The Dark Souls of bad video games.
When something rises to popularity, a whole cache of imitators inevitably pop up. This has been the case of the past few years with the Dark Souls franchise. Ever since FromSoftware’s smash action-RPG hit it big, both major and minor publishers have tried to capitalize on that success. Soon, marketing buzz for new titles was filled with hyperbole like “the Dark Souls of X” or “as hard as Dark Souls.” There’s even a whole Twitter account devoted to this phenomenon. So, of course an indie studio primarily known for their strategy games would want in on this crowd. Add in a publisher desperate to pump out more of their own cash cow, and presto!, you’ve got a viable imitation on your hands.
And while imitation is the greatest form of flattery, it usually makes for a hollow, boring game. This is sadly the case with Harebrained Schemes’ Necropolis, a shallow, repetitive title with very little to offer.
Players take on the role of a stylish, randomly named protagonist. You’re thrown into a dungeon with a couple of skeletons, then told to take an elevator down a floor. Doing so takes you to a giant, talking pyramid with a single eye, who comes up with a list of things to do. From there, you’re pretty much on your own. You take one of two paths, then walk through some randomly generated rooms until you get to an elevator. Once you get on the elevator, you’re taken down a floor. Do this around ten times, and bam!, you’ve beaten the game.
If this sounds repetitious, that’s because it very much is. Necropolis bills itself as a “roguelite,” and for what it’s worth, it very much is. As in, a stripped-down and bare-bones take on a genre that is getting formulaic. Dying is an instant game over, and the other thing you retain between playthroughs are “tokens of favor.” These tokens are used to buy books that teach you ambiguous and often useless perks that can be used in future runs. Other than that, it’s pretty much, “one death, you lose, go back to square one.”
Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with games like this. What I do have a problem with is Dark Souls being crashed into a game like this. The very conceit of Dark Souls is “one step forward, two steps back”; there’s an incremental and rewarding sense of progression. That’s been thrown out the window here, in favor of “one step forward, screw you, start over.” You can’t just ape the gameplay of one game, then throw it onto a randomized skeleton of an entirely different genre. Well, you can, but the resulting title won’t be very much fun to play, which Necropolis very much isn’t.
That’s because, on top of the basic structure being a monotonous grind, the core gameplay is a floaty, imprecise slog. The core gameplay has spotty hitboxes and instances of major input lag, which makes the core idea of dodging and hitting not work all that well. Because when you want to do either of those things, being able to know exactly where you’re dodging and precisely where you’re hitting is key. If you can’t, then you’ve failed your own idea. The infamous difficulty of the Soulsborne series rests squarely on its sense of fairness, that every death is indeed your fault and no one else's.
Furthermore, my three-day-old, high-end gamepad locked up and froze several times in the game, forcing me to use a keyboard/mouse setup. Considering the gamepad still works fine with other games, one can safely assume it’s yet another issue with Necropolis.
Even the game’s interesting aesthetic can’t mask the game’s other major caveat: the whole affair just runs together. Four or five levels in, I was barely noticing any difference from the first few levels. The same textures, set-pieces, and enemies are just spread out through the levels, with an occasional glimpse at something unique. Even worse, I started noticing instances of whole rooms and corridors repeating after a few cursory playthroughs. The trailers advertise creeping swamps and sweeping vistas, but those barely make an appearance.
But perhaps Necropolis’s worst sin is that it doesn’t motivate you to keep going. Sloppy mechanics can often be forgiven if the game has something compelling going for it; just ask Deadly Premonition. Here, however, players have no incentive to continue. The unfunny humor exists solely to mock the player. Every twist and turn, you’re greeted with another joke that undermines your quest and the importance of it. Your quest never feels purposeful or epic. Instead, it just feels like an insignificant afterthought.
Which, actually, is an apt description for Necropolis as a whole. But I digress…
Several dozen runs, around 500-600 enemies, and god-knows-how-many bits of gems/jewels later, I think I’m definitively done with Necropolis. It’s a sloppy, soulless (Souls-less?) rehash of a series of much better games. Worse yet, it’s a rehash crashed into a game type that’s wholly incompatible with it. And worst of all, there’s literally no impetus to continue… unless you like hearing lame jokes repeated ad nauseum.
At one point, I drank a “mysterious potion” that informed me that my character felt “repellent.” I can think of no better word to describe Necropolis.