Evertried review: a rough-hewn roguelike that fails to stand out
Tile and error
There is no mouse cursor in Evertried. You control everything with the keyboard, from the hops and scythe attacks of your cute otherworldly hero, to the settings in the pause menu. It's a strange omission but one that is representative of the feeling this roguelike evokes throughout your time climbing its purgatorial tower of baddies. That is to say, a feeling that there's something important missing. In fact, there seems to be a lot missing from this tile-based timewaster, small touches that could have given its solid foundation the polish it needed to excel.
It's a pared-back roguelike with a pixel artist's heart. You are a warrior's spirit, brought to this tower to climb ever upwards and fight monsters on a big tile board. There's a bunch of different enemy types, from exploding ghost wolves to gas-spewing slimers, each with particular movement and attack rules. You hop around or dash (moving two spaces instead of one) and kill all to proceed to the next floor. Die, and it's all the way back to the bottom.
There are plentiful traps and obstacles to avoid but you will also use these to dispatch fiends. There are ice tiles to slip on, clouds of frost that make units miss a turn, podiums that shoot projectiles if you cross their threshold. The extra challenge offered by these traps is welcome. It feels clever to use a travelling flame to snuff out a pursuing hound, or coax a charging beast into a pitfall created by a collapsed tile. The obstacles themselves could afford to stand out more on the board. Many of them are lost in the colourful pixel noise of the background tiles. But they are otherwise an essential injection of puzzlish booby-tapping that keeps you on your toes.
You can suffer three hits before you succumb. Which is not a lot once you get into double-digit floors with crowds of enemies, bonkers lasers, and less space to move around. To help, you can buy skills at a mid-climb shop. You can unlock a heavenly sword that drops on creatures two tiles away, a four-way harpoon grenade that drags enemies towards it, a trap that stuns units for a couple of beats. There's a roulette skill that simply kills an enemy at random. And there are passive skills, like the one that makes your dash leave behind a blot of fire, or another that gives you back a pip of life for every four little brutes you slay.
"Even in describing it, Evertried is shaping up to be a solid turn-based biffer, if a little by-the-numbers. But keep clacking on those arrow keys and the facade begins to chip away."
Even in describing it, Evertried is shaping up to be a solid turn-based biffer, if a little by-the-numbers. But keep clacking on those arrow keys and the facade begins to chip away. Irksome flaws appear and do not stop. Sometimes it is as forgivable as typos in the dialogue, missing spaces. Sometimes the chat from friendly NPCs grows overlong, replete with bog-standard light vs dark lore. On the battle-grid, the icon for tracking deployed skills gets obscured by smoke and flame effects, when it should be critically clear where you are using your abilities. The trap skill (which normally stuns hostile hellions) doesn't stop charging attacks for some reason. Enemies get stuck in corners. Environmental turrets and gizmos fire even if you've cleared the board, meaning that you can die to the final fart of a flamethrower even when you've destroyed everything else. A lot of aggravating niggles start to pile up.
None of these alone are game-killers. But the way it handles death might be. Croak it and you go back to the start, straightforward enough. Yet while other roguelikes give you some leeway, a little chunk of progress to hang onto, Evertried gives you almost nothing. The only thing saved is whether you have mastered a skill or not. Essentially, the only thing you keep is a minor bonus damage or some inconsequential buff to a skill you might rarely use.
There's definitely space in this world for the "hard reset roguelike", but I find staunch dedication to strict restarts should come with a variety that Evertried lacks. If the player must traverse the same starter floors over and over, they should feel noticeably different every time, whether that is encountering different monsters, overcoming fresh obstacles, or gaining unforeseen skills. Here, the floors feel too similar, each journey unidentifiable from the last. The skill pool is shallow, and none feel particularly powerful. The first five floors get especially repetitive, the first boss is a complete non-event once you understand you can dash through his clouds of toxin harmlessly. You will be sick of his skeleton face within ten deaths.
There's also a problem when it comes to learning what new enemies or skills do. Other similar games might opt for a pop-up that reveals itself any time you hover your mouse over an enemy. Simple diagrams or GIFs showing the movement or attack patterns of the game's rhino lads or sentient fireballs. Or there might be clear, learnable icons to show attack direction or status. There's no such quality-of-life touches here. There is a little "Towerpedia" in the pause menu that lists enemies, and an accompanying "help" section. But the written descriptions of enemies aren't always specific enough to understand their tile-based movements, plus when you have to navigate all this entirely with key presses, it quickly becomes tiresome.
I don't want to rag on it too much. It's clear a lot of work went into this. There is vivid pixel art, with lots of melty transitions, heavy on the necromancer purple and done with a lot of love. There are glistening scythes and mysterious characters and everyone wears bone masks reminiscent of Hollow Knight. The chirping music evokes SNES-era bangers, even if it never truly finds a groove of its own. And there remains a compelling spirit to its rhythmic obstacle course of hops, skips and jumps. It is also difficult in a way that many will find inviting, with 99 floors to overcome, interspersed with bosses that demand even more spatial awareness and careful skittering across the tiles.
It's too underdone and roughly composed for me, though. That's a shame, because it's easy to see how it could be improved. Highlights around enemies or obstacles could make the board more readable. If the player received a single random skill at the very beginning of a new run, right from the start of the game, it could lessen the tedium of repeating those first few floors. More quirks or improvements carried across runs could speed up each opening. A mouse cursor might also be, you know, handy. It feels like a game that has a good essence, a strong foundation, but hasn't been tested on many people. Or perhaps the developers simply didn't have time to iron it all out. At some point you've got to accept your roguelike project is done and move on, no matter the omissions.
Whatever the reason, Evertried forgoes a lot of modern conveniences common to the roguelike. If you are in search of an austere tile-hopper, you might find strength in its arrow-key puritanism. But as one indoctrinated by Into The Breach and the recently released Pawnbarian (a similar tile-by-tile roguelike with both clarity and capybaras), the uniformity of Evertried comes across as a lack of polish, a jigsaw that could be pleasing to the eye if only it didn't have so many missing pieces.