I dove into Descenders for the first time knowing absolutely nothing about it, assuming it was a racing game with bikes. Imagine my surprised glee when it turned out to be a roguelite. A very solid one.
After a two-minute tutorial (which only shows you the most basic controls and leaves you to figure out the rest), Descenders thrusts you into your first run. The overworld is an FTL-style series of nodes across a map, each of which generates a different kind of procedurally generated track to race down. Crash and you’ll lose a point of health. Complete bonus objectives during each race to regain lost health. Lose all your health, and you’ll have to start right at the beginning of a new run. Yes, there’s permadeath in this game about bikes.
Every node has certain ratings which govern the track they’ll generate: steepness, curviness, and how many opportunities there’ll be for stunts along the way. Some nodes also have special rules, such as Danger Zone, which gives you extra Rep (a resource for unlocking cosmetics) but deals double damage for every crash.
Somewhere near the end of every “world” is a Boss node, which you must complete in order to reach the next world. These boss nodes involve a massive jump that must be conquered (or cycled past, if you’re a coward). And in a touch of brilliance, if you take too long on a world before reaching the boss node, then the game’s own version of the Spelunky ghost appears in the form of sunset – after which the darkness makes the track and any obstacles very difficult to see.
Everything around the game may look a little rough around the edges but the biking itself feels excellent. Tricks are rewarding, crashes are belly-laugh-inducing exercises in ragdollatry, and – best of all – you can choose to ignore the track entirely at any point and just go offroad. It’s dangerous as hell thanks to all the trees and rocks, but the sense of freedom is thrilling. And boy, is it fun to play with friends in multiplayer.