The sheer number of games that focus on exploring vast cave systems filled with treasure, ore, and monsters is really quite staggering – even more so when stopping to consider how few caves actually exist in the world. I mean, the world’s deepest cave is the Krubera Cave at just over 2 km. So the overwhelming majority of the planet just happens to be different rock stuff with no empty space, but that doesn’t stop gamers from imagining a world of wealth and adventure just below their feet.
Minecraft and Terraria are the big two that come to mind, so It Lurks Below does it’s best to try and differentiate itself and does so by structuring itself as an RPG with character customization, different classes, and unique playstyles based on those choices. I went with the human bard, because it’s always good to have a musician to keep your spirits up.
Once I made it through the character customization I spawned in a mysterious place and the only guidance I had was given in the form of short quests to accomplish. They start off simple; pick up some rocks, grab those sticks, put the rock on the end of the stick, now go cut down that tree for more sticks. You know, standard survival game elements. They do grow more elaborate and it wasn’t long before I was farming, mining, and going off to slay monsters.
There is a hunger and stamina system in place that can only be taken care of by eating and sleeping, so building a good base to work from is essential. Farming is the easiest and most consistent way to get food and one of the starter quests will walk through how to make your plots and start growing your own carrots, berries, and wheat. And beds can be placed pretty much anywhere with some space so I decided to take the risk and lie out under the stars, which worked pretty well.
One of the coolest features though is the Homestone. It works by allowing the player to recall to it at any point and then return to the point they recalled from, completely free of charge. This makes exploring much more enticing since it allowed me to essentially make my own checkpoints. If I forgot food or anything I could easily pop back up to my farm and grab what I needed and then go straight back to the action. Frankly put, it’s an awesome feature.
I had fun exploring the caves and learning new skills, but It Lurks Below isn’t without its faults. The biggest issue I had was navigating the menu systems. To access anything I needed to pause the game and select the specific menu I needed from the long list of options. There are separate systems for inventory, crafting, and two different ones for leveling, which makes it tedious to navigate. As soon I would select the menu that I needed the game would resume in the background while I worked on crafting, leveling, or whatever else it was I needed to do, which made trying to find health potions during combat difficult.
As a side note, the nice thing about It Lurks Below is it is available on both Xbox One and the Xbox (Beta) App, so I was able to test out the controls for both PC and controller to compare. When using a keyboard and mouse the game is much easier to navigate. I still think the menu systems are overly complicated but they are much more manageable than when using a controller.
As a side note to this side note, It Lurks Below is also part of the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative so I was able to pick up from where I left off when I was switching between the two, which is always nice. But if I had to choose between the Xbox and PC version, I’d have to go with the PC simply because it’s much more optimized for keyboard and mouse.
Moving on, unlike the menus, I did like the building options, specifically how they spawn buildings with specific purposes. After a few levels you’ll unlock blueprints that can be used to build structures, and even better is that an NPC will spawn alongside it. So the general store blueprint spawns a shopkeeper, the bank, a banker, and so on. There’s also a blueprint for the “Twisted Tree” which spawns an NPC that will retrieve dropped items that are lost underground after death, for a price of course. It’s a great way to add some unique NPCs that help breathe some life into the world.
But this is where the second major issue occurred for me. There is an Invader event that will spawn enemies to fight, during which the NPCs will run away until all of the monsters are defeated. A little counter will appear in the corner of the screen to show how many enemies are left, which is all well and good. My issue is that I have been unable to find the last three enemies to kill. I spent a couple of hours dealing with this and even looked up solutions to it. Apparently the map is supposed to show small red circles to denote where the remaining enemies are, but after looking at the map multiple times, on both Xbox and PC, I have been unable to find any sign of them.
This wouldn’t be much of an issue since it’s still possible to do everything else that doesn’t involve the NPCs while the invasion is going on, but the ones I’ve spawned and any future ones I get will all be gone until I manage to figure out what’s going on. It’s just a bit frustrating.
The defining feature of It Lurks Below, though, is going below the surface and fighting the enemies and bosses underneath. There are unique underground structures for each area and in them are treasure chests, enemies, and doorways that lead to the area’s boss fight. It all contributes to the RPG feel of the game and it’s all done moderately well. But the issues with the menus and UI really make it hard to enjoy.
It Lurks Below is a game I really wanted to like and the foundation that it has is great. But it needs to be optimized for Xbox One better. The gameplay is fun when there aren’t bugs to deal with and, who knows, maybe I’m just unlucky? There is a lot more content than I was able to cover here and the issues aren’t exactly deal-breakers. I just know it could be done better and I hope to see future updates that remedy some of these issues, because I really do think It Lurks Below has a lot of potential to be something amazing.