Making games is hard.
I mean, I’ve never made one, but I imagine that it’s really hard, at least.
So much to code, so much to program, so much can go wrong. But when the final product is a resounding success, this should be celebrated. However, sometimes games may not meet expectations or turn out the way somebody expected, much like any movie or TV show. Crafting a great piece of entertainment is tough. So it gives me no pleasure at all to say that I didn’t enjoy Crimson Keep. At all, if I’m being honest. It drove me mad, and not in that tough, but satisfying, Dark Souls way. It just drove me mad to a point where I didn’t want to play it again. It’s a tedious, nightmarishly dull experience that I have no intention of going back to.
Crimson Keep puts you in the position of an unnamed hero who must venture through similar looking caves to try and stop some magic curse or something. There’s a little bit of exposition early on that explains this, but there isn’t much else to go on.
You can pick between three classes; a brawler, a wizard, or an idiot armed only with a shovel. This third class has significantly less health than the other two, and I wouldn’t recommend it in the slightest. It’s pointless, and will just make your experience more frustrating.
From here, you’re dropped straight into the cave without any explanation, and quickly taught the controls as you go. The game doesn’t hang around, I’ll give it that, and you are left to wander through a series of procedurally generated levels, battling various fantastically weird enemies. One thing that I can give credit to is the enemy design, which is diverse, and enemies are fun looking, if a bit silly. You’ll fight skeletons, weird little goblins who sprint straight at you and weird looking pigs who can walk, I guess. I dunno, it’s weird, but it looks like some fun was had here with their design. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of any of the environments, and because these are procedurally generated, you’ll begin to recognise the same designs pretty quickly. The same bland colour scheme is largely used, with some brighter colours in rooms with tougher enemies here and there. This isn’t enough to liven things up.
In a game which largely consists of dungeon crawling and killing lots of devious looking enemies, you’d hope the combat system would be rock solid, but it really isn’t with Crimson Keep. While the controls are simple enough, your weapon swings incredibly slowly, and a lot of the time, the hit detection is terrible. Definitive hits often don’t register, which ends up leading indirectly to your death as you open yourself up to damage. Initially, I thought I just wasn’t very good, but I realised fairly quickly that it wasn’t my fault. Ranged weapons including a crossbow and a magic wand also suffer from the same problem, with a tiny aiming reticle, and even if you’re fairly accurate, a lot of your shots won’t register as damaging the enemies. This is a significant problem in a game that punishes you so severely when you die.
The permadeath aspect is something I wasn’t even aware of going into the game. After dying for the first time, I assumed that I would be set back to a recent checkpoint. But it doesn’t, it sets you right back to the start. Initially, I respected this choice, as it’s a brave decision to make, and it could be said that games these days are often criticised for excessive handholding; rightfully so at times. Good on a game for having the courage to take things the opposite way, but as I played more and more, I realised that this was not a good choice at all in Crimson Keep on Xbox One, a game in which you die so often, largely because of its mechanics, and through no fault of your own. It punishes you unfairly, and this gets very tedious, very quickly.
What else can be said? Well, there’s a pretty shallow loot system in place, where you can pick up various pieces of armour, as well as trinkets including necklaces that grant certain bonuses. The issue here is that it never feels like any of these pieces of loot are actually worth it, they don’t seem to affect the game in an impactful way. You’ll honestly forget you have anything equipped. If you’re going to have a system like this, there should be noticeable bonuses when you equip something, but this is unfortunately lacking, and makes the whole system feel pointless.
Overall, I can’t recommend Crimson Keep to anybody except those who actively enjoy having a bad time while they play games. I’m also certain that you could find similar games which do just about everything better, and they probably won’t want to make you tear your hair out.