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Hands On: Eldritch

Taking A Rogueliking

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.

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John Walker avatar

John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs buried-treasure.org