By: Jeff Cater
Developer Hairbrained Schemes and publisher Bandai-Namco recently released a roguelike that tosses players in a seemingly endless trap called the Necropolis. Constructed by an evil wizard named Abraxis, you and up to three friends search relentlessly for the end while negotiating tricky enemies and a foreboding environment that can kill you as quickly as it can confuse you.
If you’ve played any of the Souls games, you will feel right at home trudging through Necropolis. Everything from the triggers and shoulder buttons governing attacking and blocking, to the clicking of the right stick to lock onto enemies will be instantly familiar. Weapons can often make it feel like the game is a bit sluggish, but after a little experimenting it starts feeling better.
Pressing B/Circle will cause your fighter to dodge, and clicking the left stick causes you to sprint. Each weapon you pick up also has an alternate attack by pressing down or holding R2, but they’re almost always moves that require precise timing to perfect. And now you’re a pro at Necropolis…
While the game’s visual motif is pretty minimalistic, character and weapon designs often make up for it. Environments are plain and often are blanketed in dreary grays and browns, but sometimes the levels open up and show off a vast field of abstract shapes and curious technologies.
As you delve deeper into Necropolis, enemy variations also spike, so when you think you’ve seen the last iteration of a certain foe, you likely have not. Animations leave a lot to be desired, though, and tend to lessen the bite of any strike you land because there’s little-to-no visual feedback other than enemies turning red (which doubles as their health indicator).
When enemies pop up far away, they jitter and shake around like crazy; presumably to save on all that power being used rendering the gray floor and walls. When you get close it’s a bit better, but not much because any given enemy type doesn’t seem to feature many sets of animation.
The game is very quiet, too. The in-game music is serviceable, but you won’t find any emotional effect or any tunes to hum later. The voice work is alright, but any spoken word is subtitled in extremely small text up at the top of the screen because the language in Necropolis is made up.
It’s one thing to make a game that’s truly difficult and balanced in such a way that inspires gamers to keep trying. Necropolis, as mentioned, is a roguelike, meaning that if you die on your adventure you go back to the beginning.
Necropolis ups this by also being extremely vague in their item and objective descriptions. A figure called The Brazen Head mocks your attempts at every turn but also asks for favors during your adventure. Things like “Slay 15 Screamers” or “Open 6 Treasure Chests,” but that’s about the only clearly conveyed concept in the game. Everything else is just vague as hell.
When it comes to upgrading your gear, all you have to go off of is a “Tier” stat. As you start, all of your gear is Tier 0, and just about anything you pick up will be an upgrade. No numerical stats to examine, nothing like that, just, “Yeah this sword is better.”
Keeping with the vague theme, you can also unlock Codex tomes that provide bonuses or additional stats, but getting a clear idea on what any given tome does is largely just guesswork. Some are easy to decipher, but the Codex’s that are written entirely in Ogre-speak, and well, most tomes, often make it very difficult to glean what they do to benefit you.
So you’re playing Necropolis. Your friend jumps in with you. Together, you descend to the darkest depths of the labyrinthine structure while negotiating hordes of enemies (that respawn at the weirdest times) in order to collect Tokens of Favor to turn into The Brazen Head for better equipment and items.
Once again intense vagueness rears its ugly head, and you’re never quite sure whether or not an item you receive is indeed better, unless this is your umpteenth go at the game and are extremely familiar with all of the little nuances each item combination may provide. This might turn some players off, but I do think hardcore fans will find a lot to eat up and reveal about the game.
Anyway, you and your pal are hacking away at enemies looking for treasure chests when you die. If you were playing solo, it’d be right back to the beginning with you! But in multiplayer any of your friends can revive you as long as they do it before your timer expires.
If your timer does expire, however, then it is back to the beginning and you lose any items you may have found. Bandai-Namco sure likes games that are brutal!
While I love the atmosphere and humor of Necropolis, I can’t help but feel as though the combat could have been more polished and item descriptions could offer a better idea of what they do. Overall, it’s quite fun as a multiplayer game, albeit a bit quiet and lonely if you’re playing solo.