HIGH The gameplay loop is incredibly addicting.
LOW Getting one-shotted by Haters twice my level.
WTF The prices of some items in the PSN store…
There’s a lot to be said for simplicity of design and a focus on core ideas. I played an absurd number of games with a lot going on in them during 2016, but despite all the modes, online features and other extras that they tried to bullet-point on the back of their boxes, very few stuck with me the way that this straightforward and streamlined free-to-play dungeon crawl did.
At first glance, it may seem bizarre that something so simple would have the hooks that it does — take a character, level it up in a tower full of dystopian creepos, repeat — but it just goes to show that a solid gameplay loop and disciplined vision can go a lot further than the endless bells and whistles that a scope-crept triple-A budget can buy. To me, the heart of Let It Die is in making the steady, satisfying progress needed to climb the Tower of Barbs.
While finishing the game will be a long-term commitment for anyone not named Darren Forman, it’s easily digestible in small sessions and achievable short-term goals. On a given run, I might want to explore one new room or go one level higher. I might want to find some materials to upgrade my favorite weapon, or I might just want to earn some fast EXP. It’s certainly possible to set oneself up for an epic session, but I adore how easy it is to play just a bit when time is short and still walk away feeling like something was achieved. It’s a great feeling, and it happens often here.
Making that progress pleasant is the combat in Let It Die – it’s easy to understand, yet has enough variety to remain interesting throughout. Like many Japanese action games (and not to be that guy but yes, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Souls) it’s heavily dependent on timing and watching frames of animation. The moment-to-moment action is intense, and those who can grasp and enjoy this sort of system will be able to best most of the enemies in the Tower, as long as their gear is up to spec and they don’t slip up.
Speaking of gear, there have been very, very few instances in the history of games when I felt like weapon degradation was a good idea, but I have to say that not only does it make sense here, it’s an enjoyable twist to the proceedings.
Items are constantly dropped by enemies, and there are so many different types that being unable to rely on a favored type forever gives Let It Die a fair bit of spice by forcing constant changes in approach. A machete has a long, safe attack range, while a butterfly knife requires players to be practically on top of their enemy to hit. The buzzsaw is slow and awkward, but if the full combo lands, it just chews through opponents’ faces. Considering the game’s apocalyptic style and how effectively it keeps combat fresh, it’s a great fit.
I also appreciate that Let It Die’s microtransactions are largely inoffensive. Essentially, the developers have given the entire game away for free and nothing is trapped behind a paywall. By putting no cash in, the game can be considered set to ‘hard’ mode, and it’s quite appropriate for those who like their roguelikes (semi- and otherwise) on the tough side. On the other hand, a few dollars here and there can be used to recover from an unfortunate death or to expand storage for items scavenged within the tower, easing the climb. All in all, it’s one of the fairest, smartest implementations of free-to-play that I’ve ever seen.
By now it should be clear that I’m a big, big fan of Let it Die, and my complaints are fairly minor. Apart from disagreeing with Darren on the postgame (most players will take far longer than he did to finish, so a lack of content after credits isn’t a common need at the moment) my only annoyance is that the items in a player’s storage can’t be sorted efficiently. Players quickly accumulate huge amounts of goods, and getting an accurate count of what’s in stock is done by counting one-by-one. Simple same-object grouping would solve the issue.
My only other issue is that Let It Die allows players to raid the bases of others, stealing money and energy if successful. AI guards can be set, but it’s easy for a real player to steamroll computer-controlled characters. Without an incredibly strong defense team, hard-earned cash will bleed away, forcing victims to simply accept the losses or spend everything before shutting their PS4 down. Although I’m hardly one to ask for more monetization, I’m surprised that there isn’t a ‘shield’ fee to protect one’s in-game bank account – such a tactic is common in F2P games, and this is probably one of the very few times when I’d be glad to pay it, at least when starting out.
One of the highest compliments that can be paid to a free-to-play game is to say that it doesn’t feel like a free-to-play game, and that’s exactly the case with Let It Die. This nasty survival romp doesn’t cut corners and never holds a hand out, begging for cash… It just ollies onto the face of its enemies and invites players to come along for the ride.
As the skull-faced, skateboarding mascot of the game, Uncle Death, might say – Now that’s fucking entertaining!
This copy of the game was obtained via free download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed (currently at floor 20 of 40.) There are no multiplayer modes.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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