Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review: Once More Unto the Breach
Fancy yourself an adventurer? Think you could give Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain a run for their money? Can you beat Pitfall blindfolded?
If you answered "Yes" to any of those questions, then you may want to take a look at Curse of the Dead Gods, an Early Access roguelite from developer Passtech Games. It'll have you living out and dying from those adventurer fantasies, all within the confines of a Diablo meets The Binding of Isaac mashup.
The "early" portion of "Early Access" is key with Curse of the Dead Gods: The gameplay seems razor sharp at this point, but many of the levels, equipment, and monsters have yet to be implemented.
Here's what we think in of the game in its current build.
Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review: Once More Unto the Breach
Curse of the Dead Gods puts you in the shoes of a daring adventurer, trapped inside a labyrinthine, South American-inspired temple. You are trapped inside and cursed with a constant cycle of death and rebirth, and the only way to stop it is by braving the temple and slaying the god of death itself.
You'll start each run at the entrance to the temple, where you'll pick your starting bonuses and how long of an expedition you want to set out on. There are several starting bonuses to choose from, and each one stays available after it has been unlocked.
If you want to make things more difficult, you can always leave your bonus slots empty when you venture inside. When your health runs out or you defeat that run's boss, you'll be taken back to the entrance, stripped of your equipment, to try again.
It's a similar structure to many other popular roguelites, and it calls to mind games like Rogue Legacy or The Binding of Isaac. However, the gameplay here is what helps set it apart from those titles.
Hack and Slash
Curse of the Dead Gods couples a hack and slash combat style with an isometric view. Enemies attack you from all directions, and you must dodge, parry, and strike when you have the chance to thin the herd and preserve your health for the game's tough boss battles.
You have a variety of weapons at your disposal, including swords, shields, claws, spears, bows, pistols, and more. There are a lot of viable builds, and each player is sure to find strategies they favor.
Adding another layer to the game's strategy is the ability to flip between these weapons on the fly. You have a torch, a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, and a heavy weapon. Each is mapped to a different face button (you can play with the keyboard, but it doesn't feel quite right), so it's easy to swap between them in a hurry. The key is remembering the pros and cons of each weapon in the heat of battle.
You might have a heavy weapon that deals extra damage to enemies that are on fire. Your torch does little damage, but you want to swing it once to get an enemy ablaze before knocking off chunks of their health. At the same time, you might have a secondary weapon that replenishes some of your health every time you score a kill with it, so you want to stop short of killing your flaming foe so you can net that bonus, too.
It's a lot to juggle, especially when you're on longer runs and health restoration is few and far between. Sometimes, you just want to plow through a tough room with your strongest weapons, and other times you want a bit more risk for better possible rewards.
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
There are a lot of other mechanics at play in Curse of the Dead Gods that make the risk-reward aspects even more impactful. As you move through the temple, killing enemies and avoiding traps (spike traps, fireballs, etc.), you'll collect gold.
You can use this gold to buy better equipment and stat bonuses as you move through the rooms, but you'll often find that the best items are out of your price range. Lucky for you, the gods also accept blood as payment.
Besides your health bar, you also have a corruption meter that measures how deeply embedded your curse is. As your meter fills (it also goes up as you move through rooms or from certain enemy attacks), your curses become stronger.
This adds different effects to your run: gold might disappear quickly from the floor or enemies might replenish health if they move away from you. Sometimes there's a bit of a benefit, and Curse of the Dead Gods loves to stack effects on top of one another to see if the player (or the temple itself) can take advantage.
Another fascinating element is the game's light and shadow mechanic. There are braziers and other flammable items placed throughout the temple, which provide illumination and cast shadows. On a basic level, light helps you see enemies better. On a more advanced level, light and shadow can come into play through various upgrades and bonuses, giving the player even more things to consider with their build on any given run.
Lather. Die. Repeat.
Gameplay in Curse of the Dead Gods is rock solid already: combat feels slick and responsive. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you dive in too deep but once you learn the mechanics and controls, you'll start to feel like a true adventurer.
There are a few things that give us reservations about completely recommending the game as is, though.
The main element that gives the best modern roguelikes and roguelites their infinite replayability is the sheer amount of enemies, drops, and rooms you can encounter. Even if you've sunk dozens of hours into The Binding of Isaac, you'll still discover new items and combinations because of the sheer amount of things in that game.
Though Curse of the Dead Gods is still very early in the development process, there isn't a ton of differentiation between runs right now. There are only a few types of enemies you'll encounter. Temple layouts start to feel very similar over time, and weapon bonuses seem to repeat far too often.
Passtech has promised plenty more as the game's development continues, and we don't doubt they'll deliver. However, as is, Curse of the Dead Gods can feel more like repetition than exploration and mastery.
Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review — The Bottom Line
- Excellent risk-reward balance
- Difficult, arcade-style combat
- Accommodates several different playstyles
- Allows you to customize length and difficulty of each run
- Lack of variety means lots of repetition
- Combat mastery could ultimately reduce challenge too much
For some, repetition is part of the genre. If that's you, then you won't mind perfecting the combat in Curse of the Dead Gods, stringing together your best runs and overpowered combinations on your way to defeating the temple bosses.
On top of that, whenever an update comes along to add new material into the game (there is a lot of stuff headed down the pipe, ultimately), that'll just be a new reason to jump in for another adventure.
For some, however, you may want to hold off a bit until more gets added. Like most roguelites, you're going to die a lot as you start to figure things out. If you're seeing the same things over and over before you die each time, it would be understandable if you bounced off of Curse of the Dead Gods.
That would be a shame. There is so much good to this game and, if an arcade-style hack and slash game with this much style looks appealing to you, you may want to hold off a bit until a little more work has gone into things. Don't sleep on this one, as it's got everything you want for a fun adventure.
[Note: An Early Access copy of Curse of the Dead gods was provided by Passtech Games for the purpose of this Early Access review.]