The Abyss Also Gazed Into Me

HIGH A new spin on XCOM-style turn-based tactics.

LOW Hardcore mode.

WTF That Xbox cover art.

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” imparts wisdom that no one follows since getting eyeballs on a piece of content is essential. With that in mind, it’s baffling that a solid game like Depth of Extinction — with some really good pixel art — would go with the cover art it has on the Xbox store.

Depth of Extinction‘s premise is that the world has been submerged after an ecological crisis and now everyone lives on floating bases while traveling around on submarines. Fuel is currency and I am shocked that no one mentions drinking Kevin Costner’s urine at any point — that’s how much DoE seems inspired by 1995’s Waterworld. The aesthetic is expressed with sumptuous pixel art, and I loved looking at its grimy base interiors and slowly rusting mechs.

Gameplay follows the XCOM template of squad combat, with roguelike elements added and shown from a top-down perspective. Each character has two action points per turn that allow them to move, reload, go into overwatch (taking a shot at any enemies that move in their sight), shoot or use special abilities. There are some nice additions here — for example, a player can assign a soldier as the ‘lead’ and the rest of the team will follow them, collecting loot and using overwatch automatically when they can.

Emphasis is put on taking cover, using overwatch to lead enemies into crossfires, collecting new gear, and leveling up to specialize characters into roles that can synergize. For example, there are close-range experts and snipers that can get extra moves from kills and destruction experts that can wreck cover and cause chain reactions.

Each mission is split over at least two maps that have points containing a variety of encounters including merchants, hostile areas, multiple choices with varying results, opportunities to gain new squad members, weapons and the like. The objective is to make it to the other side of a map without running out of fuel and beating a boss at the end.

Initially, I started playing DoE exactly like XCOM and found myself getting stomped. On the “Hardcore” difficulty, a team wipe means starting over with all-new recruits and any weapons collected in completed maps. The game is more forgiving on “Standard” though — encounters can be restarted at any point, and if units are lost, one can be revived per encounter if it’s completed.

However, my rough ride ended when I realized that Depth of Extinction wants to be played differently than most in this genre, and more aggressively. Enemies won’t trigger until a squad member is in range, so lining up a good setup and then charging in like a breaching team is a great idea. Rushdown techniques where a player advances rapidly and applies constant pressure and clearing areas as quickly as possible are encouraged. Once I had a grip on this new approach, shootouts generally lasted only one turn, as I was able to wipe out the opposition before most of them had a chance to return fire.

In the beginning of the campaign this method of play was refreshing — it opened up many tactical opportunities and it felt good to spend most of my time moving forward and throwing caution to the wind. The problem is that on Standard difficulty, DoE ran out of challenge — I spent hours using the same tactics repeatedly cleared most of the maps without losing any team members. I stopped feeling engaged, and it wasn’t until the final boss that I struggled.

On Hardcore difficulty, I had the opposite problem — it was so hard that I was unable to finish the first mission, there are no mission do-overs, and my entire team had less health. Standard may have been too easy, but I couldn’t find the motivation to overcome the challenge of Hardcore. After trying both, I couldn’t help want a more granular set of difficulty settings — it would have been great to be able to turn Ironman (permadeath) on while playing in Standard, or perhaps to give myself a more health or the ability to revive one team member after a successful mission on Hardcore.

There’s plenty to appreciate for turn-based tactics fans willing to look past the terrible virtual cover art and learn the nuances of Depth of Extinction‘s combat, or for fans looking for something a bit different than the usual XCOM combat — just keep in mind that it might be difficult to find just the right amount of challenge.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by HOF Studios. It is currently available on Mac, Linux, PC, Switch, PS4, and XBO This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Language and Violence. Players will kill human characters that collapse in pools of blood. However, that’s about as explicit as it gets, and each character being rendered in pixels. The story itself is exceptionally light on language, though it does feels particularly brutal in regards to killing off characters that have speaking parts.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present. As a colorblind person, I struggled to tell the difference between the green and orange lines indicating whether I was using one or two action points. I switched on the colorblind options and it was immediately better. However, the health bar used a light blue/white combo that meant that I couldn’t tell how much health each of my units had.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are some missions where the player must activate multiple consoles to trigger a mainframe but the onscreen indication for the consoles being activated is quite small. The text cannot be resized. There is no voice acting in this game and everything is communicated via text. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The Left Stick moves the cursor, the A button confirms actions, the B Button cancels, LB and RB buttons are used to scroll through certain main menu options, LT and RT scroll through other menu options. The Menu button access the pause menu. Y button access one specific menu on maps, and is used for going to the unit specific options (and this is navigated with the D-Pad).  

AJ Small
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