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Vampire Survivors meets Diablo in Halls Of Torment

I only wish it leaned harder into the Diablo inspirations

Smashing skeletons in a Halls Of Torment screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Chasing Carrots

Itching to click on skeletons but not sure about Diablo 4? Have a gander at Halls Of Torment, a game I'll broadly describe as 'Vampire Survivors meets Diablo'. It lets you click on: so many skeletons. Halls Of Torment launched into early access last month and I've had a few hours of fun for a couple quid. The Diablo vibes are strong, it has some neat ideas for the genre, and it has a demo you can try for free. I only wish it drew a little more inspiration from Diablo and a little less from Survivors 'em up conventions.

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There you are in Halls Of Torment, a little person, sent down into the depths of hell to murder increasingly deadly waves of enemies who drop XP gems when they die. XP lets you level up, picking stat and ability upgrades from a random selection of options. You know the sort of game, so I'll focus more on distinction than description. The most apparent difference between this and others is how much it looks like ye olde Diablo games.

Halls Of Torment does a good job of channeling vintage Diablo vibes. Those dingy dungeons. Your little guy. Picking your characters from the group standing around a bonfire. The low-fi pre-rendered CG portrait of an NPC ally, who you rescue from a cage. A great clacking noise when skeletons burst into bones. Your health bar styled as a goth's snowglobe. You can even manually aim and click your attacks, if you really want to click on skeletons, though my old hands found the auto-attack option most welcome. Halls has optional auto-aim too, for the full Vampire Survivors 'walking about watching explosions' experience, though I find it's unhelpful because you really need to precisely punch through waves.

It has a good range of hellish monsters who behave in different ways, and shakes up waves by throwing them together in different combinations. Early on, you might simply be dodging hordes of skeletons who run towards you plus a scattering of imps who try to creep up and poke you in the bum but run away if you face them. 10 minutes later, you have skeletons, and slimes which slide erratically in union and split when killed, and hellhounds which swarm in spirals (clockwise or anti-clockwise in different waves), and big skeletons, and necromancers who fling burning skulls then teleport away. That's good moment-to-moment puzzling, figuring out where to break through walls and how to leverage enemies' behaviour against them. And that's before bosses turn up with movesets of big, dramatic attacks (which are often helpfully telegraphed with markers on the ground).

Battling the hydra boss in a Halls of Torment screenshot.
Fighting a hydra boss, and a walking wall of ghosts, and some marching skeletal soldiers, and oh god, a load of Weeping Angels (an enemy type which is a potential best thing in video games?)Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Chasing Carrots

Halls Of Torment also gets Diablo-y with item drops. Bosses can drop chests offering a choice of three items, different hats and gloves and boots and chestpieces and rings and amulets to dress your little Diablo paperdoll. Some offer the typical 10% boost to this or that stat, while others have livelier bonuses: leaving fiery footsteps, summoning minions, adding splash damage, and so on. Items are both single-run bonuses and part of the persistent progression systems, in a way which curiously reminds me of Escape From Tarkov.

Somewhere in each level is the bottom of a well shaft with a dangling bucket. Once per run, you can put an item in the bucket (losing it for now) and send it up to the surface. You can then pay the wellkeeper in your base to permanently unlock the item as a starting loadout option on future runs. Any items not already unlocked or put in the bucket are lost at the end of a run.

Unlocking items at the well in a Halls Of Torment screenshot.
The Wellkeeper's 90s-style CG portrait is perfect | Image credit: Chasing Carrots

This brings fun decisions at first. Do I pick the item which helps my current run, or the item I could unlock to really help a different character on a future run? And which item do I pick to send up? When a run is faltering, should I send up anything I can right now, or risk holding out longer in the hope of getting something better to bucket? Should I sacrifice a run by sending up a powerful item that's holding everything together, just to be safe? And if you've been wandering, you might have to fight half-way across the level to reach the well. This feels a fun and Diablo-y way to handle persistent progression, so it's unfortunate that Halls Of Torment ultimately uses items as part of typical persistent upgrade systems, not replacing them. It still has all the usual Survivors 'em up stuff beneath.

You unlock new characters, items, and abilities by completing 'quests' (deal X damage with weapon Y, survive Z minutes, beat boss Ω, and so on). Remember that to make unlocked items available as starting loadout options, you'll also need to find them as drops from bosses, then send them up in the bucket, and pay the wellkeeper in gold. You also need gold to buy permanent stat boosts, your usual bonus health, damage, pickup distance, and so on. It's at least one system too many.

The novelty of item drops fades as it becomes apparent they're mostly an additional step in the unlock process, and having to pay gold on top of bucketing an item feels miserly. Once you have a few solid items unlocked for loadouts, you'll often end a run wearing exactly what you started it with, so there's disappointingly little feeling of new item drops boosting or changing a run. And with fixed rolls, it's boring when bosses drop items you've already unlocked. It feels like Halls Of Torment misses a trick by not leaning harder into Diablo.

The traditional Survivors 'em up persistent progression systems largely boil down to unlocking new items and giving you better stats and abilities. In Diablo games, some of this is served by skill trees and stat points, and a lot is attached to finding stronger items. While Halls does put some bonuses and abilities on items, it could do so much more to make them a means of gaining power, both on an individual run and across all runs. It's disappointing that drops turn out to be additional perfunctory busywork when they're a striking novelty in Halls Of Torment and a huge part of the games which inspired it.

I'm not suggesting Halls Of Torment directly replicate a Diablo loot system, but (to play backseat game designer for a second) it does feels some of the series' concepts could be bodged into new types of persistent progression built around drops. Maybe repeat drops come with better stats, or random suffix and prefix perks offering different rolls on the same base item. Diablo games also drop gems and runes to socket into gear for bonuses, and can join runes into runewords for whole new abilities, and have Horadric Cube recipes, and... there's a lot you could crib from and rework to fit into a Survivors game.

Smashing skeletons in a Halls Of Torment screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Chasing Carrots

Halls Of Torment runs also starts slow, even for the genre. Unusually, it focuses heavily on your character having a single primary weapon. That's all you have until you learn extra 'abilities' from scrolls (found around the level or got off a boss), which can give you autocasting lasers and needles and shuriken and firewalls and such to essentially replicate the many weapons of a Survivors 'em up. It's fun once it gets rolling but you do spend several minutes going through the motions, waiting to see the shape your run will take and for cool stuff to happen.

Though my interest is fading as I reach the grinder phase of unlocking everything and everyone, I have enjoyed my time in the Halls of Torment. I've smashed thousands of skeletons and filled the screen with so many particle effects that I struggled to see what was happening, and isn't that the ultimate goal of a Survivors 'em up? £4 for eight happy hours of clicking on skeletons isn't bad. I'm only grumbling so much because I did enjoy it, and wish it pushed its novel aspects a little harder. I'll keep checking in across its early access phase, which the devs plan to wrap up inside six months.

You can try clicking on skeletons yourself for free in the Prelude demo on Steam.

Oh, Diablo IV is out now, too. See our Diablo IV review for more on the action-RPG that Alice Bee described as "a beautiful, frictionless grey toybox that puts nothing in the way of you playing it for hours and wondering what you've done with your life."

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