Necropolis is the latest game from Harebrained Schemes and one that I’ve been looking forward to. The studio wanted to try its hand at combining the rogue-like and action RPG genre with a unique game. Now that Necropolis is out, unfortunately it misses the point of what makes both these games compelling.
The story of the game is that you are trapped in the Necropolis: A dimensional holding ground by a powerful being. In order to get out, you need to work your way down and hopefully find an exit without being killed.
To start with some good, the game looks great. While the art style may be minimalistic, it creates a stylized atmosphere for the game. The game’s levels are procedurally generated with different enemy placements and types for each playthrough.
Combat is set up similar to the Souls games: Controlling left and right hand equipment while managing stamina. As you play, you’ll find, buy or scavenge new gear to wear of escalating tiers of power. Similar to traditional rogue-likes, there are scrolls and potions that have their function shuffled with each new play. The only way to know what they do is to either use an identifying scroll or try them out.
Playing through the game, you’ll find pillars that unlock new biomes and enemies for future plays. This is one of only two forms of progression in Necropolis; the other has to do with codexes.
Long-term progression in Necropolis on the player’s side is built around acquiring codexes. The codexes provide passive bonuses and unlock new crafting recipes to use during a run. Getting them requires the player to earn tokens which are unlocked two ways.
The first is to complete randomly assigned quests from your strange host during a play. The second comes in when you die. All the gems earned during a run are added to a pool that unlocks tokens with the cost getting successively higher. As with any good rogue-like Necropolis wants you to keep replaying to unlock more challenges and content for later runs.
Unfortunately, it’s the combination of mechanics and progression that hurt the game the most.
Mixing genres is never easy for game designers. Taking what works in multiple genres and combining them can leave you with a game that doesn’t appeal to anyone. Necropolis suffers with major issues in both the ARPG and rogue-like side of things.
Starting with ARPG, the game’s combat system is woefully behind other games on the market. There are annoying wind-ups for any attack, leaving combat unresponsive. Enemies will sometimes attack through your attacks or get stunned with no real indicator as to why.
The game’s combat system becomes very one-note as you learn how the game works. Shield bashing is the best way to stun enemies and has little downside to use.
Meanwhile, charge attacks will lower your max stamina until you have a healing item with each use. This causes the player to not use them and is a good example of a hoarding mechanic.
It feels like the game was designed around multiplayer first with how wide swings are and the wind-up, with singleplayer as an afterthought. The problem is that if the base mechanics don’t feel right, then that extends out to every part of the combat.
The game loves to spawn enemies behind the player and fill up rooms that were already cleared. When you combine this with room and hallway structures that look the same, it’s very easy to get lost and frustrated. There are tons of weapons in the game, but nowhere near the same level of depth and feel that you get in a game like Dark Souls.
Because the base gameplay is so simple, it makes the runs feel very boring to play through again and again. The best way to see what I’m talking about is to watch videos of plays of Dark Souls or my video companion piece of Necropolis linked below. Not helping matters is the progression model which the developers really screwed up on.
Playing a rogue-like, each run has to be different enough to keep the player on their toes and make the game replayable. Necropolis simply doesn’t have any worthwhile progression.
The codex concept is a good idea, but you can only equip one at a time. This is supposed to make you choose different play styles, but comes off as leaving you without a lot of options of progression. The different biomes don’t really add up to unique challenges, once again, because of the lackluster base mechanics. Not helping matters are confusing descriptions of the codexes; leaving players unsure as to what they actually do and how they impact the game.
The developers missed the chance to really grow out each new play with new challenges, such as in Rogue Legacy or The Binding of Isaac. The point is the player unlocks new content that changes subsequent runs. The more you play the more variety you’ll see.
There’s just nothing of note that unlocks through progression that makes me want to keep playing. And the content that does get unlocked uses the same one-note combat system.
Necropolis has some good ideas to it, but it’s missing the connective tissue that made games like Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac work. The developers have listened to these complaints and will be updating the game over the weeks to come. Here’s hoping that Necropolis will have a second life along the lines of Skyshine’s Bedlam, and not sealed in a tomb.
For more on the game, you can watch my video examination:
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