Will you succumb or will you fight?
It’s become common practice to see developers taking gameplay elements from roguelikes and mixing them with different genres, bringing new experiences. Commonly referred to as “Roguelites”, they frequently utilise procedurally generated levels and permadeath. Spelunky was one of the first roguelite games in 2008, inspiring other titles like “The Binding of Isaac” and “Enter the Gungeon”.
Now Passtech Games have brought us Curse of the Dead Gods, attempting to implement these mechanics within an action game and sees you exploring a cursed, dark temple. Releasing via Early Access, Passtech is aiming for a full release by the end of 2020, and the current build contains one of its three planned temples. It’s light on content as a result, but if the first temple is an indicator of what’s to come, it certainly looks promising.
Playing as an unnamed explorer, you begin by venturing into this mysterious temple, which quickly closes behind you after entering and leaves you trapped. There are three paths to follow, but currently, two are blocked off, leading you to the Jaguar Temple. COTDG doesn’t have much story, but it’s not an experience that needs it, throwing you straight into the action.
Upon starting the temple, you’ll be presented with a map that contains multiple branching paths to choose from. Sometimes it lists what the next area contains, such as larger quantities of gold or new weapons but occasionally will keep this hidden and paths are randomly generated, just like the levels.
Whilst similar patterns occasionally emerged, the majority of levels felt different enough, providing a high degree of replayability. This only goes so far; however, and the biggest problem is that the game needs more variety in its content. Passtech has confirmed there will be more traps, enemies and weapons coming as development progresses, but in its current state, it just leaves you wanting more.
You start off armed with a torch, sword and guns for different combat styles, but new weapons like spears can be found. You can also dodge roll and parry for defensive strategies, but each action uses stamina points. If you run out, you have to wait before you can use an action, and this leaves you vulnerable. So you’ll need to avoid spamming attacks and learn defensive tactics if you wish to survive. After playing the Jaguar temple once, COTDG then offers the choice of a short, medium, long and hard exploration, capping which boss you’ll finish at.
Levels are coated in darkness and contain dozens of different enemies, traps, treasure chests, hidden rooms and more. You can use your torch to light beacons when they appear, weakening your foes who thrive in the darkness. Eventually, you’ll reach two champions of the temple, serving as mini-boss fights that lead up to a final boss. Traps appear in many forms, such as explosive barrels, floor spikes and fireball-spewing statues but they can be used to hurt enemies as well, helping make combat satisfying.
Greed Will Be Your Downfall
Upon killing an enemy, you get combo bonuses for consecutive kills as long as you don’t take damage and these are known as “greed kills”, granting a better gold reward for every additional enemy. Combat is one of COTDG’s stronger points, catering for a wide range of fighting styles with its weapon variety. It’s a lot of fun, kills prove to be satisfying, and it feels surprisingly well polished for an early access game.
It’s not as simple as just treasure hunting though, as the temple extracts a heavy toll on your explorer’s mental wellbeing through the corruption meter, which holds up to 100 points. This fills up each time you advance to a new level or take magical damage, and once you reach 100, you’ll be afflicted with one of 10 random curses (Due to increase in future updates), and this can happen up to five times.
Curses range from enemies becoming stealthier in darkness to gold chests also corrupting you when opened. COTDG is not an easy game by any means, providing a difficulty curve as it attempts to challenge players, but most importantly, deaths never feel unfair or cheap. Once you die, your explorer returns to the temple entrance, reverting back to default weapons, health and no relics, so you’ll need to start again.
The Bloody Price
As you defeat enemies, some will drop relics and these act as stat boosts, improving your constitution or maximum health as one example. Harder foes drop crystal skulls instead, which can be used to unlock blessings that remain with you even after death, such as traps dealing extra damage to enemies, light sources illuminating further distances and reduction in damage to your character. These are limited though, and you can only use one, with extra slots becoming available after defeating champions.
Some levels contain statues that allow you to purchase relics with gold but only one at a time. If you lack gold, you can offer blood, but this raises your corruption level even higher, so be careful. There are also havens within the temple, which sounds friendly at first but corrupts you further in exchange for health restoration. Everything comes at a cost, but this keeps gameplay balanced, its risk or reward.
One of COTDG’s more striking aspects is its presentation and Passtech have done an excellent job here. It features a detailed, hand-drawn look for the art style; it’s visually appealing and quite colourful for an otherwise moody game. This is all backed up by excellent audio, providing not just an atmospheric soundtrack but a sound design that really pushes the eerie aura of the temple.
A Work In Progress
Passtech Games have established solid groundwork within Curse of the Dead Gods, but right now, it’s a game best viewed as an investment whilst in early access. It’s highly rewarding and features great combat mechanics but there just isn’t enough content within the current development build, though what is available presents a high degree of polish. With two further temples on the way and a March update promising new weapons, room variations, relics, curses and more, it’s certainly one to keep an eye out for.
[Reviewed on PC]