Indie games are a bastion for innovation and new ideas, which is why another procedurally-generated dungeon crawl with roguelike elements and permadeath comes out every couple of weeks or so. Free from the tyranny of big publishers, indie devs have been able to unleash the full force of their creativity and make a whole bunch of games that look and play a lot like each other.
Harebrained Schemes, known for the Shadowrun Returns games, has gone in a bold new direction with NECROPOLIS: A Diabolical Dungeon Delve, a game that plays so much like Dark Souls that it was actually picked up by Bandai Namco for distribution.
In Necropolis you’ll control the Blackguard, a guy or girl who, for whatever reason, has decided to infiltrate the titular dungeon. You’re initially armed with what amounts to a butter knife and wooden plank, while the residents of the Necropolis’ procedurally generated floors are numerous, ravenous and well-geared, so you can expect to run into trouble sooner or later. The ultimate goal is to reach the end of the Necropolis – assuming an end exists, of course.
Exploring the Necropolis plays out like a low-rent version of the Souls games. Even the controller mapping is largely identical; the shoulder buttons control your weapons and shield, you can switch what you have equipped with the D-pad and item usage, jumping and dodge rolls are performed with the face buttons. Your regular attacks tend to feel a bit weak and floaty, though you’ll quickly learn that certain weapon types are effective at interrupting baddies’ attacks and knocking them over, which proves to be the best way of dealing with the Necropolis’ denizens. You’ve also got a charged attack and a jumping attack, but these must be used sparingly as they consume your maximum stamina. Incidentally, you’d do well to use a controller for this one, as it doesn’t seem possible to rebind the game’s keyboard controls.
The Necropolis’ floors are loaded with both baddies and loot. The former tends to show up in giant hordes past the first level or so, so it behooves you to quickly determine a means of crowd control; eventually it might even be worthwhile to skip some fights altogether. Loot, meanwhile, consists of roguelike-style unidentified potions and scrolls as well as gear. I found Necropolis to be generous enough with identification scrolls that the entire mechanic felt a little tacked on.
As for the gear, it’s not randomized in the same way, so you’ll know what something is just by looking at it. Weapons come in light, medium and heavy flavors, perhaps with an elemental affinity as well, and learning the best tool for a given job is integral to success. You can also obtain ranged weapons and shields for your off hand, but sadly dual wielding and two-handing your weapon aren’t options.
Your adventures are guided by the Brazen Head, a giant pyramidal sort who distributes both sarcasm and randomized missions. Completing those missions rewards you with upgrade tokens, so it’s worth your time to do them; they range from killing a specific kind of enemy to smashing a bunch of pottery. Once you’ve loaded up on tokens, you can obviously spend them on upgrades, but they’re also legal tender for special chests with powerful loot as well as new color schemes for your character. Permanent progression in Necropolis revolves around using the upgrades you purchase with your tokens to assist you in future runs.
That sarcasm bears mention as well; Necropolis banks hard on its humor, and if you don’t enjoy the style then you’ll probably just end up being annoyed. This isn’t a very serious adventure, with the overall feel being reminiscent of something like Adult Swim’s offerings, and even the underlying plot amounts to “explore the dungeon lol.” If you’re after the sort of lore found in Necropolis’ inspiration, you’re likely to be disappointed. The game’s presentation is otherwise the typically stylized low-fi sort of thing we often see in indie games; the use of Unity means that performance can be questionable without a decent GPU, so keep that in mind before you buy.
You’re likely to get more laughs out of your friends when you play together using Necropolis’ drop-in, drop-out cooperative multiplayer. This is a painless process facilitated via the Steam interface, or via…uh, nothing at the moment if you’re playing a copy bought from GOG.com, so you probably shouldn’t buy that version. A conversation could probably be had about losing such an integral feature because you bought the game from the wrong distributor, but we’ll save that for another day. Multiplayer, naturally, makes the game much easier. While friendly fire is ubiquitous and common, it’s also possible to resurrect fallen allies for free, which takes much of the sting out of Necropolis’ permadeath system.
Even with friends, Necropolis can be a little repetitive. Combat isn’t quite as refined as you’d expect for a game that so badly wants to be Dark Souls, and as mentioned it largely boils down to finding a weapon that can knock down groups of enemies as quickly as possible. The dungeon itself contains some interesting set pieces to check out, but whether or not you’ll see many of these is up to the whim of the game’s procedural generation.
Repetition aside, NECROPOLIS: A Diabolical Dungeon Delve isn’t a bad game, and it becomes exponentially better when you’re playing with friends. If you’ve got two or three pals that are willing to steam up with you, then Necropolis becomes an easy recommendation. $30 might be a bit much given the game’s relative paucity of content, but updates have been promised as they always are, and it’s not a bad experience at the moment. Well, unless you’ve got the GOG.com version, which lacks multiplayer, still costs the same amount, and apparently won’t support cross-play with the Steam version. The game gets a flat “Nay” in that case, so adjust the rating as appropriate.