I love the idea of roguelikes, but as most tend to have fairly flat graphics and no multiplayer, it’s been hard for me to get into them. Well, that is, until I got to experience Harebrained Schemes’ Necropolis. While my demo was limited to a single-player experience, the concept clicked, even if the fighting was slightly frustrating.
For those who don’t know, rogue-likes are games with random, procedurally generated dungeons that ask you to make your way through the level to find the exit before you die, permanently. Mostly, you only “keep” whatever real world skills you developed during that run, which is generally going to be twitch skills or game mechanic memory. Some have stories, but few conceptually gripped me. However, with it’s lighthearted appearance, multiplayer, cel-shaded art, action-combat system with unlockables carrying over between deaths and a dash of humor, Necropolis has been constructed as a gateway-game for the genre. It encourages players to dive deeper and deeper into the game’s setting to find the ultimate exit and be one of the few to escape the Necropolis.
Enter the Newbies
The game is supposed to look cute while still being punishing. Players should expect to die, a lot, but this is why there’s humor and some carry over stuff, to take the punishment out of death. In my own demo, I died numerous stupid, embarrassing deaths. You’d think most people would walk away, and although I’m someone who hates to give up, I kept with Necropolis because it felt inviting enough for me to invest in it. I was frustrated that the levels and enemies changed, because it made my experience more difficult, but it also made me a bit more cautious. I haven’t played any of the Dark Souls games, but my Monster Hunter experience has taught me that I should use strategy in a game that has harsh death penalties.
Combat is action adventure based in real time. There are no turns or pause screens for crafting. You need to assume that you’re in danger at all times in the field and act accordingly., and that’s completely understandable given the genre. In addition to basic attacks, the player can charge their attack, but this decreases their max refillable stamina. If you eat something, you can get this back, but it acts likes a starvation mechanic. My biggest issue with the game was the speed of attacks. It could just have been my weapon, but even simple slashes felt like they took my character a bit of effort. I don’t need rapid fire attacks, but something with just a bit more speed would have been more comfortable. That being said, I imagine the speed of attack is meant to convey a sense of weight, further forcing the player to slow down and analyze combat to find opening, rather than just button mash through enemies.
However, to help appeal to a more casual audience, Necropolis‘ goal is to have drop-in multiplayer, up to four players, to help make encounters easier. Don’t assume that means easy mode, especially since friendly fire is on. What it means is that you have a friend that can watch your back or revive you if something goes wrong. There’s a little scaling in terms of difficulty for multiplayer, but the game is already pretty tough, and as more bodies means more potential for friendly fire, there’s little need for it. Remember, there’s no auto-health regeneration, no written out stats, and potion and scroll effects are randomized each playthrough… there’s plenty you need to deal with before friendly fire becomes a factor.
Learning, however, is a big part of the game, and it’s not limited to combat and timing. For example, stats are replaced with joke descriptions like “if you have to choose between using this weapon and a rabbit, you should choose the rabbit.” Learning to read between the lines in the humor can give you an advantage. Experimenting on yourself with potions to figure out their effects can be both dangerous and fun(ny). There’s punishment, but there’s enough of a zing to take out the sting.
There are also some unique systems to help players out that most roguelikes lack. For example, you have the “ecology of threats” where enemies have relationships to one another and may even antagonize each other. For example, one enemy loves crystals. Another enemy is made of crystal. If these two see each other, they’ll fight each other instead of you. It adds something to the game, but it also adds a little lore in a way that you can interact with, and that’s an immersive system more games could benefit from.
Then you have the codices you can discover and utilize. Codices carry over even after you die and offer abilities like being able to auto regenerate stamina or life leech. However, you only can choose one perk for each playthrough. I’m guessing better codices are found as you delve deeper.
A Look to the Future
While not an MMO, Necropolis has a lot of things going for it that I think will appeal to MMO fans. Online multiplayer is a good start, but ever changing gameplay adds a high replay value for gamers looking for a challenge but get bored of memorizing the same developer made dungeons. Mixing up even the effects of consumables could be frustrating, but at least the first few times, I can see it as potentially enjoyable, even charming. While Harebrained Schemes hasn’t started looking into the Xbox Play Anywhere cross-platform buy/play option between Xbox systems and Windows 10, it is on the team’s list, which is great. As someone who’s never owned any of the Xbox consoles, I welcome the addition as it makes it easier to game with friends on consoles who sadly haven’t seen the light of PC gaming (yet).
We do know the game will also be getting DLC in the form of more characters and skins, but no one’s quite able to talk about the current plans. Even so, between the randomly generated content, emphasis on learning, and permadeath, I can’t see Necropolis as a short game people burn through. For a smaller game with massive gameplay, Necropolis could be a good way to ease friends into MMOs or take a short break into a smaller multiplayer world.Related: Action RPG, Bandai Namco, Harebrained Schemes, necropolis, Preview, Roguelike