Necropolis [Review]

The Oxford English Dictionary defines necropolis as “an ancient or prehistoric burial ground, especially one with elaborate tombs”. In a post-Thriller, post-Zombieland world all this evokes is a campy setting of some clichéd teen summer story, and starting up Necropolis I didn’t pay much attention to its ominous title. Another entry, though, just says “a cemetery; frequently used as the name of a large cemetery in or near a city”, which, it slowly dawned on me, was more fitting here. Simply put, the title is less about the kind of place you waltz in with your almighty hero and more about how many nameless characters you will have to bury in those cold halls before even getting to level 2.

Necropolis is a roguelike game released by Harebrained Schemes, a studio well known for their work on the Shadowrun franchise. The game contains little story and besides the narrator, who provides infrequent witty remarks about how pathetic you are, there is little in terms of world-building at all. You are basically a gal/dude on a quest for epic loot, a pretty standard formula for roguelikes that understandably find it hard to incorporate countless failed attempts into some kind of compelling story.

The one thing this game has going for it is the way it looks. The minimalistic textures, the toned-down cartoony palette makes it seem like you’re playing the love child of Dark Souls and Torchlight, a design choice which pays off really well in how the player looks. The airy halls, lit only by a few scattered torches and glowing crystals really add to the overall gloomy-but-grand atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is not really that exciting and, judging from the massive update the developers recently dropped, it seems like the game could’ve benefited a lot from a delayed launch.

The first thing I found to be pretty disappointing was the lack of progression. You could argue that this is just me whining about the difficulty, but the point of roguelikes is to keep you interested in coming back despite the mounting failed attempts, you have to feel like the next timet will be somehow easier in order to try again. In Necropolis the only thing you retain after death are these codices which give you small static advantages, but since you can only carry one, this progression route soon stops being effective. Even though permadeath games are usually not my cup of tea, I remember finding myself completely hooked by Rogue Legacy, a small, 2D metroidvania roguelike in which you slash your way through a haunted, procedurally generated castle. In it death meant a significant loss of money, but you got to retain all of your armour, which made the fiftieth attempt significantly easier than the first one. Necropolis seems to tolerate no such pleas for mercy…

Another thing that’s a wrench in your enjoyment of the game is the lack of diversity. As of patch 1.1 there are two classes, the Blackguard and the Brute, both of which are riffs on the classic warrior; there are no mages or archers, no rogues or necromancers. The diversity in playstyle is supposed to come from the weapons and armour you pick up as you delve deeper into the dungeon, but treasure chests that drop more varied items are sparse and procedural generation means that sometimes you will just be doomed to play in a style you don’t like for very long stretches of the game.

The combat itself, though simple, is perfectly fine for a game that strives to be difficult – you simply have to put in the effort to memorize the attack patterns and combos of various mobs in order to mount a serious effort in making it past the first level.

A thing that many other people have noted, but I haven’t been able to verify, is that co-op in Necropolis is way less frustrating than single player and in all fairness much of the marketing before release seems to have concentrated on how much fun multiplayer is in this game. However, that doesn’t excuse a rather lacklustre single player experience.

From the huge, almost DLC-sized patch the studio released not even a month after Necropolis officially launched it seems like they are sticking to their game and are committed to polishing it until critics are satisfied, which is great because this title has serious potential to be amongst such memorable indies as Hotline Miami and Hyper Light Drifter.

2.5 out of 5

+ Visuals and Tone
+ Co-Op
+/- Combat
- No Progression
- Repetitiveness