There are many games out there that can offer a truly brutal challenge compared to what you may usually play, unless of course you’re a Dark Souls die-hard. But what makes these games interesting and enticing isn’t just the rock hard difficulty or the constant repetition of death, as your hours of progress are hoisted away from you, forcing you to spawn at the latest checkpoint. It’s a mix of an engaging storyline that unravels slowly as you progress, each painstakingly tough battle giving you a little snippet of information that will stick with you for hours, and the satisfying combat mechanics in place that are perfectly defined to notice your slightest mistakes before forcing you to try again till you perfect your abysmal attempts. So when I heard that Necropolis, a diabolically hard, rogue-lite, procedurally generated adventure would be arriving on the Xbox One I just had to get in on action. But can it keep up with the competition?
Necropolis is a dungeon crawler, and like all dungeon crawlers, Necropolis is designed to be played over and over, whether that be with friends or alone. Whilst fully functional solo, any real interest on progression in this game will certainly require a group of you if you wish to see much past the first few levels. However, I’m not sure if I know why you would bother. After choosing from the few available characters, including the brute, players start off at the top of a dungeon facing a lit wall, with controls that require memorising perfectly should you wish to get anywhere past the starting room. In this room there is also a giant moving pyramid that gives off the general tone of being in charge and a little market vendor sat opposite in a dark and dreary corner offering a number of things from potions and books to food and weaponry.
At this point I’d like to tell you a bit about the story, but unfortunately that’s not really possible. Whilst the start of my adventure was met with three objectives courtesy of the pyramid, such as hunting down a set number of specific enemies, nothing else from this point on in the game really explained anything at all. The story that is available comes in the form of cave paintings on the walls, but finding these offers nothing more to the game due to the complete lack of explanation of anything. Whilst the paintings would talk of various places and beings, understanding them wasn’t really possible. Had I seen these things? I don’t know.
So with no understandable story currently on offer, I had taken the approach of focussing on my objectives. But what were these different enemies in my objectives box? Trial and error was the only real way of finding out anything at all. Unless an enemy was one of my targets to kill, it wasn’t until I had beaten them down with an agonising swing of a seemingly useless sword that I knew what they were. Whilst I’m certainly not one to usually complain about a game offering exploration and adventure as the way to unravel what was going on, Necropolis doesn’t really offer much to bring that interest to the player. Each of the levels in the game are procedurally generated, but it doesn’t make any of them any more pleasing to look at. With every room, every corridor and every corner looking the same as the last.
Necropolis isn’t helped by the combat being painfully slow. Attacking is composed of light, heavy and powered attacks, with block and dodge being available for defence. Whilst there are various weapons available to the player through chests and plucked from the dead remains of enemies, other than a few seemingly overpowered hammers and unaffordable vendor choices, none of the weapons really deal any decent amount of damage. With each swing proving longwinded and pointless, running enemies into traps can often be the quickest and most enjoyable way of offing your foes.
Even after dying, each new run feels like much of the same with little variation in enemies other than the colours and rooms that offer no distinguishable features. Even hours in, I often found myself headed in what I thought was a new direction only to be met with the same door, or dead end, as before. This even made recognising where I had been tough to distinguish without crafting some of the ever so valuable chalk and leaving my mark on the floor.
When you die, and you will die, you are returned to the main menu of the game to once more start your run over from scratch. Each new run takes away any gems obtained from besting the various enemies throughout, with the only thing left intact being tokens given to you by the pyramid for completing the set objectives. You may also, possibly, get some for dying but this isn’t really explained either. This is where more confusion is added to the game, as if there wasn’t enough already.
Meeting back up with the lonely vendor allows you to buy his various wares, however with all the gems earned from previous runs being taken away there isn’t anything you can use to buy anything anyway. Had it not been for the books on sale – known as Codex – which offer different abilities from vampirism to lack of hunger that can be bought with tokens, I’m not sure the vendor would have much point whatsoever. Sure, you can run back to him during the level, if you can find your way that is, but this only adds more inconvenience to an already difficult title.
Whilst there are a lot of negatives with Necropolis, one thing that gives some redemption if only for a short while is the crafting menu that’s been implemented. Players gather resources from the enemies slain and different breakables found throughout each level. These allow you to craft various items such as potions and food, along with armour and magical scrolls and of course the previously mentioned and highly appreciated glowing chalk. However, this menu is simply more trial and error with descriptions offering nothing more than witty humour. Whilst certainly amusing, they don’t do much in helping the player. This is a vast part of the game, where every piece of information could have gone to guide the player, but instead sarcastic and witty humour takes place instead.
Finally, whilst there seems to be no extra content to speak of, other than repetitive and dull rooms offering questionable and tiresome combat, one positive is of course the inclusion of multiplayer. Whilst there is no online matchmaking in place, there is an option to invite from your friends list, and given the lack of information this is possibly for the best. But co-op offers challenges of its own. Whilst enemies are certainly easier to best when there’s two or more of you charging powered attacks, there seems to be nothing in place to guard you from pasting each other over the dungeon floors either. The deaths avoided by being out-numbered with powerful enemies were reinstated by the accidental swing of hammers and swords, making co-op play just as dangerous, if not more so, than solo.
Overall and Necropolis certainly has the building blocks for something great, but with a lack of understandable story or purpose and no sense of direction on top of poor combat and a dark and gloomy repetitive procedural generation pool, Necropolis quickly falls short of the competition.