defend and evade you use stamina. It’s very familiar stuff, and it works well. An addition is the ability to perform charge attacks that vary between weapons. These are strong, but instantly drain stamina and affects your stamina bar’s size, another new feature.
Stamina does regenerate, but as you become exhausted, the bar shrinks. Charge attacks instantly shrink this bar by a sizeable chunk, and to refill your overall capacity you need to eat food. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself with hardly any stamina, and combat will become unmanageable.
There’s a lock-on system, of course, as well as a simple inventory and crafting system. You can brew potions and make rations to eat, and there are other items to be found, as well as puzzles to solve. Other staple Souls‘ features include hidden passages, secret chests, and lore hidden throughout the world that you’ll have to find and interpret yourself, all while being guided by the pyramid-shaped, Brazen-Head.
As the game is a roguelike, you get one life, and this is where the game differs from Dark Souls. There’s no coming back. When you’re dead, you’re dead, and you have to start all over again. Some purchases carry over and can make your life easier, such as books that confer bonus attributes, but for the most part, it’s a clean slate, and the challenge here is to see how deep into the dungeon’s levels you can get. As the game is randomly generated, you’ll never know what kind of level to expect, which adds to the challenge. Well, a bit, anyway.
You see, although I found Necropolis‘ overall quality to be quite high, with some solid, and fluid combat that encourages tactical play instead of button mashing, it’s not long before the game starts to reveal its major downside, and that’s repetition.
There’s just not much to do here, and little variety. Each level, whilst unique in layout, features a similar set of rooms and winding corridors, and the foes don’t really differ all that much. Sure, there are some interesting variants, like giant spiders, teleporting shaman, giant suits of armour, and so on, but most are simple humanoid foes, and most enemies have the same, simple AI. This consists of running towards you to attack, often getting stuck on stairs and wall corners. It can also be pretty cheap, spawning foes behind you in rooms you’ve already cleared.
There are also no bosses, at least none that I’ve come across in many hours of play. Instead the onus is on getting as far as you can, and finding better loot. The latter is quite rewarding initially, in terms of, “Oohhh, I got a cool sword,” but the actual benefit of upgraded equipment seems minimal, or at least poorly communicated to the player, meaning you’re often less than impressed.
The bottom line is there’s just not enough interesting core content here, and after a few hours you’ll probably find yourself getting bored of the same old corridors and foes. With no bosses or feeling of real progression, there’s just not enough to keep you coming back for more. This is a shame, as I love the art style, and the combat is solid and satisfying. I just don’t really know why I’m doing it all, other than to inevitably die and have to start again.
I should also point out that the game really requires a controller for the best experience. Keyboard and mouse works, but the inability to rebind the keys means you’ll have to get used to the game’s only setup, which isn’t great.
The game does have co-op, which succeeds in making the game more fun, and there’s more mileage to be had here, but even with friends the appeal will soon wear thin.