Roguelikes and roguelites are getting a little bit out of control. It was once a rather uncommon genre designed for a very specific audience, but nowadays every other indie release on Xbox seems to get into the procedurally generated shenanigans. Sword of the Necromancer joins the list of many randomly generated adventures – an action RPG where each run is different from the last. Still, the game really attempts a few ideas, in order to add substance to a tried and tested formula. While not all of the ideas are exactly game-changing, as a whole Sword of the Necromancer comes together as a pretty sizable action RPG package.
The story is one of love and loss, where our hero Tama brings her deceased beloved, a priestess named Koko, to an ancient temple in the mountains said to contain the secrets of necromancy. Basically, Tama wishes to bring Koko back to life, and at whatever cost. Within this temple lies a crypt filled with all kinds of foes, and soon enough Tama uncovers the titular Sword of the Necromancer itself. While the mythical blade may allow her to revive dead creatures, bringing back Koko will require a far greater effort and sacrifice.
The basic setup of the story is quite interesting, a bit similar to the plot of Shadow of the Colossus on PS2, and the opening animated intro video is really well done. Sadly, the rest of the story delivery is a little on the amateurish, cringe side. Most of it is delivered via animation stills, where the artwork doesn’t come across very clean or polished. The dialogue is voiced, and while it is nice to give a bit of personality and depth to the main characters, the delivery feels a bit forced and so the melodrama will probably get eyes rolling rather than tug at the heartstrings. Despite the cringe melodrama, the presentation and atmosphere are still quite effective, especially when a lifeless Koko lies at the altar bench, not knowing the lengths Tama is going through to bring her to life. Adding to the mood of the premise is the music, which largely relies on sweeping orchestral tones, especially during enemy encounters.
The core gameplay is standard action RPG affair, where the mechanics are functional enough but basic movement and attacks can feel a bit on the sluggish side. Tama is able to perform a chain combo and also dash around, where dashing not only allows her to dodge enemies, but also to hop through small gaps. There is a stamina/soul meter too, which means attacks and dashes need to be executed with some thought rather than spamming buttons. Although the core gameplay is as basic as it gets, the level design is interesting especially when you face one of the large dungeon bosses. What’s more, there’s a ton of items and magical items that can be picked up which add spice to the combat strategy.
For Tama, it is more than just collecting items and relying on the luck of draw that is inherent in a roguelike design, but there is character growth and development too. The main hub of the crypt temple has Koko resting on the altar, which in a way reminds players of their goal. There are other stations, with the most important being the spot where you’re able to use gathered materials to upgrade weapons. Although advancing the storyline is the main goal, it’s all the different things you can discover and gather which gives Sword of the Necromancer the same replay appeal like other roguelikes.
The Sword of the Necromancer isn’t just in reference to the notion of cheating death, but to also the very weapon Tama uses throughout her adventure. Although there are other useful weapons and spells to use throughout the adventure, the Necromancer blade itself allows Tama to revive any creature she has defeated. Upon revival, the creature becomes her ally and willing to fight alongside her. This adds a whole new dimension to the action RPG gameplay, where players can create a party member on the fly. This becomes especially interesting since, much like the weapons and spells, each creature takes up one of the very few inventory slots. And so part of the strategy is deciding what equipment to carry for Tama, and what creatures to have fight alongside you. Although the limited inventory space can feel restrictive, it actually feels rewarding to come up with the right combination of creatures and weapons.
While the procedurally generated dungeons are fairly basic in their design, running into the many creatures becomes enjoyable because every foe you battle has the potential to become an ally. What’s more, if you keep your allies alive for long enough, then they’re also able to level up and upgrade. All the growth and discovery is really put to the test during the epic boss encounters, as these bosses have ingenious patterns and take up an entire floor too. I personally found it easier to have a strong team of creatures during boss encounters, but others may want to challenge themselves by relying on their own precision.
Sword of the Necromancer is a tough game, so you can expect to try and retry again. At the default setting, you can expect to lose all your hard-earned items and experience upon defeat, but thankfully you can unlock settings which allow you to retain all your items and experience. This doesn’t necessarily make the game easier, but instead allows you to enjoy the sense of discovery and growth that comes with a roguelike.
The game also has a few cool ideas which are largely optional, but can offer some interesting gameplay variety for the curious. There are secret codes to discover which help unlock secret items. Then there is integration with Twitch, where you’re able to create an interactive Dungeons & Dragons experience with you and your friends. There’s a bit of setup to this, and it’s largely experimental, but it will certainly be interesting to see how this idea can evolve.
Sword of the Necromancer on Xbox is a traditional roguelike action RPG at its heart, and while the experience is basic on the surface, it manages to integrate a lot of cool ideas to create something greater than the sum of them. The basic premise has a compelling setup, although the execution of the story and its characters can be on the cringe side. That aside, the various gameplay elements come together nicely, from the creature recruitment to the materials harvesting. Sword of the Necromancer is a roguelike RPG that is largely experimental, and when all the little parts come together, it’s an experience which manages to standout from so many other procedurally generated indie games on the market.