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Winner Makes All: Mercury's Roguelike Experiment

Mercury is “an experimental winner-generated arcade roguelike”, which immediately made it sound more exciting than “a massively anti-aliased cover-based shooter set in a warehouse on the moon” when I read about it first thing this morning. It’s a free game in the early stages of development, which, because of its brilliant conceptual twist, makes it the perfect time for the good people of RPS to enter its dungeons. Mercury is “winner-generated” because after each cycle of play, the two players with the most points are allowed to make new content for the game. So what started as a single class, single enemy, single item dungeon crawl is becoming more complex and chaotic as time goes on. Try the beta now or read more below.

I hate snogs. I don’t know what snogs are, because they’re certainly not desperately drooly teenage kisses in this context, but I know that I hate them. Someone called Monty made them and they are the enemy that most consistently ends my point-plundering descent to victory. I do know that Monty made his creations vampiric, so they suck away my life and become stronger as they do so. Maybe they are tongue-twisting teenagers after all?

Thankfully, far kinder people have made a selection of weapons, including the Razorclaw that I always hope to find on the first or second level. In roguelike tradition, there are potions as well, although only the one type at the moment, in the form of a useful healing draught. There’s wine as well, which is a kind of potion I suppose, but that has some unpleasant side effects to go with its admirable ability to heal bleeding wounds. Just like in real life.

If you’re confused by how all of this works, I recommend the very handy description of how the game works written by the developer.

The ‘arcade’ part of the description is due to Mercury’s emphasis on high scores. There’s no ultimate objective, other than the absolutely awesome goal of winning access to the tools that allow you to recreate yourself as a monster in the game. If I ever manage to be at the top of a leaderboard, there’ll be a ‘journalist’ class, a ‘mighty pen’ weapon or an ‘angry physical manifestation of a severe hangover’ enemy. To earn enough points, I’d be wise to recognise the importance of boss monsters, which have an asterisk atop their symbol. Killing these increases the player’s points multiplier by one, so they should be your first target on each floor.

Going down a floor provides a health boost and also adds to the player’s turn pool. Because the game is turn-based, that’s basically like receiving extra time to delve deeper. Running out of turns can lead to a mad rush into each corner of a floor, searching for the way down, although killing some monsters will provide extra turns as well. Thanks to whoever created those blighters. At the moment it’s more Desktop Dungeons than Stone Soup, with calculation more important than character building. However, that could all change as things become more varied and there’s a chaos mode which seems to contain just about everything ever. I’ve only glanced at that.

Each level, or board as the game calls them, is only one screen in size and clearing it completely of monsters provides a huge bonus. The biggest problem with the scoring system at the moment is that the top of the leaderboard is dominated by people with several million points, which would take a great deal more devotion than I can muster. However, private servers may be arriving in the future, which would make the game instantly more compelling. Not only would there be more potential for each player to influence the future of their own version of Mercury, but it would be possible to gather like-minded souls and create themed dungeons.

There’s masses of potential here and I suggest we all jump on board and see if we can’t climb up the leaderboards together. First person to create Horace is a heretic.

Oh, and bleedzerkers? Nowhere near as awesome as they sound.

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Adam Smith

former Deputy Editor

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