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Impressions: Hack, Slash, Loot

The Adventurer's Curriculum

Featured post They are not dungeon defenders, they are dungeon invaders

Hack, Slash, Loot, which released yesterday, is dungeon crawling in a very pure form. Between the hacking, slashing and looting you’ll be doing a bit of walking, sure, maybe even reading the occasional scroll, but there’s not much else to distract from the bare necessities. It may well be the simplest roguelike I’ve ever played, with actual visual approximations of the things you’re looting, hacking and slashing, a point and click interface, and no inventory to manage. There’s equipment in abundance, but it’s a case of choosing what you want and leaving the rest on a dank floor somewhere. There’s a sizable demo and the full game is £6.64/$9.99 on PC/Mac/Linux. More thoughts below.

With Defender’s Quest and now this, it feels like the Tuesday of excellent variations on popular themes. Hack, Slash, Loot streamlines the process of killing and collecting and, in my opinion, looks very attractive while doing so. Rather than providing a single quest – FETCH THIS AMULET THAT MAY BE AN ORB – each game begins with choosing a class and a goal. Each mission has a themed dungeon associated with it, so if you’re tomb raiding you’ll be fighting the undead and looting tombs, whereas if you’re demon hunting you’ll be…hunting demons.

Movement is turn-based, although clicking at the opposite side of the room, or on a distant object, will send the hero trotting over to it unless interrupted by injury or death. Let it be known that the grimmest of reapers is a rude man who will not hesitate to talk over people at dinner parties or pick up the other phone line while they’re trying to talk through a tricky patch in a long distance relationship. The best way to avoid his touch in Hack, Slash, Loot is caution and cunning.

Don’t rush around opening every container in sight until a room has been cleared of enemies. Especially if those containers are crypts because do you know what crypts contain? Sometimes boots and hats, actually, which has been a constant source of delight for my needy adventurers, but the also contain skeletons. And this being a computer game, skeletons are not simply the breakable scaffolding of people who have passed on, their delicate mechanisms now doomed to be dust – skeletons are monsters that will stand up, wave an axe in your face and then cleave you into segments. I still don’t understand how they do it but they do and I’ll continue to blame the necromantic powers of Ray Harryhausen.

I said there was no inventory and that probably sounds like a terrible idea. I’m sure it will put some people off, as it means that instead of carting around what is essentially several character builds in a backpack, a decision must be made whenever loot is found. Do I want to be protected against necrotic damage but have less overall protection against claw and club? Is accuracy more important to me than damage? You can have two weapons to switch between but that’s it, so choices choices must be made partially on the basis of an individual character’s existing strengths and weaknesses, but also on the situation he/she is in at that moment. In a dungeon full of the dead, a holy dagger of smiting might be worth taking, even if it means chucking a giant bastard of a bastard sword into a corner, to rust and be forgotten.

Even scrolls, which have esoteric functions as well as fulfilling the usual roles of potions such as healing, are used on the spot. That can feel limiting but progress is so swift and injuries so common that there’s rarely a time you wouldn’t need to use something immediately. As well as only carrying the clothes on the back and the items in their hands, adventurers don’t level up in Hack, Slash, Loot. Presumably, if they did, it would be called Hack, Slash, Loot, Improve. The ‘Loot’ part takes care of any progress that’s made, with increasingly powerful artifacts being dropped and discovered as dungeons become deeper and more dangerous. It works well and helps to shift the focus onto the hundreds of weapons and armour pieces that are lying around waiting to be grabbed.

Equipment is handled elegantly. Stand on a piece of loot and it will pop out from beneath the character to be examined. Click to pick it up. As should always happen in any game that wants me to care about what I’m wielding and wearing, all the character’s stats are updated with a preview showing the loot’s effects when the mouse is held over it. With such a vast array of stuff to see it would be maddening to switch and swap, keeping mental notes of the effects of every codpiece and mitten, and the stat preview is the perfect solution to that.

That’s how the whole game functions, in fact. Information is displayed clearly and in suitable locations. Place the cursor over an enemy and its name is displayed, the weapon it’s holding (if any), its hit points, weaknesses and resistances. Good, good, good. I don’t mind digging through tomes of knowledge to find information, in some games I appreciate doing the legwork because it’s part of the experience, but Hack, Slash, Loot wants to sit in a window and entertain you for a few minutes at a time. No stress, no bother. Actually, that’s not entirely true; there’s still the stress of dying when equipped with the most glorious plate armour known to elf or man. That’s a bloody horrible feeling.

The demo provides six characters, some of which must be unlocked, and two quests, while the full version has 32 characters and six quests. That means it’s 486% bigger and 1,201% more fun. Remembering that those quests aren’t just a case of ‘find a different object’ but provide a theme for the dungeon in which they take place, it really is a decent amount of extra content. And I get to say something that I enjoy saying an incredible amount – the demo is large and a good representation of the complete product. If you like it and want more, you’ll almost certainly find that your money’s worth is concealed within the game and that’s not taking into account the possibility of further content for purchasers in the future.

I hadn’t heard anything about Hack, Slash, Loot before yesterday evening and I stayed up far too late last night playing and now I want to start playing again but can’t because I should probably write about other games as well. The title is a perfect description of what’s required and if you’ve ever enjoyed any of those three activities, this could well be to your liking. There’s less tactical planning and at times it feels more a game of exploration than character building, but these little pixel-jaunts do feel like adventures and I’ve already managed to build a couple of true heroes. Try yon demo and see for yourself.

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