Review: Necropolis: Brutal EditionBrutally monotonous
Necropolis is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve… and then does very little with it to warrant any sort of positive comparison to them.
Often seen as “The Dark Souls Roguelike”, Necropolis takes the Souls games’ combat and throws it into a roguelike dungeon crawling structure: permadeath, procedurally generated dungeons, randomised loot, and a high level of difficulty that encourages the player to keep throwing themselves at its walls until they finally make it through. On top of all that it throws co-op for up to four players, too.
Even though it has its charm, it ultimately fails to make for either a compelling roguelike or a good Souls-y dungeon crawler. The whole is most definitely less than the sum of its parts.
Necropolis’ biggest strength is by far its style. Trudging through the low-contrast, low-poly dungeons looks just great. It’s impressive how Harebrained Schemes managed to give each zone its own flavour while keeping in with the minimalistic aesthetic. The lighting of a stone dungeon, the blizzards of a snowy valley, the stalls of a bizarre and alien market, all of them look fantastic.
The enemy designs are memorable too, even if some of them are simply pallet-swaps of each other. Each type of floating orb and each type of adorable sharkman feels different to the others, and they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Even the simple grunts who shriek and scream as they approach have well-designed outfits and weaponry.
Each type of floating orb and each type of adorable sharkman feels different to the others
The game also has an utterly killer sense of humour. The irreverent one-liners from the all-knowing pyramid antagonist were generally to my taste, and jokes could be hidden behind any corner. Sometimes it relied a bit too heavily on jokes about how hard the game is which got old quickly, but most of the time the writing was witty enough to keep me going.
I struggled with how little stuff there was to discover
It’s a shame, then, that it’s very easy to see most of what Necropolis has to offer visually very quickly. I played the game after the Brutal update which introduced more of practically everything from the original release, and even then I struggled with how little stuff there was to discover. In only two or three lives I had seen identical rooms, hordes of similar enemies, and worst of all the exact same equipment.
There aren’t any visible stats to items, just a rank. A level zero item is worse than a level one, which is worse than a level two and so on. While there are the odd few elemental effects in some weapons, knowing I’ll almost always be able to find an electric sword from a specific type of enemy early on, or that I’ll probably get the same bit of armour from a chest as last time really killed the sense of discovery and chance that makes roguelikes special.
This lack of variation totally kills the enjoyment of the mechanically challenging Souls-y combat, too, as there’s very little in the way of taking ownership over your character. Because you get the equipment you’re given, and because that equipment tends to appear at the same time in each attempt, there’s nothing in the way of stat-building or class specialisation that makes each run different.
Each weapon controls more or less the same, so every encounter over multiple lives feels the same. The Brutal update introduced a second class, the slower and tankier brute, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference to proceedings: block, roll around a bit, slash the enemy. If things get hairy you can perform an area-of-effect strike, but that’s about as far as tactics go. There’s no accounting for what weapon you have or what armour you’re wearing, so once you’ve learned an enemy’s patterns it can a doddle multiple lives later.
There’s very little in the way of taking ownership over your character
Killing enemies and completing side-missions rewards you with a currency that can be used to unlock codexes – modifiers which make the game a bit easier, for example by making the obnoxious stamina meter a bit less annoying.
While this does help add a bit of much-needed progression to the game, it also encourages large amounts of grinding instead of embracing the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants nature of roguelikes. Codexes are maintained between lives, so sometimes it is more worthwhile to die early to cash in your kills than it is to stumble and scrape your way out of a tricky situation.
Even with the Brutal update, Necropolis’ biggest downfall is its lack of content. It looks great and can be really funny, but the repetitive rooms, enemies and equipment all serve to undermine a solid set of combat mechanics. Add to that monotony the amount of grinding needed to do well, and it’s easy to see why it only took a few runs for me to get thoroughly bored.
Maybe just go play Bloodborne on one screen and The Binding of Isaac on another?
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC/OS X (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Harebrained Schemes/Bandai Namco
Release date: July 12 (PC/OS X), TBA (PS4, Xbox One)
- Great art style
- Good sense of humour
- Interesting character designs
- Limited content
- Repetitive combat
Necropolis has the makes of a great roguelike in it, but it crumbles under the limited content, enemies and weapons that make each run the same as the last.