If there’s anything of a new hotness in the gaming world, it’s definitely roguelikes. Crawling out from under the towering presence of open world survival titans like Minecraft, RUST, and ARK as well as the battle royale scene with Fortnite and Apex Legends, Roguelikes have been slowly rising to the top over the past few years.
Passtech Games’ first debut into the genre comes out of the gates fast and hard, and became a smashing success out of Early Access. Curse of the Dead Gods features creative and exciting mechanics that make it stand out among the crowd, as well as a striking art style reminiscent of Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame).
Curse of the Dead Gods starts you off with a simple premise: You’re an adventurer trapped in the ruins of a Chatac temple, heavily inspired by Mayan and Aztec culture. You get a machete and a pistol and you’re off to find the way out.
Or are you?
Cursed To A Miserable Fate
Well, it turns out you’re cursed to roam this labyrinth of never-ending traps and enemies forever. As you go deeper, you become more corrupted and the game steps up the difficulty. Eventually, you may find yourself face to face with a champion of the Dead Gods. If you survive….well, you’re back at the start of the temple.
“Why are you cursed?” you ask, sitting on the edge of your seat.
Well….I dunno? The game unfortunately lacks a strong story behind the amazing gameplay. There are some tidbits of lore tucked away behind unlocks by defeating enemies, but there are no cutscenes or dialogue about who you are and where you are. It all requires a bit of digging, which to me felt like a letdown.
Now, that’s not to say that all roguelikes need stories with them. A good setting is all you need to play Risk of Rain 2, or a creative deckbuilding component to get lost in Slay the Spire. But for a game with such striking visuals and a rich setting with plenty to draw from, the game falls a little flat for me.
The combat is where Curse of the Dead Gods really shines.
Curse Of The Dead Gods vs Hades
Those who craved more difficult combat from Hades or more thoughtful dodges like in Dead Cells will be right at home here. You start with five points of stamina, which is used by dodging, combo finishers, and some two handed weapons. You can regain stamina by waiting, but that makes you a sitting duck. Instead, you need to weave your attacks with your dodges, and stay safe. If you manage to perform a good parry, you’ll even regain some stamina to keep the flow of combat (as well as feel really rewarded when you land a sorely-needed parry).
On top of that, the game offers a ton of weapons and weapon combinations, with 11 total weapon types to choose from, and each type offering 8 unique weapons within them. That’s a LOT of variety, more than you usually get from your average roguelike.
Now that you’ve got the rhythm down, you’re able to fly through some of these levels, and I mean fly. Maybe I’m just too into roguelikes, but I found most levels being really short, and combat not being enough. Maybe there wasn’t enough enemies that spawned, or maybe they were just not that difficult in the first place, but I often breezed through most of the first 5-7 rooms. Maybe I’m just too used to the infinite spawning hell of Risk of Rain 2 or the constant fear as I turn up the heat in Hades, but I breezed through more rooms than I’d like to.
Unique Light System
One of the unique mechanics added to the game is the light system. Simply put, you got a torch and you gotta use it! Having your torch out lets you see traps ahead of you, spot enemies and loot, and overall make your life easier. The downside is that your torch takes up your main weapon, so you have to offset higher damage for vision. On top of that, if you get hit by an enemy or a trap while it’s dark, you’ll take more damage.
There are some sconces and whatnot that you can light in some chambers so you can see better, but in my experience they always seem to be extinguished by an enemy as soon as I light it. Instead, I opt to just light one of the baddies on fire (a totally valid strategy) and use them as a natural source of light.
You’ve cleared this floor and you’re ready for the next one. You approach the door, pick your path, and BOOM! You gain some corruption. What’s that? Well, if you fill up the little purple bar in the bottom right, you get a curse. Curses can be wildly different, I’ve had some easy ones that make almost no impact in my run, versus some that made me regret every choice I made so far. It helps keep the game fresh without going overboard. You can also get corruption at any shop you visit, since the game allows you to purchase new relics and weapons with either gold or blood.
Curse Of The Dark Visuals
Now that we’ve talked about most of the core mechanics, let’s talk about the visuals.
Curse of the Dead Gods is a beautiful game, hidden under a very dark world. The art style is grim and beautiful, very reminiscent of Hellboy and The Walking Dead (not the show, the graphic novel).
The floors you run through as you traverse one of the three temples offered (with a fourth coming later this year) are unique and each one stands out from the others. The enemies are unique and interesting, as well as the bosses that await you at the end. Some sections of the game I have felt were too dark, even with my trusty torch in hand.
The few cutscenes the game offers are very well done, with the intro cinematic simple yet powerful. Even the brief scene when you receive a new curse is beautifully animated and iconic. I do wish there were more, to better explain the world or the dead gods we’re fighting against, but maybe that will come in a future update.
Scratch Your Roguelike Itch
At the end of the day, I’m a sucker for roguelikes. Curse of the Dead Gods scratches all of my itches, with unique mechanics presented in an interesting world. However, I do have a couple (minor) issues with the game.
As I stated, the gameplay has a steep learning curve, but plateaus fairly quickly for me. Maybe I didn’t play enough, but by the third temple I was breezing through most floors with little to no issues.
I have no issue picking up a new game, flying through the tutorial and learning the game. But there are just so many mechanics I have to keep in mind while playing the game, that it slowly becomes decision paralysis.
Do I run and dodge to find a place to light this room and fight? Or do I risk it and hope I don’t get hit more than a few times?
Is this weapon really worth that much corruption? Would I be better off with what I have right now?
Do I dodge? Do I parry? Do I need a new weapon for this next floor? Do I want to get a relic? WhichstatdoIincreasenext? WhichcurrencydoIneedtounlockthenextweaponorbuff?
There are a lot of things to ponder about in this game, which I worry will be a turnoff for those who aren’t prepared for it. Especially those coming off the heels of Hades, another similar title with far less decisions to make that actually impact the game.
Curse Of The Dead Gods Review Summary
Would I recommend it? Absolutely, but with a caveat.
For those who are not as invested in roguelikes as I am, I would watch our gameplay footage first to see if it’s something you’re willing to play.
If you like roguelikes, or want a unique and moody atmosphere for a game, by all means pick up Curse of the Dead Gods today.
Yay…another Roguelite. If your game isn’t procedurally generated, then you’re not with the programme.
It’s a tough deal these days, after Hades; the bar has been set high. So along comes Skul: The Hero Slayer, joining the group like a new pop-up artisan burger joint, offering Japanese corn-fed beef patties on a piece of slate, in a brioche bun and serving Argentine beer whilst they play full Bob Dylan albums… on vinyl.
Just like a few years ago when burgers became artisan…roguelites are everywhere at the minute and there is no sign of let-up. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you know which waygu and which way not to go.
One Large Retro Pixel Art 2D Roguelite, Please
Skul is a pixel art 2D platform roguelite. The graphics and the way the text scrolls one generated letter at a time is very much like an old Nintendo Entertainment System or SEGA game.
The whole look of the game is retro styled and has an early Zelda feel to it. The usual roguelite elements are here. You die lots and keep nothing with you except for small incremental trait improvements which are split into three options, magical attack, melee attack and critical damage chance.
Gradually a combination of mastering the attack styles of enemies and the compound difference of incremental trait advances starts to pay off; you can go further, do more and so the game scales.
The premise is that the heroes of the world have united to finally conquer the demon kingdom and have imprisoned the Demon King, defeating and capturing monsters and wraiths of the underworld in the process. All except you that is… You are Skul, the tiny little skeleton sent on a final desperate mission to expel the Heroes and rescue the Demon King. You do so by journeying through RNG rooms that you have some control over.
Before entering the next room, you are presented with a choice of two rooms from one that delivers a skull, one that delivers money or one that delivers a power-up item. You get this reward when you clear the room full of enemies, but the level of reward, common, rare, unique and legendary are randomised. There is also a blank room which is simply a random pick of any one of the above. This allows you to somewhat control what you get in reward at the end of each room on your run.
Throughout levels there are shop doors to pass through that offer the chance to spend money on a variety of RNG items in each of the categories and a free skull is often offered to you.
You also have the end of level doors marked in red where you fight mini-bosses in the shape of caped heroes or one of six end of section big bosses.
Back To The Grind?
So far everything is pretty standard stuff for a roguelite, it’s done very well, but nothing special. The trick (and difficult bit) of making a successful roguelite is to avoid the improvement seeming like too much of a grind. There is nothing worse than being thrown back to the beginning for the 80th time, hating the idea of having to do those rote early levels yet again. One of our developer podcast guests recently described a lightbulb moment for him.
It was understanding what the central appeal or mechanic of your game was and to not limit it, but give lots of it to the player. That, after all, is why they are playing it. So, a roguelite has to constantly offer you demonstrable character improvement to keep the player in that feeling of ‘this time know I can get further…one more go’.
How does Skul do at this? There are two things that let it down. Whilst the rooms are procedurally generated, the enemies within rooms are not RNG; they are the same ones in the same places, following the same movements each time and there is limited variety in rooms.
There could (and should) have been more on offer here to make replaying them seem like less of a pointless grind in getting to whichever level you are currently powered for. The other problem is that in the early stages of the game, progress is very slow and the difficulty is punishingly hard. You can easily die fifty or sixty times with little progress beyond the early sections and seemingly scant character trait improvement.
Rotate Your Skuls
These issues could cripple Skul, but they don’t, because what lifts Skul: The Hero Slayer out of what would have been a mediocre entry to the genre at best, is an amazing mechanic that is the core attraction of the game. The ability to swap your skull and pick up another with radically different merits and powers.
There are about thirty-five skulls you can be given but you can only use two at any one time so, there are choices to be made. Each skull will be focussed on either speed, physical attack, magic attack or a balanced one of all elements. Within that there are different tiered skulls that give your play a different level of deadliness in attack and variety.
There are common skulls: rare ones, unique ones and legendary ones. These can and do pair with increasingly power with items that you pick up that complement the characteristics of speed: power or balance more so than the other skulls. The right combinations can result in your character becoming a devastating whirlwind of retribution on the heroes invading your land.
Oh yes… and if the difficulty is too hard there is a rookie setting that halves incoming damage, which 20 % of players choose to switch on – ooufff clearly tough then.
At first it might feel that you are at the mercy of getting an early unique drop of a rare or legendary skull to have any hope of progress, but as your character increases trait power with each run the common skulls become very playable and both the common and rare skulls can be upgraded to become as powered as a legendary one.
This means that not only are there a vast range of playstyles open to you with these RNG skull drops, but as your character levels your ability to use almost any of them effectively also increases, making for an enormously different experience of play each time. Perfecting them and settling on a preferred playstyle is fun and you can very much single-mindedly focus on this from a restart, keep only physical skulls and always choose/buy the physical upgrades.
You can also crush all other found skulls into bones to use as a currency to upgrade your Skul. Make these decisions early on based on the first skull given and you can rapidly compete with a legendary skull, you need not wait on the RNG to gift you one. This is only really possible when you have enough compound trait progression though.
This bewildering choice of gameplay styles and power-up make the early rooms playable on a repeat basis because you are forced to learn several different playstyles, hitting from distance, melee, special moves that are directionally dependent and ones that aren’t, the list goes on, all dependent on the skulls dropped for you in the early rounds.
Games do not usually make you learn more than one or two play-styles, but here there are a vast array of combinations and these changes, if you upgrade; remember that you can only ever hold two skulls at a time. This semi-forced variety is a magical mechanic to the game that takes some learning, but is richly rewarding.
All of this combines to produce amazing combat that you can easily control and master to clear dozens of enemies from different directions with wonderfully satisfying and increasingly powerful attacks and combos. It is something that looks like chaotic luck, but isn’t.
Skul: The Hero Slayer Review Summary
You will probably get about 40 hours out of Skul: The Hero Slayer and it is worth every penny of a relatively cheap price point. This isn’t a perfect roguelite, but it is a good one with a marvellous core mechanic that defines the game and lifts it beyond the small problems it has. Being the bad guy has never been so much fun.
Let’s be honest here. Hades is a fantastic game and there’s no reason to give it anything but a recommendation. Five Stars. 10/10. To claim otherwise that Supergiant’s entry into the rogue-lite genre isn’t a masterpiece would be a complete lie, and I’m an honest man.
Overview of Hades
It’s not difficult to describe Hades on the surface – It’s a 2.5D rogue-lite game that takes place in the beautiful world of the Greek Underworld. You play as Zagreus, the edgy and cool son of Hades who just wants to leave his hometown and explore the world, but Hades oddly refuses to let you leave Tartarus and communicate with your Olympian relatives.
So naturally, you run away. Dashing through the rooms of Tartarus, fighting monsters left and right as you make your ascent to Earth. You meet colorful characters from Greek mythology, like Sisyphus and his super cool eternal punishment despite him being super kind, or eternal sad boy Orpheus who just wants to vibe in the afterlife.
Not to mention the Olympian gods, who send you their blessings to help you advance through each run, each one with their own personalities and boons to offer unique builds for every run through the layers of Hell.
One of the most unique features that Hades offers is that it’s a rogue-lite with an actual story. And like, a good one too.
Most roguelikes have a story ranging from “mom locked me in a basement and is going to kill me, by the way here are the four horsemen of the apocalypse and my dead unborn brother” to [frustrated shouting at your monitor when you’re 12 minutes into Monsoon difficulty], with gameplay superseding the story-line of the game.
The more you progress, and die, and repeat, the more the game opens up for you. New characters begin to wander the halls of Hades’ home, as well as new weapons with unique upgrade paths for each one. Each character has their own story and personality that unlocks the more you spend time to interact with them, or gift them items to strengthen that bond.
Supergiant isn’t new to the realms of excellent storytelling as well as engaging gameplay – with the hit games Bastion and Transistor under their belts, they are no strangers to fantastic storytelling. Paired with the unique genre of Roguelite games, the gameplay loop of progressing as far as you can before dying also allows the story to unfold at the pace of the player. Hades only offers one clear goal: Escape Hell, and you beat the game.
Of course, most players aren’t going to be able to pick up the game and complete it in their first attempt. Once they have shaken off their mortal coil, players see new characters and options in the world to unlock and play with, as the story unfolds with each incremental victory.
Summing Up Hades
Eventually, the game culminates in it’s “final ending” (Although I think there is a third ending after you escape a certain number of times), which is not only completely satisfying, even still adds further content to explore within the game.
Generally, I don’t play a game all the way to completion for a review. In this case, our Hades review was epic. I’ve logged close to 55 hours of the game, and I still pick it up for a few runs every couple days.
I don’t think there is any other way to sum up how I really feel about this game, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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