After spending a year in Steam Early Access, Passtech Games’ action rogue-lite Curse of the Dead Gods has finally hit 1.0. The game’s full release also marks the first time Curse of the Dead Gods is out on console. The update introduces new modes, new weapons, mixed maps, and a slew of balancing changes.
Curse of the Dead Gods is story light which is in line with most titles in the rogue-like and related genres. The game’s storytelling and world building is almost exclusively contained in a series of journal entries in the bestiary. The writing is average. It is interesting enough for quick perusal, but nothing game changing.
Curse of the Dead Gods is an action rogue-lite relying heavily on randomized modifiers to keep each run fresh. The first source is the relic and weapon system. At the beginning of each run, players choose from randomized sets of weapons. As players spend currency collected from each attempt, more sets to choose from and higher weapon rarities are available before each run. The currency drop rate is low, making the early game a painful grind. The mid game improves a little, but not by much. As the run progresses, relics and weapons are dropped from fallen enemies, sold at shrines at the end of certain rooms, or looted from chests. There is a good variety of modifiers available, offering a lot of opportunity for consistently usable builds and the occasional mind boggling run.
The corruption system is one of the other major sources of randomization in the game. Players gain corruption points when they enter new rooms, are struck by certain attacks, or accept corruption for health. A new curse is afflicted on the player every hundred points or so. The early curses can change the style of gameplay drastically with only minimal impact the game’s difficulty; however, the later curses increase the difficulty with the final curse punishing players with absolutely devastating modifiers.
Combat is intense and skill based with an enjoyable amount of variety. Curse of the Dead Gods uses a limited stamina system for attacking, dodging, and parrying. Enemies hit very hard and heals are sparse, so a more patient dodge/parry-centric approach is required. Dodge is the low risk, low reward option that can be used in almost all situations. Only certain attacks can be parried in a small window, but the bonus stamina points allow players to chain long attack combos to speed their way through the temples. The resulting combat feels well put together and rewarding.
Passtech Games keeps combat fresh by having each type of weapon have its own attack pattern and playstyle. The player carries a main, secondary, and heavy weapon. As a result, there are a ton of possible combinations, and a large majority of the weapon combos perform well. The game forces players to try a lot of different weapons early on and then master several weapon combos later in the game. The devs have struck the right balance between encouraging experimentation and getting most players skilled enough to progress deep into the game.
There are three temple types to explore, with each temple offering tiers of increasing difficulty. Each temple is filled with their own traps and enemies, requiring players to memorize a decent number of mechanics. Passtech Games does an excellent job easing the learning curve by starting a run with a few simple traps and enemies and then introducing new ones as players progress through the rooms. The only issue I have with the level design is learning later bosses is difficult without the use of a guide. Getting to those bosses can be challenging, making it troublesome to get serious practice in.
The light mechanic is an interesting idea, but it didn’t pan out well. Random modifiers aside, being in the dark hides traps from view and lets creatures do 50% more damage. Rooms can be lit by setting enemies on fire, having a torch out, or lighting one of the many braziers in the game. The torch is the main light source out of combat, while braziers are used in combat. In practice, I find the light mechanic to be too troublesome to bother. Lighting braziers before combat often sacrifices the element of surprise. Lighting them in the middle of a fight is often too dangerous, and there are enough enemies to snuff out or destroy the brazier.
I enjoy the constant risk/reward analysis in Curse of the Dead Gods. Several fights, rooms, and side areas can be ignored to save health at the cost of missing potential equipment and gold that will be needed to survive the later stages of the run. The same decision must be made when it comes to exchanging health for corruption. It creates a tense and exciting atmosphere that is incredibly addictive.
The controls are solid. The developers are explicit about recommending a controller, and I can see why. While ranged attacks lock onto nearby enemies, the proper use of the dodge mechanic requires rolling into the incoming attack. It’s just not easy to do with a mouse and keyboard. When using a controller, the game is extremely responsive, and the button layout is well thought out. If players don’t like the layout, the developers have even thrown in the ability to rebind the controller keys. It’s an often overlooked feature that should be standard in every game in my opinion.
Curse of the Dead Gods is presented in a dark comic book style influenced heavily by Mayan and Aztec art. I really like the three distinct temples that are centred around the temple’s element. The artists have done an excellent job working the game’s light and dark mechanics into the artistic presentation. Smart use of colour and shading makes areas dark enough to be dangerous but clear enough to fight within.
The audio experience is excellent. The sound effects are enjoyable, with plenty of monster screeches and weapon sounds to make battles chaotic. The music is an solid accompaniment to the game.
Curse of the Dead Gods is an excellent game with only a few minor flaws. The game can be a little grind heavy, and the light system isn’t perfect. But the tense risk/reward gameplay is incredibly addictive. Combat is tightly executed and is a joy to learn. Combined with its solid audio/visual presentation, Curse of the Dead Gods has a place on every gamer’s wish list.
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