- Street Date:
- October 4th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Tyler Treese
- Review Date:1
- October 9th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Bandai Namco Games America
- Harebrained Schemes
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Digital PS4 version reviewed.
Developed by Harebrained Schemes, 'Necropolis' is a dungeon crawler with procedurally generated levels. The game's combat takes cues from From Software's 'Souls' series, and its roguelike nature makes every death count. It was originally released in July on PC, and now makes its way onto consoles with an added playable character and new enemies.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
After starting 'Necropolis' the first thing I was greeted by was an in-game wall filled with the game's controls. Anyone who has played 'Dark Souls' will be semi-familiar with the controls that Harebrained Schemes have decided upon, but it's still a pretty complex system. I could use the left bumper and trigger to control my shield either using it for defense or bashing enemies with it, or use the same buttons on the right side of the controller to dish out light and heavy attacks. Furthermore, I could hold down either attack button to get a powerful special move that would heavily impact my stamina.
There's some other controls too (such as changing weapons with the d-pad and using circle to dodge) too, so this isn't exactly a great way to convey the subtlety of combat to the player. A small tutorial going over the different mechanics would've gone a long way of getting me up to speed immediately. In fact, I actually didn't discover the power attack mechanic until I had accidentally triggered it several hours into the game. This issue is compounded by the game not allowing players to pause, so if I wanted to check on the controls in the menu, I would have to risk getting attacked by foes.
The poor introduction of the controls highlights a bigger issue about 'Necropolis,' which is that the game doesn't really bother to tell you what you're supposed to be doing. Thankfully, after spending well over a dozen hours with the game, I have a firm grasp on it. Players have to explore each floor of Necropolis, the legendary city of the dead. Doing so isn't easy, as various monsters roam around each floor, and players will have to collect gems in order to unlock doors. Basically, it's a dungeon crawler, and players have to randomly run around each stage (since there's no map to look at) until they find the exit. It's all simple enough once spelled out, but it makes a really poor first impression.
Due to my unfamiliarity with the controls, my first handful of runs in 'Necropolis' pretty much crashed and burned. They all went basically the same way: I'd run down the many hallways of the area searching for the level's exit, eventually come across a room that would have five or more enemies in it, and then they would surround me. My health would then go from full to zero in just a matter of seconds, as the game is absolutely brutal in spots.
After I had accidentally learned to use the charged power attacks, my luck changed substantially. These moves are basically designed to take out large swarms of enemies with a single attack, and they would often knock an entire group of foes onto the ground. This made managing enemies a lot easier, in fact, it was so easy that I typically found myself getting through 5 or 6 stages of the game without any issue at all.
The thing is, the only difficulty in 'Necropolis' comes from dealing with groups of enemies. Fighting a single foe, no matter how large, is typically a ridiculously easy affair. I would simply move out of the way of attacks, then tap the left trigger to bash them with my shield. This would cause enemies to fall over, and I could quickly mash the right bumper to deliver a devastating combo attack that almost always killed them. This strategy basically worked flawlessly from beginning to end.
So despite a pretty complicated control scheme, I didn't really find much depth to the combat system. Sure, I could pick up different weapons that enemies dropped after dying that would change my attack animation, but it typically meant I had to just adjust my distance. There wasn't any real strategy going on, and I quickly found myself bored.
One of the reasons why the combat isn't satisfying is due to the game's awful hit detection. Sometimes I would see my sword slice through an enemy, and yet they wouldn't take any damage. Other times, I would clearly miss and yet they were hurt. There was seemingly no rhyme or reason to what happened on-screen.
While this was definitely frustrating, an even bigger issue is how 'Necropolis' performs on PlayStation 4. The frame rate would regularly start to freeze up temporarily during combat, most noticeably when a character would be defeated. That was merely irksome during single encounters, but it became game breaking when the game threw 5-6 enemies at me. Despite the action on-screen hitching up, things are still running in the background, so I actually died a few times due to this. For a game that is built around defensive play, it's impossible to do well when you can't tell what's going on.
Since 'Necropolis' is a roguelike, death also means that the player has to start all over again. So, losing a two-hour run to a bunch of technical snafus is unacceptable. A good roguelike has to be challenging, but fair. Harebrained Schemes haven't managed to do either, as the game alternates between being boringly easy once you know how to play, and straight up unfair when it spawns 10 giant enemies in one room.
Since the game is procedurally generated, it led to a lot of poorly designed combat encounters. This isn't like 'Bloodborne,' where each enemy has been optimally placed to ensure a tough challenge, as instead there are just a bunch of enemies hanging around in each room. Some areas (but not all) will also spawn enemies indefinitely, which really goes against the nature of the game. I had to stop and examine loot on the floor, and craft food so I could heal after battles. Several times while I was doing this, enemies would reappear out of thin air and would start attacking me while I was in a crafting animation. This is pretty much a perfect example of the game's brand of challenge, and it's not fair or fun to overcome.
To its credit, though, there is one aspect of 'Necropolis' that I really did love. I thought it was great how enemy characters were treated the same as the player. If an enemy tried to attack me and another foe was in between us, that character would take damage. This actually led to a lot of scenarios where I would lure enemies into traps that littered the later levels, and I was able to kill dozens of enemies without ever using my blade on them.
'Necropolis' is made a lot easier when played cooperatively online (it goes up to four people), but Harebrained Schemes have seemingly gone out of their way to make sure that players have a terrible time finding people to play with. Instead of being able to open up a lobby and matchmake with other random players, the co-op here only works through personal invites. Luckily for me, another reviewer I knew was playing the game, or I would've had to go to the game's Reddit page to look for a partner (as I'm not a bad enough friend to convince someone I know to spend $29.99 on a lark).
The major change in co-op is that players can be revived by their partners. This makes the cheap kills feel surmountable, as the other player can fight back, revive their pal, and the expedition goes on. It also allows the players to take advantage of the AI, and I found myself bashing enemies with my sword while my partner distracted them. It's a much more satisfying experience, even if the combat still feels clunky.
It really baffles me as to why the developer wouldn't have any sort of matchmaking, as I quickly determined that I would never want to play 'Necropolis' solo. It's much more fun with other players, and yet the game makes it needlessly difficult to play it that way. I would hope that it would be added in a patch, but it wasn't ever added to the PC version, despite the game's Steam forum being filled with threads where players beg for partners.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Despite hating a lot of design choices that Harebrained Schemes made, I do have to take my hat off to their artists. 'Necropolis' is filled with dozens of different monster designs, and they got cooler to look at the further I made it. Each floor also looks vastly different from the one before it, as I explored labyrinths filled with dinosaur skeletons to icy caverns. All of it looked gorgeous from beginning to end.
Sadly, the gorgeous enemy designs are often marred by some terrible animation. It gets particularly bad when foes are spotted from a distance, as sometimes they'll start moving as if they were in a stop motion film. It really takes away from what is otherwise a really great looking game
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Sound design is another strong point of the experience, as monsters make some horrible sounding noises as they howl at the player. In fact, I had to stop playing with headphones on since I jumped at enemy shrieks several times, despite the game not trying to be scary. Music definitely takes a background to the sound of weapons clanging, but there's a really good ambient soundtrack laid underneath. It does a great job of adding to the atmosphere, without ever dictating the mood of the game.
The world of 'Necropolis' is procedurally generated, which meant that I was in for a different journey every time I started the game. Sadly, the randomized elements doesn't lead to fun level design, and since I didn't enjoy my time with the game, I was never clamoring to play more. Players could very well spend dozens of hours playing through 'Necropolis' repeatedly, but the game never gave me any reason to do so.
The only thing that carries over on each playthrough are tokens that I earned by slaying enemies and achieving goals I was given during each run. These quests mostly involved defeating certain enemy types, or drinking a dozen potions. They're not exactly fun to achieve, but they do give some additional purpose to each journey. I just don't feel like enough carried over from run to run, and unlike 'Rogue Legacy' or 'Spelunky,' I never found myself itching for one more go. It doesn't help that a solid run takes several hours, so it's a pretty long time investment to ultimately end up nowhere.
Finally, there are two separate character classes to choose from. The one I primarily used is a hulking figure, while the other class was a speedy character. The larger one has considerably more health, and in a game where death can come out of nowhere, I found that to be far more beneficial than speed. Each of the two characters play uniquely, but this isn't like 'Dark Souls' where you can continually replay the game with different character types. That sort of depth isn't here, and a few uses with both of the characters allowed me to decide which one I preferred and I never once wanted to go back.
'Necropolis' feels like an amalgamation of 'Dark Souls,' dungeon crawlers, and roguelikes. Sadly, it also seems to miss the mark on what is enjoyable about those games. The combat lacks variety, the randomized dungeon wasn't fun to explore, and technical issues keep it from ever feeling fair. If anything, it suffers from trying to do too much. When combined with the shocking exclusion of online matchmaking for cooperative play, I simply can't recommend it.
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