Wot I Think: Eldritch

By Alec Meer on October 25th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Eldritch is a first-person action game with randomly-generated levels and semi-perma-death which borrows liberally from Minecraft, Lovecraft, Spelunkycraft and Dungeon Mastercraft.

World 1: I scoffed, I shrugged, I triumphed.
World 2: I hid, I ran, I cowered.

Eldritch, very brazenly the bastard child of Minecraft and Spelunky, bides its time, initially presenting itself as easy and cartoonish and a shameless coattail-rider, before blossoming into the sort of oddball terror that Doom achieved back in the day. A simple setup, exploring a dimension that’s in equal parts Lovecraft and Minecraft – CraftCraft, then – and accessed from portals in an occult library, yields randomly-generated, peril-packed levels in the current post-roguelike fashion.

Down you go, through blocky caverns roamed by the reliably murderous likes of Innsmouthian fishmen, albino spider-things, croc-faced Weeping Angels and what appears to be Orko from He-Man, seeking to gather weapons and upgrades as you go, and ultimately to find mystical artifacts that will permanently open up access to new, harder dimensions. Such shortcuts aside, death means essentially starting over, although if you managed to stow any spare cash in the bank before your untimely death and immediate resurrection, you can at least grab that in order to more quickly purchase items from the infrequent stores.

It’s hard to get past the Minecraft thing, naturally, and there is a part of me which bristles at the apparent attention-seeking nature of it, but it doesn’t at all play the same way. There’s no building whatsoever, and destruction of blocks is mostly limited to occasional use of rare and precious explosives to create a shortcut or bypass a locked door (keys are found regularly, but you’ll often run out). Spelunky is the closer comparison to the experience you’ll have, but even then it doesn’t have the Mossmouth title’s delicate, elegant balance of twitch and strategy. Naturally, being first person (with eerily long, stick-like arms) rather than side-one makes a huge difference too, and means it becomes a game more about hiding and performing precision strikes than platforming and high-speed evasion. It’s more openly a combat game, however – monsters spawn and respawn at random and regularly, so laurels cannot ever be rested upon.

Eldritch is a crude thing, in appearance and spirit, but to be honest that suits it most of the time. Lovecraft might be a stated influence, but the reality is puppety silliness with just enough of a sinister edge. Combat is high-speed and panicky, usually entailing frantically slapping at blocky, barely animated beasties that can essentially do little more than lunge at you or throw Doom Imp-fireballs with predictable paths, but impressive variety and ingenuity is wrung from that.

The game starts very easy, with fairly basic and archetypal monsters, then come the second world the foes become significantly stranger, more sinister and dangerous. It presented me with things I wanted to steer well clear of, aware of how damaging they’d be if they saw me, aware that some of them could not even be killed. They were not in themselves scary, but the knowledge that they could end my current run, cost me all my loot and gear, was. There’s the Weeping Angel-like thing I mentioned, which only moves when your back is turned and will deftly swiped most of your health from the rear of your head if you’re not careful to move backwards or 180 repeatedly. All that reptilian statue can do is move-without-moving, it must have been laughably simple to animate, but it’s so effective and so unnerving – particularly because it can’t be killed by anything short of explosives.

Another enemy, clearly the result of an unthinkable tryst between Slender Man and Munch’s Scream, cannot be killed, only temporarily downed, continuing its relentless, long-armed pursuit after a few seconds – rarely long enough to get far away, let alone hoover up any loot in the immediate vicinity.

Everything’s so very simple, yet effective. Irregular flooring, filled with holes and spikes, plus ceilings from which all manner of crazy-shaped pillars and stalactites protrude, makes each randomly-generated level into a claustrophobic maze, with enemies prone to appearing suddenly, without warning. It’s not actually terrifying, but it is unnerving. Most enemies are easily and quickly dispatched with a couple of crude knife-stabs or toylike bullets, and if you can get the drop on them they’ll crumble with a single shot or blow. Occasionally you’ll find a shrine, praying at which will grant you a random spell – barrier, limited flight, enemy hypnosis – which requires cash each time you cast it. That’s an interesting dynamic, creating a tension over whether you save cash to spend on new kit and health restoration or sp(el)unk it all away on mystic aid.

You’re likely to lose it all soon enough anyway, of course, although death is far less frequent and more spaced out than in Spelunky, and does generally stem from user error or laziness than the game outfoxing or outnumbering you. I’ve seen complaints that the game is too easy, but I think that perhaps reflects wanting a reasonably severe Spelunky-like challenge; this is a more traditionally beatable action game. Go in expecting that and I think you won’t face such disappointment.

A more universal issue is that there isn’t that much to it – a thin roster of items and weapons, essentially the same activities required throughout and the randomly-generated environments rarely creating real difference beyond the cosmetic in each replay. I’d imagine Eldritch will see an ongoing trickle of new content – there’s one Minecraft inspiration Eldritch definitely should nick – but in its current state it’s something you can exhaust fairly quickly. There is a New Game+ mode which ramps up difficulty, but the experience is the same otherwise.

Again, I’m sure Eldritch will be fleshed out in time, but for now it’s a throwaway affair. That’s no bad thing at all, given playing either Spelunky or Minecraft these days is approaching second job territory. I’m fine with lightweight, and I’m reasonably sure that’s all the game intends to be anyway. In fact, my only serious gripe with it is the complete lack of Sisters of Mercy references.

Eldritch is out now.

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60 Comments »

  1. Armatool says:

    I’m already sick of all that minecraft style games
    They all looks same to me

    • airmikee99 says:

      The graphics are definitely lower quality compared to other games, but this doesn’t look anything like Minecraft to me.

    • Niko says:

      Don’t all the high-poly hi-res texture games with realistic models look the same to you?

    • Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

      I’m with you. I can’t decide if it’s a bona fide style now or just an excuse for a developer to be lazy. Either way it’s ugly.

      • Shodex says:

        It’s somewhere in the middle, I think there is a legitimate and interesting style to be found here. But this is certainly not it, it’s definitely giving developers a chance to be lazy and you can’t make a game look good when you’re lazy. Even simple visuals take effort to look nice.

      • Mad Hamish says:

        What’s with this trend of calling devs lazy? If you actually manage to make and release a game, you’re not lazy. You pretty much have the evidence right there. It’s usually a case of “oh this part of the game doesn’t live up to my arbitrary standards, therefor lazy devs”

        Saying you think it’s ugly is a valid opinion, no problem there. But the “lazy devs” bollocks is weak. You have absolutely nothing to back up that pretty harsh accusation.

        • airmikee99 says:

          Psychological projection.

          Those that are calling developers lazy don’t even have the skills necessary to map out a flow chart for a game, let alone make an entire game that others would want to play.

          • Mad Hamish says:

            There’s plenty of actual criticisms people can level at devs, I don’t see why they resort to unfounded ones like that. I’ve heard it from plenty of respected critics too, not just in comment pages. Without anything to back it up it’s just wild speculation, going well beyond what should be just criticism.

            It annoys me when people a get their extra sharp knives out specially for small devs.

          • benjaminlobato says:

            According to their website, Minor Key Games was founded by two brothers sometime in 2013. It’s still 2013 and they have released a fully-playable and well-reviewed game. You might not dig the art style, but its insane to call these guys lazy.

          • Convolvulus says:

            There are cases when adopting a popular aesthetic whole hog signals either a degree of creative apathy or a lack of artistic skill. ["Hog signals," said me.] I’m not putting forth an opinion about how much thought went into this game’s look, just pointing out that no one made any accusations of general workplace idleness. It’s possible to work very hard on something lazily conceived.

          • jrodman says:

            I’m not sure the vocabulary is on-point, but the sentiment seems legitimate. Games that have not really been polished and give off a sense of being half-baked belie a sort of lack of will to be thorough by the game creators. Sometimes that’s actually a benefit to the game, but often it’s not. Calling them lazy is lazy, but I think most everyone knows what’s implied, boorishly presented as it may be.

          • nearly says:

            It’s entirely appropriate to call devs lazy for defaulting to a a given style (to the point where it’s verging on generic) rather than developing something uniquely their own, no matter how much work they put into coding or programming. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking at a game critically just because you haven’t made one yourself. Valve says they make first-person protagonists mute because it’s one less character to develop; however much work they put in the rest of the game, that’s still the epitome of laziness and a total cop out any way you cut it.

          • bvanevery says:

            Sure if you’ve got Valve’s budget. Which isn’t the same thing as a 1 or 2 indie game development “team” at all.

        • Rhodokasaurus says:

          Im totally in agreement. I’m sick to death of seeing the word lazy attached to game devs. I doubt there’s a single game on Steam which qualifies as made by “lazy” people, even if you don’t like it a lot of people probably busted their ass for years to make it.

          It’s almost always projection from people who have never made anything in their life.

          • Martel says:

            Not saying I agree with the poster you’re replying to, but I imagine they’re implying intellectual and/or creative laziness, not how many hours they work in a day.

      • Xbone420 says:

        I’d rather a game dev studio of only two employees focus on gameplay more than graphics. That doesn’t seem lazy to me at all. It seems logical, unlike your stance.

    • Shooop says:

      I don’t see why they used voxels for this game. Voxels are in minecraft because the game assigns so many different attributes to every block of everything. In a game like this though where you don’t interact with the environment in that way it’s pointless.

      • Mondaik says:

        Destructible terrain and randomly generated levels made it a pretty obvious choice methinks.

      • Convolvulus says:

        I think they’re polygons made to look like voxels.

      • karthink says:

        Minecraft is not voxel based.

        • Artist says:

          Sorry to tell you but Minecraft is indeed a voxel engine. Check the source in the modding community. (And btw it would be pretty much impossible to draw that many objects in a non-voxel engine with more than 1fps.)

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            I remember reading Notch’s blog where he gets all mad every time someone claims Minecraft is a voxel game.

            edit- no, I think was on Reddit where he posted that.

    • Turkey says:

      There’s like four.

    • Michelle says:

      my friend makes $83/hour on the laptop. She has been fired for nine months but last month her income was $21331 just working on the laptop for a few hours check it quickly>>>>>> http://goo.gl/XjXcH1

  2. GamesInquirer says:

    I agree, as I posted in the previous topic.
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/10/22/eldritch-out-on-steam-its-good/#comment-1371421
    However, I don’t know if it will be fleshed out. It’s not an early access title, unlike Delver. You might want to warn people for spoilers, like that enemy type. The game doesn’t have many surprises.

    • Shadowcat says:

      I have to agree on the spoiler comment — that one creature concept is absolute genius (a cliched concept, true, but I got a shiver just imagining it happening in-game); however the thrill would have been so much greater had it come as an in-game surprise.

  3. shadybearfaced says:

    This game seems fine but seriously, please just stop with the minecraft visuals.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      I disagree. If that kind of lo-fi art style can enable more devs to finish their game on time/within budget and present us with new and interesting mechanics, more power to them.

      Lo-fi graphics are usually more convincing to me anyways, imagination fills in. In AAA game the least animation glitch completely breaks my disbelief.

      • lurkalisk says:

        The problem isn’t necessarily the low poly/res stuff, it’s that so many have latched onto the specific style minecraft chose, rather than trying to be a little more creative with their “lo-fi” world. At least that’s how I feel.

      • Dave Tosser says:

        Teleglitch and Hotline Miami both did lo-fi without resorting to blocks, though admittedly both were isometric and I can imagine playing a game with a similar aesthetic from first-person would do awful things to your head. Still- woozy lights, chromatic aberration, screen shake, visual distortion and a high-contrast palette will do more to give your game that lo-fi feel than Minecraft blocks, and I’d love to see that style more often.

        This game doesn’t seem all that ugly to me. I don’t think the Minecraft visuals help it when it already looks like an aggregate of every indie game ever made, but it seems to be doing well in the review circle and I can’t say I don’t like this sort of thing. Hopefully it sees some content updates. Thanks for the WIT.

      • Koozer says:

        You can easily do ‘lo-fi’ without looking like Minecraft. See: the nineties.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      It’s not really minecraft visual as just old school. I mean look at the enemy models. This game has like 10 times more graphics than Minecraft. Also the textures are much higher res than default minecraft.

  4. Vinraith says:

    Here’s hoping the game continues to be expanded, and that the dev chooses to include the option to start on New Game+ difficulty (for those that enjoy the greater challenge). There’s a lot of potential here.

  5. ColCol says:

    Yeah. It is Fun. Yet, Way too short and very little content. I would suggest waiting if possible. I’m not sure it will have content added. The developer has said both no and maybe to the possibility of new content. The main thing on the menu right now seems to be making Eldritch compatible with other systems.

  6. Fumarole says:

    CraftCraft? More like MineLove.

  7. maximiZe says:

    Kind of a bummer that they didn’t improve pretty much anything from beta to for release except for adding the NG+ mode. The game lacks goals and interesting ways to achieve them, even if you’re setting out to do an accessible “rogue-lite” as the developer stated (somewhere in the Steam discussion hub I believe), a handful of questionably balanced spells, one legitimate melee weapon and two ranged weapons aren’t enough when the three stages are such a breeze to plow through. And with the pathetic amount of tools and general variety in the game, why would you ever go for a second run? You’ve seen everything the game has to offer already, the interlocking systems and randomization aren’t sophisticated enough to generate anything new or challenging.
    I doubt NG+ brings any substantial changes.

    Also I don’t really feel like this game will be updated with content at all, although I certainly hope to be proven wrong. The foundation is there.

  8. strangeloup says:

    I’ve been quite enjoying this. It reminds me more than anything else of Ultima Underworld, though I do suspect the price was a bit strong.

  9. Spacewalk says:

    It looks too Euclidean.

  10. gwathdring says:

    I’m not sure why people are bothered by the visuals. It’s one thing to say it doesn’t look very nice. Saying the problem is that it looks like Minecraft … (or as in similarly grumpy comments on other articles because it’s retro-pixels) … really, does it matter? While we’re at it, let’s tell bands to stop making annoying stuff like Speed Metal–we have too many speed metal bands! Do something new like … er …

    Originality is an elusive goal, especially when discussing the visuals of a product the main intent of which is to create engaging play more so than engaging sights. I’m much more concerned about quality, and I’m ok with games that sacrifice visual quality for other things just like I’m ok with music that sacrifices virtuosity for other things.

    I think it looks fine. It’s low-fi, but it gets it’s point across and it has a pleasing color scheme. I think Minecraft looks quite nice. I see no reason to call it lazy; lazy is putting as little effort as possible into the visual cues, lighting, color scheme, enemy design, texturing and so forth. Lazy is having graphical glitches, things that are unclear, inappropriate redundancies, inappropriately outsourced assests, and so forth. Something being less complicated than alternatives does not make it lazy. Lazy is not bothering to put in additional work that’s necessary or at least very important to the project even though you know how important it is just because you don’t want to bother.

    Calling it lazy is either incredibly presumptuous or itself a lazy, judgmental and insulting shorthand for more valid statements like: it’s dull, it’s overly simple, it’s uninspired, it’s poorly rendered, and so forth.

    • airmikee99 says:

      I think it’s just a generation of spoiled gamers that have never seen a video game that focused on gameplay instead of graphics. I still remember games like Police Quest and Thexder on my 8088 XT, they may not have looked all that amazing, but they sure were fun.

      • Convolvulus says:

        Thexder and Police Quest? You spoiled kids are so obsessed with graphics. All we had was Zork, and we loved it. Honestly, you’re just looking at those old games with new eyes. Let go of that gameplay/graphics dichotomy. Designers should never focus on one over the other because the latter is always a major component of the former with regard to functionality. That was just as true when Thexder was made. (Have you seen the faithful remake on PSN?)

        It’s fair to downplay the lone value of photorealism, but almost everyone over six-years-old knows that realistic visuals on their own can’t make a lousy game enjoyable. Disliking a simplistic aesthetic just for its simplicity is obnoxious, granted; on the other hand, not caring for a particular set of visuals is part of the human experience, and growing irritated by a design trend is understandable to a degree.

        • gfrenz says:

          Zork? In my day we had a cardboard box, ,and we took turns placing it over a ball made of bandages.

          • bvanevery says:

            You had cardboard and balls?? In my day we had to just run around the neighborhood going PEW! PEW! PEW! with our fingers shaped like guns. The resources…

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        I don’t know about “spoiled” but it’s certainly a younger generation of gamers that just have not seen games that look blocky like this outside of Minecraft.
        This game doesn’t look like Minecraft, it looks like a mid 90′s FPS with early 00′s models.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      What’s there to say? It’s their loss. If they get annoyed at the sight of blocky games I doubt words can convince them. If they’re truly never played visually abstracted games and thus haven’t experienced how the human brain can interpret it beautifully and automatically fills in gaps in detail, just so long as there’s something there worth playing to hold your attention, and they just can’t believe other people can enjoy it, there’s probably no way of conveying that phenomenon to them.

    • benjaminlobato says:

      It’s strange because I feel like on “core” gamer sites like RPS, I’m always seeing people complain about how much the modern gaming industry focuses too much on fancy shiny graphics, to the exclusion of other aspects of game design. Now when a game with a lo-fi aesthetic but with an interesting premise and mechanics is released, there are all these people that refuse to give it a chance because of the way it looks. Game devs can’t win!

      • bvanevery says:

        We don’t know the demographics of who has the loudest voices, so I see little reason to despair. A developer, by necessity, has a thick skin and does what he / she wants. Damn others.

    • Borsook says:

      I am bothered by these game’s graphics, and I am far from liking photorealistic representation. I love the visuals of Dundeon of Dredmor and Sword of the stars: the Pit, in both cases far from Skyrim and preferable to it. Clear, easy to read, with a pleasant and distinct style. The graphical style here is clunky, it limits the design and representation of detail, and it is not distinct, in some shots you could mistake this game for others…

  11. Lavs says:

    Brad from Giant Bomb said enemies won’t respawn on a floor if you don’t loot them. Might be some misinformation in this article: “monsters spawn and respawn at random and regularly, so laurels cannot ever be rested upon.”

  12. Stuart Walton says:

    Not enough variety, unbalanced, and short. I do like the concept and I did enjoy my play through the game.

    I ended up sticking with the sneak boots, conjurer’s amulet, lockpick set, and teleportation. I could sprint up behind enemies and stabby-stabby them to death. No longer needing keys and requiring a reduced yield of cash and ammo, I no longer needed to loot the dead, stopping the re-spawning. The only enemies that presented a danger were the statues, which could be bypassed with a teleport.

    Other optimal loadouts wouldn’t really make the gameplay much different. There isn’t much replayability. More level variety, some changed enemy behaviours , and some re-balancing of items and spells could improve the longevity.

  13. cancelHoo says:

    Voxel graphics =/= Minecraft.

    Dumb analogy. Also, stop using rogue-like unless a game is like rogue (which this isn’t). “Procedural level design” and “perma-death” are quite a few more characters, but lets not be lazy.

  14. hjeer56 says:

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