Developed by Harebrained Schemes
Available on PC, Coming soon to Xbox One and PS4
Suitable for ages 13+
I know there’s a recent trend here on Dread Central to do hyperbolic reviews, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that Necropolis: A Diabolical Dungeon Delve is the most disappointing game I’ve played since Resident Evil 6. I’ve certainly played worse games since, but none that I was actually excited for. “Oh Ted, it’s your fault for getting your hopes up! The developers did the best they could, it’s not their fault if they didn’t live up to your false expectations!” Normally I’d agree, but there’s something insidious about the design of Necropolis.
I had heard of Necropolis some time ago, but didn’t get a chance to actually play any of it until E3 2016. It was a timed demo, booting you out of the game and into a sudden death arena after ten minutes of play. And oh, what a ten minutes that was! There was humor, tense action, hidden information, unique and varied enemies… everything I want from a Dark Souls game! It’s not a stretch to compare the two, since this blocking, dodging, hacking, looting, procedurally generated roguelike doesn’t exactly hide its influences. And this game has being cute and clever to boot. What could go wrong?
For the first few hours, nothing did. It’s an ironman style game, so you start, die, start over, die, start over, die, and then get the hang of it. As you get better and explore deeper floors, you find harder enemies and with them better loot. It’s a tried and true formula that I am certainly not suggesting anyone change. I just want it actually work.
The overall goal of Necropolis is to delve down through ten diabolical dungeon floors, fight a final boss, and escape the nefarious titular Necropolis. For the first few floors, this is a very fun and rewarding process. Levels are sprawling, yet manageable, configured in memorable pre-set tiles that click together well enough to create the illusion of familiar randomness. Enemy spawns are randomized by location, so you never know what threat is around the next corner. Upgrades are meaningful, so each tier-up of gear feels satisfying. Surrounding it all is a bizarre meta-narrative, telling a story in comical disjointed junks that only ever hints at the greater story.
Around floor 5, the cracks in the world begin to show. Literally. I actually found cracks in the world where the levels didn’t connect right. The deeper you go, the more the logic of the game flies right out of the window. Enemies spawn behind you, quests are given with no logic towards completion, gear tier rating becomes pointless, and the item descriptions descend even further into idiocy.
I struggle to find words to describe just how absolutely bullshit this game gets. At floor 6, you’ve already put a few hours into a run, so when you get a tier 3 hammer that describes itself as “It’s almost like no one thought what it would be like to walk around carrying this thing,” you begin to wonder if the “humor” is getting in the way of gameplay. When you get to floor 8, you will literally be unable to walk 10 feet without several dozen enemies spawning directly out of your ass. By floor 10, you will be wondering why the fuck you are still playing.
I have found very few reviews that actually had the fortitude to beat this game. If you read a positive review that says something like “I made it to floor 7” or “I was too busy admiring the pretty cel-shaded scenery to finish,” ignore it. You do not understand how much of a waste of time this game truly is until you spend 6 hours and several painkillers to get to the final level, beat it, and get a congratulatory pat on the back and invitation to do it all over again. I cannot remember a single roguelike in years that just ended after you finished it. These games are meant to be replayed by fundamental design. Why would you give absolutely nothing to players that actually stuck it through?
It’s a frustration you’ll only encounter if you are lucky enough to beat the game. It’s certainly not hard, but between the numerous bugs and abysmal controls is still quite the feat. Locking onto enemies is both necessary and suicide, with imprecise lumbering attacks and a lock on system that somehow is worse than that of its inspiration. You will absolutely die because your camera just refused to lock onto the right character, and it will delete hours of your progress. The one thing they got right is that falling off of the map doesn’t instantly kill you, which is practically mandatory given the baffling enemy spawns and inconsistent level design.
There’s a flaw to the fundamental design of Necropolis. This is a game that wants to style itself as a fun, funny, explorative, casual roguelike alternative to Dark Souls. And hell, Dark Souls certainly isn’t known for being the most balanced and functional game on the planet. But in Dark Souls, you die and lose maybe 10 minutes of progress. In Necropolis, you lose hours.
Losing a whole afternoon of effort isn’t a system that works well with Necropolis’ whacky, no numbers approach. There is not a stat displayed across the various gear, spells, and potions, aside from an ambiguous “tier.” Potions and spells aren’t too bad, describing basically what they do and accessible from early on. Weapons, on the other hand, are a nightmare. Figuring out the exact bonus, strengths, and weaknesses of every weapon in Dark Souls is fun because of how quick and rewarding the testing process is. In Necropolis, it can take up to 5 hours to even get to one of the weapons. It makes science fucking impossible.
There is absolutely no way that this is a finished game. The first few floors feel good, followed by a solid few hours of total bullshit, and then another well designed final floor with a boss. It’s clear they had a vision, and just never realized it. They made the basic functional programming, designed a decent end, and then just filled it in without making it fit.
That is exactly why I say that this game is insidious. It’s not meant to be sold based on merit and consistency. It’s designed to be based on soundbite comparisons from idiots who never put the effort into exploring the whole package. It’s the perfect E3 demo: tight, interesting, full of promise. It never delivers past that.
I might sound salty, but this game was actually painful for me to play. I wanted to like it. I really did. I argued with friends that it was good. The more I went in, the less I could deny it. It’s a great idea that unfortunately is just unfinished. I don’t want to call it a failed project that’s just trying to recoup cash, but I don’t see what else this could be. If you find it for $5, go ahead and check it out. At $30, just don’t.