Since the dawn of the earliest video games, the prospect of crawling through dungeons has always been enticing to players. The random generation of level layouts, monsters, and treasure was revolutionary in the ’80s, offering a fresh experience every time. 40 years on from the release of Rogue, for which the roguelike genre is named, developers are still finding new and exciting ways to put a twist on the formula. Curse of the Dead Gods, by developer Passtech Games, is a promising new entry in the roguelike genre. Sporting tight controls, entertaining combat, and utterly punishing difficulty, this Early Access game is a brutal but brilliant delight.
The player controls an ill-fated treasure hunter whose search for riches and power has left him trapped in an ancient temple full of monsters and traps. With each step further into the seemingly infinite maze, his soul becomes a little more corrupted, warping the world around him. Only the player’s help will decide whether this wannabe Indiana Jones will escape the twisting dungeon, or have his heart consumed by darkness.
At first glance, the stylings of Curse of the Dead Gods are reminiscent of Diablo, with an isometric viewpoint, constant loot drops, and hordes of enemies crowding the screen. Gameplay has a different pace to Diablo, however, with managing stamina paramount in keeping the treasure hunter safe. Each swing of a sword or shot from a gun uses up a point of stamina, leaving button mashers defenceless in seconds. Stamina regenerates over time, but is also increased with masterful play: dodging at the perfect time, executing a combo, and slaying an enemy all restore a notch of energy. Enemies hit hard, but also have clear attack patterns, turning combat into a careful dance of slashing and darting away. This slow, thoughtful approach takes practice, but is extremely satisfying when it all falls into place. The demand for precision play is backed up by tight controls, with the hunter gliding smoothly across the screen at the slightest touch. Weapons are mapped to separate buttons, allowing the player to swap between ranged and melee attacks on the fly. This ease of use makes learning the game’s many systems more approachable, as a successful dungeon run requires a wide range of abilities to master.
Apart from monsters, the explorer also needs to contend with the dungeon itself, which is filled with tricks and traps. Spike pits are commonplace, slicing up the feet of the inattentive player. Lion-headed statues spit fireballs, ready to light up greedy people drawn to the gold by their feet. As one makes their way further into the maze, the traps appear more frequently, requiring the player to skitter across a field of spikes as they battle an army of skeletons. Even just seeing a room presents a challenge: the hunter carries a torch to light up the world around him, but drawing a weapon plunges the room into darkness, making observing the dangers of an area much more difficult. Ample braziers are dotted throughout the dungeons, which can be lit with a swipe of a torch, but the extra lights are short-lived and easily broken, only offering a short reprieve from the darkness.
Throughout the treasure hunter’s journey, the threat of corruption is always looming. His corruption level increases from certain enemy attacks, spending too long in the dark, and progressing further into the temple. If the corruption bar is filled entirely, a permanent negative effect will be applied for the rest of the run, with up to five instances of bad luck affecting the protagonist at a time. These can affect just about anything, from spike traps triggering by themselves to parasitic bats leaping from the corpses of enemies. Many of the effects have a mild beneficial side too, with ‘picking up gold gives corruption’ also awarding ‘more gold appears in a run’. The corruption effects keep the game interesting, and add an extra layer of risk versus reward.
In certain chambers within the temple depths, the hunter has the chance to purchase items. Most of these items are highly desirable, with better statistics than those found lying around. A bow might have a fire effect when attacking, or a mace could drain health from enemies. Items can be purchased either with gold, which is found in chests and vases, or with blood, which increases the corruption level significantly. Obtaining enough gold for an item is rare until the later stages, making the blood price an attractive, but risky proposition.
With so many mechanics inter-connecting, new players to Curse of the Dead Gods should expect to die a lot as they learn to grapple with the different systems. The game is difficult, and offers little leeway in making runs slightly easier. A handful of universal upgrades are available, such as inflicting extra damage after the hunter is injured or starting with some gold, but only one can be applied at a time, and most require the first dungeon to be conquered before they unlock. Those willing to put in the time will find a lot to enjoy here, but a beginner friendly option would be a good inclusion for full release. A shorter dungeon with more chances to heal and fewer enemy hordes would go a long way in aiding understanding of the game as a whole.
Once it clicks, Curse of the Dead Gods is a fun, complicated take on the roguelike genre. The thoughtful combat with a wide variety of weapons is highly satisfying, and the corruption system adds a delightful risk-reward element to every decision made in a run. Only one of three planned tombs is available in the current Early Access version of the game, but the random elements and high level of difficulty will keep players busy for a while.