Hands On: Eldritch

Not enough games feature librarians as central characters.

As Nathan mentioned this morning, Eldritch is from the hands of David and Kyle Pittman, formerly of BioShock 2 and Borderlands fame. But hey, maybe all they did was make those games crash? We don’t know! So I’ve taken a look at Eldritch to see if their pedigree counts for anything… Oh, it does. It’s really rather good. They probably didn’t make those games crash.

What a contrast. After exploring the not-yet-anywhere-near-enough-content world of Delver yesterday, today I’ve been rogueliking my way through the first-person dungeons of Eldritch, and coo – for all the visual similarities – this one’s packed. Also not finished, Eldritch is a already a superb combination of roguelike-like and first-person pottering, crammed with inventive ideas.

You are a librarian. No, you are. But some dreadful spell means you don’t remember your own library, and nor indeed the worlds hidden inside its magical floating books. Rendered in Minecraft-a-like blocky textures, any concerns about fatigue at this art style are quickly abandoned as you stop noticing and start exploring. Even the hub library itself deserves a thorough poking around, built as it is out of multiple layers and floors, impossibly floating about, packed with hidden holes and a few expository books to read.

There are three sparkling books, only the first of which is open at the start of the game. Use it and you’re drawn into its world, a series of descending dungeons packed with peculiar enemies, improvised weapons, magical ability-dispensing statues, tasty food, useful shops, and most importantly of all, soul orbs at their very bottom.

So in some senses, Eldritch offers few surprises for the genre. You can pick up stones and bottles to chuck at baddies, or better find the plentiful daggers and pistols (pistols? They’re an odd inclusion, that might more fittingly be replaced by something more magical). Bullets need to be scavenged too, usually from looting the corpses of fallen foes. But ah – looting a corpse has the counter-effect of causing that mob to respawn somewhere else in the level. Loot for goodies, or leave the level safe?!

But despite there being nothing strikingly original, it puts all these elements in exactly the right place. And most of all, it remembers to include a motivation for your descent. While death is very permanent, you can leave behind collected coins for your resurrected next attempt, and if you manage to open the second or third book, they will stay open for your next go.

Except, it’s rather clever with this, really. Because die in the second book’s offerings and restarting directly there is going to be a tough call. You’ll go in with no weapons, and no keys for the many locked doors. And things are far tougher in there. It’s going to be worth revisiting that first book at least for a bit to gather some useful resources. On top of this, gathered souls don’t survive a restart, so if you want to achieve whatever placing all three souls onto the three library pedestals unlocks, you’re going to need to complete the whole thing in one life.

Helping you with that are the magical abilities received via praying at huge statues. Of the range of these, I’ve found one that provides me with an invisibility cloak, one that lets me build blocks in the world to create barriers, another than lets me teleport, and a fantastically useful spell that lets me convert monsters to my side.

There’s still work to be done, of course. Most significantlly, it’s not yet nearly difficult enough, which isn’t a phrase I usually find myself saying of the genre. The first book’s enemies don’t offer anything in terms of a fight, and even casually knifing at most of them is a quick button mash. They’ll likely only kill you if they surprise you from behind, and that’s most likely due to a lack of audio cues. Come the second book and this picks up enormously, so some balancing is needed in there.

But then, wow, those book two enemies are something. Beefed up versions of what you’ve already seen is predictable. But getting killed by a… I can’t even bring myself to make the reference these enemies are clearly to – too big of a spoiler. Oh, and I was pretty damned freaked out when I encountered an enemy just stood in a room, banging his head against a wall. Erk, this isn’t going to a happy place, is it?

Shops are a blessing. You can’t sell items, but you can pick up some excellent bonuses. There are boots that’ll give you a speed boost, an increased jump, or a stealthiness that means bads won’t hear you coming. There are also tokens, sort of runes, that will increase loot, aggression, defense, that sort of thing. And if you feel naughty, you can steal from the store, perhaps killing the shopkeeper too. Again, the difficulty here is way off, the shopkeep very simple to kill, giving you little reason to pay for anything (a feeling furthered by his looking like one of the regular enemies).

Eldritch really nails its atmosphere, and the desire to delve into its randomly generated, multi-tiered dungeons again and again. With more balancing, and perhaps a few more floors added to each book’s realm, this could be a real hit. I can’t wait to see what more is added before release.

You can pick up the beta with a pre-order via the game’s Humble Store, and naturally give it a vote on Greenlight.


Top comments

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    Voxel is called Opel in my country.
  1. Big Murray says:

    Another game which looks like Minecraft then …?

    • InternetBatman says:

      It’s actually not. RPS just picked some very misleading sample shots. In practice it looks more like a cross between Pixeljunk Eden and Tribes 3.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I did once consider using Minecraft as a level editor for game jams, although the format is a little convoluted so you’d need to go in with a converter that turns it into something more useable by generic games.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Not a problem for me. Minecraft generates the occasional beautiful landscape or cave, and the blockiness doesn’t bother me. If this artstyle allows devs to make large, interesting games without a huge team or gobs of money, that’s awesome.

  2. shagohad says:

    are you also an orangutan?

  3. Casimir's Blake says:

    Well and truly pre-ordered. Anything approaching a first-person dungeon crawl gets my (increasingly dwindling) gaming time. More of these, please!

  4. ResonanceCascade says:

    How well done are the stealth aspects?

  5. BioSnark says:

    voxels are the ascii of 3d roguelikes.

  6. The Snee says:

    I’m horribly confused over this.

    All the elements are things I like, and it seems like a solid game, but the theme and what I’m seeing just don’t mesh. I can’t see myself being sucked in by the grim horror presented by the Mythos. The trailer music kills it. Dead.

    You can do Lovecraftian things in odd directions, whilst keeping the tone. Quake didn’t have professors doing research on occult rituals, or long monologues about the irrelevance of humanity in the great scheme of things, but the tone was there. Strange, grim locales filled with stranger creatures (which this game has), a sense of impending peril that gnaws at you, even when you have a powerful weapon.

    I don’t mind the style so much. Minecraft can be damn creepy at times, but my issue with Eldritch is it seems a bit “Hello Cthulhu cave explore!” Oddly, despite my love for the setting, I’d probably be more interested in this if it WASN’T Mythos themed.

    (As a sidenote, the Eldritch trailer matches up to the Quake theme perfectly)

    • RakeShark says:

      “All the elements are things I like, and it seems like a solid game, but the theme and what I’m seeing just don’t mesh. I can’t see myself being sucked in by the grim horror presented by the Mythos. The trailer music kills it. Dead.”

      Didn’t you know? The prophesied sound of our Old Gods destroying all we know and love is indeed ska-tastic.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Help Save The Youth Of America From Exploding, Imploding, And Unploding All At The Same Time.

      • limimi says:

        As I gazed into the eyes of that monstrous creature beneath the pork pie hat, I began to hear a sound. A sound I am certain I have heard once in a past life a sound I now can never forget, terrible and majestic and almost inaudible to the human ear. And though my eyes are gone now, gouged out in deference to those who came before, that night I saw where the unfathomable noise came from – that instrument of madness which sows madness and death where ever it is heard; the trumpet. And then, only then, could I truly hear it.

  7. thebigJ_A says:

    Watched an hour or so of it being played. Still looks bad.

    Soulless, even.

    And that’s not how they should use something as deep and awesome as the Mythos. Hoppy silly fishmen. Harrumph.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      To be fair, the mythos itself does occasionally boil down to hoppy silly fishmen. It all works beautifully through the writing but if you ever sit down and try to actually draw anything Lovecraftian – as literally physically described, without interpreting the feelings of horror and dread – you inevitably end up with silly hoppy fish men, flying brains in jars, mushroom people and all the rest. This is of course where most horror games based on the mythos go horribly wrong. e.g. Dark Corners of the Earth – which was brilliant up until the point where you’re just running away from, and shooting at, fishmen.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        The original Alone in the Dark, almost resisted but had to throw in a platformy, shooty bit at the end. With of course, plenty of fishmen!

  8. granderojo says:

    I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve gotten to play of this game even in it’s pre-release form. It’s a lot more dense then it gives itself credit at first glance.

    • limimi says:

      Did you preorder it then? I just did and the Humble Bundle page does not want to give me any beta or anything :/

      • Phoibos Delphi says:

        You´re not the only one… the articles made it look like you get access to an ongoing beta in case of purchase, but the humble page has not a single hint on how to enter the beta… Fthagn!

        Edit: Found this on the Game FAQ:

        If I preorder, when do I get access to the beta?

        The beta will open up around the end of September, exact date TBD.


  9. Jupiah says:

    So it’s basically 3D Spelunky with minecraft art style and a Lovecraftian theme then? Is that an accurate summary of the game? Because I never really got into minecraft so I was wary of this game at first, but I love me some Spelunky.

  10. Ein0r says:

    Paying money for something that would remind me of a Minecraft mod all the time ?…

  11. hypercrisis says:

    This sounds like a game that was generated by a marketing team. Yawn.

  12. rustybroomhandle says:

    Cutesy Lovecraft surely now has enough examples to be a genre of its own. Cthulhu Saves The World, They Bleed Pixels, Eldritch… prolly more.

  13. Tei says:

    I have always wanted to stab people in the back in a giant library with magic books, and them (maybe) dispose of the corpse by feeding it to demons.

    I really like these graphics, somehow screams “potential” at me, with a magical voice.

  14. screeg says:

    When you said I could “pick up the beta” by pre-ordering, I assumed you meant just that, but the beta isn’t available yet.

    But: “Thanks for pre-ordering! When Eldritch is ready, you’ll be able to get it right here on your download page.”

    the frown of disappointment :(

  15. GamesInquirer says:

    I was really looking forward to it as I also have Delver and do find it a little lacking in depth (though it is still evolving, it’s not finished). Now I’ve played Eldritch I just don’t see it. Granted, I’m only at the 2nd book’s world (so about halfway there, another book world and then whatever unlocks behind that library door, unless there are many more worlds in there) but this is rather simplistic and arcade style. Purposeful or not, like Spelunky it has a limited amount of weapons, a limited amount of enemy behaviours (though some are neat I won’t spoil it here, yet others were annoying), a limited amount of equipment/spells/perks and such (some even seem overpowered, having the item that gives your bullets block breaking properties and the spell allowing you to place blocks anywhere for example). I like the game, it’s fun, but deeper than Delver it isn’t and I don’t see it having more lasting appeal. It just has different pacing. Delver doesn’t have the basic stealth, vertical level layouts and some of the more clever spells/perks of Eldritch but Eldritch doesn’t have the more traditional and extensive progression of weapons, armor and what not. I’d say they’re equal. Fun for a while with tons of untapped potential, not nearly as experimental as you’d think indies using these basic block based engines/graphics could be.

    Edit: I reached the final world after a few tries, though I died and now I will have to complete the previous three worlds again to return. As the article mentions you need to do it all in one go, though you get to keep your stored currency (used to buy stuff and also as mana for spells and certain ools) and unlocked worlds except the final upon death. It feels like the design was compromised too. If you can only hold two weapons what’s the point of binding two keys for previous/next weapon? A switch weapon key would be enough. Similarly, upon every death you will have to do all the worlds again and it’s best to do them in the correct order to accumulate resources before tackling the tougher areas, so why keep them all unlocked? Anyway, my opinion hasn’t changed. It’s a fun but limited game with untapped potential.