You probably saw the word “roguelike” in the title for this review and thought to yourself, “Good grief, another one? Are there any indie games these days that aren’t roguelikes?” That’s a fair point, but hear me out: Gods Will Fall is one of the best spins on the roguelike formula I’ve ever played.
Developed by the delightfully named studio of Clever Beans, this action-packed adventure is set in a world where tyrannical gods have ruled over mankind for millenia. Fed up with the oppression, every man and woman who can hold a weapon sets sail to the isle dwelling of their renounced deities. Not really feeling okay with the idea of a human uprising, the gods cause an enormous storm that capsizes every boat on the warpath. Enter you, the player. Taking control of eight different and randomly generated Celtic warriors that have washed up on shore, you must venture into the unique domain of each god and wipe them out.
Before you set out on your homicidal crusade, there is a brief tutorial that runs you through the game’s combat system. It was during this tutorial that I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m going to like this”. Clever Beans has polished their game’s combat to a mirror-shine. It’s the perfect amount of weighty, each weapon type feels distinct and enjoyable, and coming out of a fight as the victor is electrifying. You can do a short hop to dodge, parry enemy attacks, and, my absolute favorite part, knock enemies on their backs before delivering a jumping slam. Even better is that you can pick up the dropped weapons of enemies and swing or throw them until they break against your foes. Each character is a raging Celtic warrior that’s crazy enough to believe they can kill multiple gods. What’s not to love?
Getting to those gods, however, will take some doing. Upon exiting the tutorial, you are free to roam around the enormous isle and challenge whichever god you choose. You may only send in one character at a time, but we’ll touch on that a bit more in a moment. Each one of the gods resides within a dungeon that’s populated by hordes of enemies. Get to the dungeon’s end, and you’ll be face-to-face with that particular realm’s resident god. As you vanquish these bosses, subsequent dungeons will become a bit more challenging, and your character will exit with an assortment of weapons and, possibly, some buffs or debuffs.
That, right there, is the most exciting part of Gods Will Fall. Loads of work went into the game’s unique personality/trait system. When you come to a specific dungeon, a character might reveal that they have a personal vendetta against that specific god. As a result, they’ll have a bit more strength or vitality. Another character could reveal that the idea of confronting that particular dungeon horrifies them, and they could see a decrease in their stats. All of this gets even better as you send characters into dungeons, and whether or not they make it back out.
You see, if your character falls in battle, they’ll be lost within the dungeon. It’s entirely possible that you could free them from their prison, but only if you’re able to defeat the god at the dungeon’s end. Characters can form bonds and feel more inspired to save friends, being freed can make them more determined to fight harder, or the horrors they went through because of failure can cause them to become less likely to perform in the future. So many character interactions and reactions have been packed into the game that really bring your small army to life in interesting and unique ways. It makes you feel much more attached to them and offers a bit of strategy for deciding who should go into what dungeon and when.
Of course, your characters can die permanently as well. If they’re struck with a finishing blow, a move that has a red glow to it, they will be lost without any hope of rescue. This happened to one of my best fighters: Guinevere. Absolute trooper she was: she mustered her way through three of the ten gods, but fell to a swarm of grunts. She will be missed, and Wynter, the man who loved her, fought on in her name. The feeling of losing a character permanently is an enormous gut punch, but an entirely welcome one. It adds a horrifyingly fun sense of urgency whenever you see that menacing red glow on an enemy attack.
When you’re not worrying about the life and death consequences of your actions, you’re exploring the game’s dungeons and island. Gods Will Fall is a beautiful game. Each scene has a lovely brush stroke quality, and the game’s colors seamlessly melt into one another. The dungeons themselves, unlike most roguelikes, are not procedurally generated. That is an enormously welcome change in my book, because it has allowed the developers to create visually impressive and distinct environments to adventure through. What changes from run to run, however, is the enemy population and placement within the dungeons. This is really all that’s needed in order to keep the action from getting predictable or stale.
All of this brings us to the game’s weakest point: Gods Will Fall is a bit short. I was able to complete the game on my first runthrough. For a roguelike, that’s not really something you want to hear. However, it isn’t all bad. My runthrough definitely wasn’t easy, and on more than one occasion I was knocked down to having only one fighter left. That last fighter’s fight through a dungeon was palpably tense, and the feeling of victory at the end was phenomenal. Additionally, the game’s brevity means that a second attempt even after completing the game is still appealing due to the game’s personality/trait system, which will keep you guessing and having to adapt.
This is more of a nitpick than anything, but the most disappointing part of Gods Will Fall is that there isn’t more of it. Yes, ten unique gods and environments is a fairly large amount to battle against, but their unique dungeons are so well-designed and delightfully atmospheric that I just kept wanting to see more of them.
If I wanted to, I could spend a few hours telling you about the heroic conquests and heartbreaking losses of my merry band of soldiers. Instead, I’ll tell you that if you’re a fan of roguelikes, satisfying combat, and unique game design, then Gods Will Fall on Xbox is one of the best games that you can play. With its beautiful combination of random generation and concrete level design, it sets the bar high for any roguelikes that come after.