Necropolis is a cool-looking game from cool developers that looks cool sitting atop Steam’s top sellers list. It’s got the feel of a surefire hit. It’s also really not very good at all.
I’ve played a few hours of Necropolis now, and I hate to say it, but I’m bored. The game’s a third-person action roguelite with overt Dark Souls influences, and it comes from Harebrained Schemes, the folks who brought us the recent (and very good) Shadowrun games. You can watch me play in the video above.
As you probably noticed, it’s got a snazzy stylized look, and all the characters wear sweet-ass scarves. The game screams “COOL” almost as loudly as its baddies scream “EEEEEARRRGHHHSCARYNOISE” all the damn time.
It’s almost fitting that a lot of those enemies are skeletons, because Necropolis doesn’t have much meat on its bones. (That said, the skeletons frequently drop actual hunks of meat that you can eat to regain health, which seems counter-intuitive because, you know, skeletons. But I’m getting away from myself.)
You delve ever deeper into randomly generated dungeons, fighting groups of enemies with extremely basic attack patterns, using only a few different types of weapons. Combat is repetitive and unsatisfying, and each floor of the dungeon is punctuated by little more than a health increase and a trip down to the next floor. No boss fights, no surprises aside from some light story stuff. Even loot quickly grows tiresome, since many weapons confer slight (but never displayed or otherwise de-mystified) stat bonuses while feeling almost exactly like other weapons. Necropolis is just hallway after hallway of winding monotony.
It’s not horrible, per se. It can be a system hog, but for the most part the game at least works. Problem is, everything about it is just so predictable. Enemies, whether large or small, speedy or slow, move in straight lines, rarely vary their tactics, and often form up into clumps and start thwacking each other on accident. They’re easily kited and crowd controlled, especially once you’ve got a larger weapon like a great sword or a big ol’ skull-splitting axe.
Weapons often look mysterious and powerful, and their effects light up the whole screen. I’m talking literal swords of ice and fire here. But the game is full of mystifying design decisions. Charged attacks, for instance, produce magical fireworks like the most patriotic damn warlock you’ve ever met, but they drain the hell out of your stamina and don’t hit nearly hard enough to justify it. Generally, your best bet is to chip away at enemies with light attacks from a larger sword. Stuns and knockdowns will follow, and shortly after, victory.
Another thing that stands out to me as entirely bizarre: the game encourages you to use a lock-on targeting system ala 3D Legend of Zelda games, but then it frequently throws you into cramped spaces full of tons of enemies. That is piss poor encounter design for a lock-on system. It doesn’t make any sense to lock-on given the circumstances. You’ll just get attacked from angles you can’t see.
On top of that, the game looooooooves to spawn enemies behind you in rooms you’ve either cleared or mostly cleared, further punishing you for locking on to deal with the task at hand. Who decided these things were good ideas? Can someone follow them around for a few weeks and put chairs and cacti and other painful things for them to trip over just outside their line of sight? Can they at least learn from all of this?
Necropolis has some occasionally entertaining writing, and its art design is solid. When you’re cleaving through crowds with a blood red blade the size of a mammoth tusk, combat verges on satisfying. But mostly, Necropolis is dull. Co-op multiplayer makes it slightly less so, but ultimately you just end up divvying up boredom between yourselves like rusty old blades from a bummer of a loot chest. Much as I generally love Harebrained Schemes’ games, I simply can’t recommend this one. Your time is better spent on any number of other, better roguelites and/or Souls-alikes.
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