Have you ever wished that Dark Souls had rogue-lite elements? Have you ever wished that the pesky reliability which makes Dark Souls so reliably frustrating and learn-able would just disappear? Then I think I have something for you.
Necropolis: A Diabolical Dungeon Delve, by Harebrained studios, was originally released in July to lukewarm reviews. In response, the developer listened to critic and user reviews and detailed a list of changes they planned to make to address the many problems the game had.
Finally, after a few months they have brought the Brutal Edition to the game, and it does come with a variety of improvements on the original release, including a new playable class, new enemies and a new environment, alongside a few other changes. Is it enough to save the game from an early grave, or will Necropolis prove to be dead in the water?
Necropolis starts off with your character entering the dungeon with just a sword and shield. The story of the game is intentionally vague, but it’s immediately obvious that you’re an adventurer hunting through a never-ending dungeon; the Necropolis for power and riches. It slowly drip-feeds you details through a disembodied “voice,” but honestly, right from the start I didn’t really care about the story. Yes, I understood that there was something something about an evil archmage called Abraxis, and I wanted to care, I really did, but the sheer fact is that it was just so very rarely that I actually learnt anything about it that the story just lost my interest. I do love a good, funny game, but it felt far too often that
Necropolis was hiding behind it’s humour to obscure details. Granted, I’ve read that the base game was even worse in this aspect, but to me it still feels like a serious issue.
Character choice is incredibly limited, but it’s much better than it was at launch, with a grand total of TWO playable classes. They play pretty similarly, with the original class being fast, light and weak, and the new Brute being heavier, slower and stronger. I definitely prefer the overall look and feel of this Brute though, as he makes the game a whole lot less daunting for inexperienced players, and, well, he’s just a badass.
The meat of your experience will be in the combat. You encounter enemies throughout, and taking them on requires you to relax and think logically, watching for “tells” and methodically killing them off. You have very few controls, but the combat works pretty well regardless. You have an attack; with combos; a block and a roll/dodge which gives you a few invincibility frames. Enemies will generally come at you in groups, which makes it difficult to survive, but through learning your enemies’ attacks you can start to judge how best to beat them. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t exactly as tight as what you might find in Dark Souls. Whilst you can judge movements and manipulate invincibility frames to a certain degree, it still feels somewhat unreliable, with some strange hitboxes and unreliable animations which take away your ability to learn the enemies completely; as you would expect in a Souls-borne style game. The enemies hit really hard, so if you misjudge even slightly, you’re going to die.
The best way to play Necropolis is definitely in co-op. Yes, you’ll still have to fight the same unreliable enemies and hitboxes but with one difference; death isn’t the end. In single player when you die, you’re dead and must start again. In co-op you can be lifted by your partners, which means the combat suddenly becomes much less frustrating. Granted, you may be killed BY them accidentally, but if you are they will be able to resurrect you. It’s a lot less frustrating in this way, and of course, like all games it’s more fun with friends.
Most games of these types offer you compelling rewards to keep you going back for more; even if you are starting from scratch each time, you should still be progressing, whether than means you’re unlocking rooms and items or getting stronger. In Necropolis, your rewards for fulfilling objectives are colour-schemes for your characters and tomes which give you abilities for future runs. Whilst this sounds good, they can often feel underwhelming and far too cryptic, leaving you feeling no benefit at all, and this leads me to my main problem with Necropolis.
Overall, the gameplay itself is a massive contradiction. Here we have a game which tries to be a co-op Dark Souls Rogue-lite, but those elements just don’t make sense together. Dark Souls is about learning from your mistakes in a difficult but ultimately reliable environment; where you learn the hitboxes, you learn the enemy tells and movements and slowly unlock shortcuts, upgrades and new abilities as you progress. Death isn’t a complete blank slate, it’s a learning experience, and it makes it much more satisfying when you eventually get further in your next run. The combat in Necropolis is so obviously trying to emulate Dark Souls, but it isn’t tight enough to pull it off, and the randomness inherent in procedural generation prevents the player from learning from each run and getting that much better. The permadeath element makes this even more frustrating as there is very little tangible progression from run to run, as where death SHOULD feel like a chance to start again and learn from your mistakes it feels like an absolute loss. What also doesn’t help is the fact that with each loss you have to run through the same enemies and environments over and over; and yes, despite the improves enemy and location variety I still saw the same areas over and over and over.
I do however love the overall presentation; the aesthetic is simple but beautiful and the sound design is really nice, with a very atmospheric sound-scape throughout. In terms of optimisation it isn’t bad, though the lacklustre video options suffer from the same vagueness inherent in the rest of the game. If you intend to give it a go, watch out for the “resolution scaling” option. The bottom seems to be 50% native res, the 1st notch is native, the 3rd seems to be double and the 4th quadruple; which absolutely tanks your framerate.
Overall, the additions in the Brutal edition definitely make this better than it was at launch. Despite the problems I’ve had with it, I can definitely see where the holes would have originally been much deeper. Originally there were even less enemies, even less rooms, less objects and only one characters. It’s unequivocally a better game than it was originally. However, Necropolis still suffers from a variety of issues, from the mismatch of mechanics to its repetitive nature, to the contradictions in its own design philosophy. You can either be difficult and random like The Binding of Isaac, or you can be Dark Souls; you just can’t be both. Where Necropolis shines is in it’s co-op, and that’s where you should be looking to get the most fun from it.