Necropolis (Xbox One) Review
Developer: Hairbrained Schemes LLC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Necropolis is a third-person rouge-like dungeon crawler that can be played alone or with up to three other players. While the game does several things right that give me hope for a future sequel, it also has several drawbacks that keep it from achieving its full potential.
First things first, Necropolis uses a minimalist art-style that features stylized characters and environments for a cartoony, unique look. That means that environments are intentionally “blocky”, as every object has a pronounced polygonal shape. While this makes the game look very good, it also makes it difficult to navigate as the game reuses assets over and over and a lot of rooms look alike. Details and hidden rooms get lost in the environment very easily. Considering this is a rogue-like and pretty difficult game, you need all the loot you can get to progress, making those hidden rooms essential for success. This leads to players running around in circles trying to find these rooms among the repetitive environments. I am all for artistic choice, but not when it makes navigation a chore. In terms of the character models, the graphics fare better. The cartoony looking art-style makes each character and enemy look like it was ripped from a “Mega Blocks” set, a toy come to life, and this adds plenty of charm to the proceeds. Sure, the enemy designs are not that inspired as they have been ripped from the “fantasy monsters manual”, but at least they look good.
The combat system seems to rip elements from the Dark Souls playbook, meaning that careful planning and a slower pace is recommended. You have normal and heavy attacks, dodge and parry buttons and a stamina bar that controls your capability to use these functions. Hacking and slashing carelessly will lead to finding yourself “gassed” when you needed to dodge the most. Considering that the game likes to throw 3 or more enemies at a time at you, being careful and smart is the way to go. While combat became my favorite aspect of the game, it does lack a certain “oomph” factor. I don’t know if it was the artistic choice or what, but I never felt my attacks looked as powerful or lethal as they should. While you have the ability to string together combos and special charged attacks that varies depending on the weapon wielded, I rarely went for more than two or three hits at a time for fear of gassing myself and being caught flatfooted. While there is still room for improvement in this area (more animations and combo variety), combat is by far the best aspect of the game and has a strong foundation upon which to build for future entries.
The game also has a pretty involved crafting mechanic as you collect stuff like meat, bones and the like and use it to craft food and potions. You will find basic healing potions here, but also much more involved stuff that grants temporary invisibility and increased damage among others. The thing is, you begin with a very limited amount of recipes and you need to purchase the others from the vendors scattered around the dungeon. While there is a ton of recipes to find, once you figure out the REALLY useful ones you will likely use your limited resources for those.
Multiplayer makes the easier/better. Playing with friends not only make it easier to defeat the mobs of enemies thrown your way, but also makes some of the frustrating navigation I described earlier tolerable. After all, with four people looking around the samey-looking rooms, SOMEONE had to find the hidden rooms/way forward. Also in a surprising decision for a rogue-like, friends can revive each other and only when all party members die will you visit the game over screen. This takes some of the challenge away from the game. Not only can a well-coordinated group of four wipe away the mobs that appeared insurmountable in single-player, but you have a LOT of extra chances to continue playing as it is very rare for all four players to be wiped out at once, even with friendly fire. While single-player made me extra-careful and extra-worried, I died more in multiplayer from friendly fire than I did from enemies. It’s like multiplayer becomes the game’s “easy” mode.
Another frustrating aspect (or realistic if you will) is that there are no stats, numbers or the like in the entire game. Every time you kill an enemy and pick up a random shield/sword/knife/thing, you don’t know if it is any better than what you already have. Sure, there are plenty of FAQ’s and Wikis around with information about the game, but even those are more from theories and personal experience than any factual confirmation that X sword is better than Y sword. Since you have very limited inventory space, you run the risk of dropping something valuable for something that sucks because you didn’t know any better. It also prevents the game from having the same “addictive” loot-collecting loop as some of the best action RPG’s. Once again, props for trying something different, but once again, it seems to hurt the game more than it helps. I would suggest in the future a “progressive learning system” (I should trademark that!) in which the more you use a piece of gear, the more you “learn” about it in terms of stats and usefulness. That way it retains the “you don’t know what it does so experiment with everything”-hook they are trying here while also making it (eventually) clear which piece of gear is better in the long run. Kind of like a mix of both, their current system and the typical system for other action RPG’s.
Like many rogue-likes, the game is artificially longer because you spend a significant amount of time dying, re configuring your hero and restarting the dungeon for another try. I am yet to beat the game by myself, but I did beat it in multiplayer in close to four hours. While the game remains challenging on every run, the fact that it reuses so many assets for its randomly generated levels and the lack of meaningful loot (I am sure someone somewhere knows what the “ultimate” pieces of gear are) take away any desire I might have to keep playing it over and over. I am sure I will play it again in multiplayer because it remains a fun cooperative romp, but it simply lost its hold on me when I beat it.