Wot I Think: Necropolis

Shadowrun developers Harebrained Schemes have appeared with a very different game, Necropolis [official site], a third-person action roguelite. Which was an odd choice, all things considered. Here’s wot I think:

Playing Necropolis is like trying to wade through soup. Not some refreshing broth, but a lake of winter vegetable. Movement is sludgy, weapon attacks are glacial, the whole thing just soupy soupy soup.

A third-person action roguelite, your goal is to descend and explore through dungeons of enemies, gathering drops to craft and purchase, seeing how far you can get before you drown in the soupy mire. And at every stage the game seems designed to annoy with its snail pace. Enemies drop weapons, but the pop-up to tell you if it’s worth swapping for what’s currently in your hands takes a weird two seconds to appear. In a game that’s trying to lob frantic action at you, this is inexplicable, and really boringly annoying. Even after the fights are over, you’re still having to run up to each drop and stand still, wait for the pop-up, and then run to the next when it’s inevitably of no use. Repeat, wait, repeat, wait, repeat, wait…

The game borrows heavily from Dark Souls (and is about as much like it as someone who borrows a book is like a library), with stamina extremely limited. This means you can’t just jump and sprint and waggle your sword around like a loon: each action makes you temporarily very tired, and if you exhaust it you’re useless in a fight. So you have to develop tactics around this, ways of using this tiny (but quickly recharging) pool efficiently in more voluminous confrontations, aware that bigger hits permanently deplete it until you eat or drink. Which makes the achingly phlegmatic attacks all the more frustrating. Even the so-called “quick attack” is a lumbering effort, against multiple enemies who seem to somehow be immune to soup.

Clicking on a shopkeeper character to buy items is slow. Using a lift to descend a level is slow. Closing a chest is slow. And no, I’m not in some big hurry to move on, I’m being attacked by skellingtons and weird old men. And in the game.

But in the end, it’s not its lethargy that is Necropolis’s undoing – it’s its vacuity. It’s so empty, so bereft of purpose. It seems to exist only for the sake of there being yet another roguelite hack-and-slash, rather than because inspiration or imagination had birthed its creation. Large, gloomy levels have what could have been a striking polygonal aesthetic, but end up just being procedurally generated rooms of grey triangles for the first two levels and then switch colours later on. Enemies just seem to run toward you waving weapons, until one of you is dead. There’s no zing, no pep, no life.

The soupy controls are made worse by a weird angle to the movement, meaning things like circle strafing are peculiarly wrong, your character turning too much as you try. This clumsiness makes deaths feel far more due to the game’s failures than your own, which is an absolutely fundamental issue in a genre that’s framed around repeated deaths and the desire to try again. This is certainly not helped by the absolutely brainless decision to not let players change the controls.

Now, if you’re going to make the controls unchangeable (and you never, ever should, because there is absolutely no good reason for this ever to be the case), and only possible to view in the Options rather than edit, then I dunno, perhaps just maybe don’t set sprint to V. Has anyone in the history of video games ever chosen to put sprint on V? You’d have to have an extra finger between index (D) and thumb (Space) for this to even be considered an option! Completely farcical.

Where the game does try to inject its sliver of personality is via the narrator, Abraxis (who talks via subtitles – actual narration is a sort of atonal grunting sound). With such hilarity, Abraxis isn’t taking this whole thing seriously at all! He can’t even be bothered to finish sentences coherently, and blah blah blah. And it’s a device that maybe could have worked with a fantastic voice actor and some real zingers, but instead it just seems to underline the lackadaisical tone that permeates the entire game.

Unlocked bonuses are entirely unexplained, some completely inexplicable even after you’ve added them to your collection. Enemy attack patterns are boring, and comparisons with Dark Souls are ridiculously unearned. It uses numbers rather than skills to defeat you, or, in oh-so hilarious moments, randomly drops something heavy on your from above that you didn’t know was coming. My sides. Or indeed my behind, where you’ll be attacked from so damned often.

It remains rather odd why it happened. It’s a clumsy, dull, shallow, lacklustre trudge through cold soup. And fails at the most important aspect of any game in the genre: making me want to have another go.

Necropolis is out now on Windows and MacOSX via Steam, Humble and GOG for £23/$30/€28.

From this site

45 Comments

  1. bandertroll says:

    Just one word: refund.

  2. DashingDorm says:

    I appreciate Harebrained trying something new, even if not particulary successfull. But I actually hope they make more Shadowrun games. Even if Hong Kong was a tad uninspired, it’s still a pretty confident and well written RPG, could use more of those.

    • DailyFrankPeter says:

      There’s still a quesion whether they should charge full price for something which they made just to experiment. I mean if there was ever a good use of early access this would be it.

    • icemann says:

      More Shadowrun please.

      We still haven’t got a true sequel to the snes game (only a partial sequel) and nothing sequel related at all to the Mega rive game.

      Hell, I just want more Shadowrun. Hong Kong and Dragonfall were fantastic.

  3. Tempus Fugit says:

    I’ve been playing this game one and off and it feels this game is only half-finished. I remember it was supposed to come out months ago, but the devs said they struck up a deal with consoles which made them delay it. Now that it’s on Steam, I hear that the console versions are delayed.

    The thing is, I would have been able to understand it if the devs had just said “we’re going to delay the release until it’s ready to ship” but this just all seems like a bunch of poo-caca. I think there’s supposed to be another character you can play as but who knows. It’s all so vague. Poo-caca.

    • Sadfist says:

      Have to agree with this

    • qrter says:

      Looks like they ran out of money, basically. Harebrained have already stated that they want to create DLC for the game, but only if it sells well.. which looks unlikely.

      I didn’t play for long before asking for a refund. What little I saw of the game’s world looked so uninspired, and then the combat felt awful..

      The soundtrack’s nice, though.

    • Emeraude says:

      Yeah, I think there’s an interesting foundation work there – with potential actually, but the game fees like it was released at the part of development when they had just barely found the fun, so to speak, and after which didn’t have time to iterate and refine what’s there to where it needs to be.

      No multiplayer on GOG rubbed me the wrong way.

  4. Hobbes says:

    I think this qualifies as Harebrained Schemes first legitimate fail. Let’s hope it’s their last too. I have high hopes for BattleTech.

    • Premium User Badge

      magogjack says:

      Battletech is too close to a formula they have already buttoned up, I don’t see them rucksing that up.

    • Useful Dave says:

      I suspect they probably stepped too far outside their comfort zone so to speak with the real time 3D combat.

  5. clivemeister says:

    I haven’t been able to play this yet, but you could tell months ago this game was completely unpolished. I have no idea why there was hype around this, it was so obvious. They would need a good year to make it better, and I’m not even sure it’s worth it for them to try. It’s not original, artistically boring and just generally not very exciting.

  6. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Has anyone tried the co-op? Is it just as uninteresting with friends?

    • jalf says:

      I’ve had a ton of fun with it in coop. IMO that’s how it’s meant to be played. (Also with a controller, obviously. Don’t do like John and try to play it on keyboard)

      I actually think the somewhat slow attack moves work really well in multiplayer, where it creates a pace that really lends itself to two (or more) players moving around and trying to position themselves to work together, rather than just Diablo-style “I’ll just stand here and mash buttons”.

      Because your attacks are slow (some weapons more than other. You can actually find some that give you pretty speedy attacks), that means you leave yourself open, forcing you to rely more on your partner(s) to pick up the sack, knock down or kill the enemy.

      • Baines says:

        From what others have said, playing co-op destroys any difficulty that the game might have had, due to the AI picking one target and sticking with it no matter what.

        • Ragnar says:

          I believe friendly fire is always on, so the difficulty comes from not accidentally killing each other.

      • jalf says:

        sack->slack, obviously. Me spell real good.

  7. Jollyrogers says:

    I was quite shocked when I realized this wasn’t Early Access. It felt so bare bones and so bereft of heart. It is a poor man’s attempt to splice together Dark Souls-esque TP-RPG and roguelikes, but ends up being a Frankenstein-y affair with little recognition of either its inspirations. You might be able to salvage it with a friend to play with, but otherwise it gets old quickly. No one wants to trudge easy, boring levels every time they die :(

  8. HothMonster says:

    Sad. At least you have a cool hat?

  9. Neuromancing the Boil says:

    Damn, that’s too bad. A good Dark Souls roguelike begs to exist, but I’ll guess we’ll need a few iterations to get there. I had to harrumph through Rogue Shooter and Tower of Guns before I got my precious, precious Ziggurat, after all.

  10. Faults says:

    I kind of had my fears about this when I saw how lumpen and disjointed the combat and animations looked in earlier builds, but I was kind of hoping those were just growing pains. I was kind of shocked to see that the game hadn’t really progressed since those demos. Feels like the game could have done with a new project lead and an additional year in development, honestly.

  11. frogulox says:

    Anybody here play strikefleet omega?
    I quite liked it for what it was, dont know how well it would port to non touch interfaces, but i thought it was a good take on tower defence when it was released.

  12. TΛPETRVE says:

    The biggest issue is the price tag. 25-30 quid, depending on where you live, is at the very least a tenner above this game’s value.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      No, the problem is YOUR budget, and the need to impose your own restrictions on other people.

      • Emeraude says:

        If enough people share that opinion (and I’ve seen it quite a few times), that might just be the developer/publisher’s problem though…

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        A budget (however restricted) doesn’t necessarily equate to value. One could have a small budget yet see a expensive title as high value (while possibly having to save up for it) just like somene with a higher budget may feel the opposite.

      • bp_968 says:

        So wait, he is repressing people now because he thinks a game costs more than he thinks it’s worth? If that’s your definition of “imposing his will” then be happy you live in a place so “free” that it’s entirely warped your concept of “imposed” and repression.

        There are so many excellent games to choose from now and for most of us not enough time to play them all. Limiting your game pool via cost/value makes perfect sense. Price is also no longer much of a predictor of quality (if it ever was) in gaming. There are plenty of crap 60$ games and plenty of amazing games coming in below 15$ even at full price.

  13. f0rmality says:

    I’ve heard the co-op is fantastic while the single player sucks, did you not try that aspect? I think that was the primary selling point.

  14. April March says:

    Wait, what sort of madman eats soup cold?

  15. Styxie says:

    I wouldn’t consider myself a Dark Souls aficionado by any stretch, since I regularly get stomped by invaders, but I have finished all of them – so I have a basic understanding of how these games are supposed to work. I finished Necropolis in five hours without dying once.

    For a game which is trying so hard to mimic it’s themes and design, this is a pretty unforgivable offence. Remember those awful bits in Dark Souls 2 where you would get overrun by a dozen identical enemies? That’s every fight in Necropolis. You just move from room to room, clearing out packs of mobs and then the game ends.

    The best thing that I can say in favour of Necropolis is that it’s made me appreciate how complex and well designed the Souls games are.

  16. Metr13 says:

    I for one completely loved the game.

    I don’t really get what kind of pacing you expect from a slasher game that makes you manage your stamina and throws tough enemies at you. It’s not “doom with swords”, after all.

    The big problem with the game isn’t pacing, it’s not enemy design and it’s not even the slow pop-ups – the problem is that the game has little in terms of replayability, for a roguelike. The only ‘carryover’ are slight passive bonuses, and the loot mechanics coupled with amount of various loot make the playthroughs rather uneventful after third time.

    • Metr13 says:

      Also, really, V is fine as sprint. You’re not supposed to use sprint mid-combat (unless running away that is), and it’s right there for your thumb to press it when you need to.

      Also, the narrator isn’t Abraxis. Abraxis left the Necropolis, which is why everything is falling apart. The narrator is the crazy AI Abraxis built, Brazen Head.

      • Dan Milburn says:

        Also, really, V is fine as sprint. You’re not supposed to use sprint mid-combat (unless running away that is), and it’s right there for your thumb to press it when you need to.

        So writes someone who hasn’t considered that a lot of people are left-handed, never mind those who may have less common accessibility requirements. There is just no excuse for not allowing configurable keyboard controls in a game.

        • Metr13 says:

          Huh.

          Never met anyone who wouldn’t be using wasd + mouse personally, but it is a very good point.

  17. Twotricks says:

    This game is shockingly unfairly reviewed and misunderstood , and it makes me very sad , since its in its core a work of art and probably the first game that captures feeling of “Rogue” in 3D

    It is actually a fantastic game.

    Real shame (as it seems now) people will miss it because all the misunderstood reviews and expectations.

    I think what happened is two things:
    First the game was very strongly advertised towards Dark Souls and Isaac players. It neither has very tight combat of DS nor shmup adrenaline feeling of Isaac. People that expected it got dissapointed.
    Second people got dissapointed with lack of content. And this is tricky one. The game is completely randomly generated. So you can have several boring playtroughs seemingly throwing same things at you constantly. Than you can have playtrough after 20 hours where you are in completely new enviroment with crazy enemies.
    Just playing game for hour or two will reveal nothing of its true nature.

    Its a real hard game to review too. You must play it for long time to actually experience it. And even as player , it seems bland at first. And than it opens up with all its insanity.

    To summarize

    This is probably the best Rogue (not roguelike) 3D game up to date. It almost perfectly captures the atmosphere of original rogue and combines it with action combat inspired by zelda and dark souls. Its better than any attempt on the genre Eldritch , Barony , Delver – I could say its finally “the one” we are been waiting for.

    The Art style … oh my god. Its like Tron meets D&D , its FANTASTIC.

    The writing is nonsensical , insane. You are trapped in labyrinth made by mad god. Its very portal like.

    Basically,
    get this game if you like roguelikes. If you like dungeon crawling. If you like great art direction. But you must invest at least 4-5 hours, trust me.

    • GenericGamer99 says:

      There’s an old saying “If you owe the bank, $10,000 you have a problem. If you owe the bank $10 million dollars, the bank has a problem”. To me that applies here. If you make a game that require 4-5 hours of time before it gets good, then the game maker has a problem because most people, me included, won’t bother. There are too many other, better designed games out there to suffer through a slow starter. I’ll put up with it in an RPG if the level progression is interesting enough to keep me going. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

      You praise for this game just drives me away. It’s “praising it with faint damns”.

    • Warlokk says:

      I’ve read this overall sentiment a few times now, that a lot of it depends on the results of the random generator. To me, that seems like a rather fatal flaw, if their randomizer can spit out completely boring/crap games 4/5 of the time. I have too many other games to play to mess around with one that’s only going to be fun 20% of the time. Shame too, this looks like a really interesting concept that could have been a lot of fun, but I can’t justify that price tag for yet another game I’ll probably never play.

  18. Grim Rainbow says:

    Haven’t played it, but love the graphical look of this game.

  19. noodlecake says:

    Man. That’s a shame because the art direction is very interesting. It must suck working on projects as an artist, knowing that you did a great job but your hard work wont really pay off.

    Developing a game as a programmer you can end up with something with terrible visuals that’s actually really fun.

  20. Dr.Ded says:

    Some fair points are made about the pacing of Necropolis but The art design is fantastic in my opinion. I think if the game released at half the price it would have been recieved entirely differently. I’ve brought he game up to some friends and literally the first words out of their mouth each time are, “but 30 bucks though?” This is off topic and meant with all due respect but I’m starting to feel like I enjoy every game John Walker doesn’t. Like everytime I think a game deserves some praise I can safely assume there will be a piece on RPS where Walker’s writings on it are mostly negative. But he makes valid points that I happen to disagree with and it’s another thing that I love about reading RPS.