Rogue-like dungeon crawlers. You’re either in all the way or the merest mention of the genre makes you roll your eyes and go “Ugh” like you’ve just told your teenage daughter that you can be a cool parent. I imagine. I don’t have kids which is why I have the time to play so many rogue-like dungeon crawlers.
Curse of the Dead Gods is a polished and capable example of the genre but, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that’s enough any more. The bar has been set so high over the last two years something really has to be special to make me invest the time and effort to learn the loops, weapons, buffs and bonuses and while Curse of the Dead Gods has something a bit unique to itself I just can’t seem to want to grind it into dust like, say, Hades or Rhythm Fighter.
Curse of the Dead Gods’ shtick is risk vs reward. It’s pretty much ALL about risk vs reward. You grab your starter weapons and head into an ancient lost temple filled with the undead and the cursed and proceed to slap the seven bells out of them. Being an ancient lost temple naturally the place is in utter darkness, with only your torch to fend off the blackness. However you can’t hold your torch as well as wield your weapon so you have to light convenient braziers or even set the enemies on fire. The other option is to fight in the darkness which means you deal more damage but also take 50% more damage when you get hit.
And you will get hit. You have a dodge and a parry to try and negate being punched in the head, both of which take up a portion of your stamina, represented as 5 pips under your character. Combo finishers also take up some of this stamina. When the stamina is depleted you need to stay out of combat to regenerate it. However, when you finish an enemy you get a ‘Greed Kill’. You need to chain Greed Kills to increase your rewards from the combat, and these are on a timer that is only replenished by hitting enemies. Again, risk vs reward. You need to get your stamina back, but you need to keep the chain going.
As is the way with these games you’re given a choice of paths through the dungeon There are many different rooms along the path, whether you want more attribute buffs for health, damage or loot find or if you need a new weapon or to upgrade a weapon, or maybe fill your health bar. However nothing is free in this cursed place. Gold is one currency, which you find along the way, but the other is payment in blood. What this actually means is you take a hit to your Curse bar.
Almost everything you do in this game fills this bar. Going through doors, certain enemies hitting you, paying for altars with blood, they all add to this meter. When the meter hits the top and you progress to the next room on the path you’ve chosen you gain a curse, although rather disappointingly most of these aren’t as punitive as you’d think. At the fifth and final curse, however, your health will start depleting until there is only 1hp left.
Otherwise curses are pretty mild modifiers; some make you pay in health instead of curse for attributes, relics or weapons. One removes your torch casting you into permanent darkness, but also removes the penalty for being in the darkness.
When you defeat the temple boss they shed their valuables in the form of Crystal Skulls and Jade Rings, although if you’re lucky you’ll find some of these along the way as well. These currencies are for unlocking new Blessings to start runs with, for adding weapons to starting selection and to the dungeon loot pool and for unlocking means to re-roll a certain number of times at altars.
Whoo, that’s a wall of text isn’t it? The thing is it’s all necessary to explain how many systems this game’s juggling to make it feel unique but often to its detriment as you do feel like you’re spinning too many plates far too frequently.
Curse of the Dead Gods is not a bad game. It’s actually a very good game. It’s been in early access a good while and while I’d like the curses to have made the game harder I get the feeling they’ve nerfed them from the early access as they may have been a bit too brutal (from the reading I’ve done anyway).
The other problem is the rogue-like dungeon crawler is really over subscribed at this point. I’ve no doubt I’ll be reviewing another one before too long, probably lamenting the same way it’s a technically great game but isn’t compulsive enough to pull me away from x or y so I’ll end up making the same review recommendation of “If you like the genre and have nothing else on the go it’s worth picking up”. And it really is, especially if you’re on a console where there’s not an over abundance of these kinds of games, but even then there’s enough competition out there to give you option paralysis.