Dead on arrival
HIGH The art style.
LOW Said art style losing its edge over hours of repeated levels.
WTF The choice to provide “humorous” item descriptions over helpful ones.
Putting the combat of Dark Souls in a procedurally generated roguelite game seems like an inherently flawed concept to me. Why? Because in an environment where players learn through death, wiping someone’s progress clean every time death happens is frustration taken too far. If this combination can work, Harebrained Schemes hasn’t proven it with Necropolis—it’s a janky, repetitive slog that does nothing to incentivize the replays necessary to see it through to the end.
Necropolis pulls its central mechanics from the Souls series in that it’s a third-person action RPG that focuses heavily on stamina consumption and is very difficult. I’d argue that the combat lacks the satisfying weight of its inspiration and that the rules on how to stagger enemies feel flimsy, but there’s nothing wrong with the basic controls. Since this is a roguelite, however, we’re at the mercy of randomized levels to deliver the sights and rewards necessary to make its frustrations worth it.
To put it simply, Necropolis lacks both variety and depth, and the thrill of constantly overcoming new challenges is diminished when it becomes clear how few enemy types the game has. The monster that ultimately made me shelve the game was, in fact, a simple reskin of a creature I’d fought earlier, but with much more health. The level variants feel just as limited, to the point that I’d imagine Necropolis would feel repetitive even if it did have checkpoints.
I do like Necropolis‘s visual style, which looks like something the Wind Waker artists would produce if they were hired to animate a Tim Burton movie, but it’s wasted on a script that’s more interested in being funny than giving us details. That’d be fine if the game actually made me laugh, but its sole joke is that the narrator is constantly phrasing things in ways one wouldn’t expect in a macabre fantasy setting. “The navel of the world,” he recalls, “and also the place where he did his laundry.” Ha! Laundry! What a comedic juxtaposition!
Regretfully, the way Necropolis leans on humor over substance in its narrative creeps its way into the item and perk descriptions as well, none of which actually give important information. The perks are the worst, because only one can be equipped at a time, and since a single run can take hours, knowing which status effect I’m choosing is kind of important.
On the other hand, not knowing what items actually do is a blow dampened by the realization that most of the loot dropped in Necropolis is terrible. I’d be more willing to cut through waves of identical enemies if there was some promise of occasionally picking up some neat goodies, but I was tripping over the same handful of weapons for most of my playtime. It’s one of many opportunities that Harebrained Schemes missed to give its combat more meat.
The worst thing that Necropolis pulls from Dark Souls is the lack of a map. This is fine in a game like Souls that’s full of easily-identified landmarks, but in a roguelite constantly reshuffling the same handful of assets, reorientation is an utter chore. What’s worse is that enemies in Necropolis constantly respawn, so I can’t tell where I’ve been by the trail of corpses. Presumably this respawning is to encourage farming, but that’s no help when I’ve fought the same enemies countless times and just want to figure out how to progress to the next level.
After a few runs I’d heard all the jokes, fought all the enemies, and seen all of the mild shifts in aesthetics. I wanted to rush through the content I’d already seen and finally, hopefully, get a glimpse of something new, but this Souls-inspired combat prides itself on punishing the impatient, and hasty Necropolis players get a full reset. This was my internal struggle—I wanted to get the game over with, but I didn’t want to be even more bored with it by repeatedly dying and restarting in the process. Finally, I found peace by assuming that whatever’s on the ninth and final floor isn’t worth the hassle, and I moved on.
Disclosures: This game was developed and published by Harebrained Schemes. This review code was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately nine hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Cooperative play is available, but it’s restricted to people on the player’s friend list. I had no one to try this with, so I was unable to test the mode. I’m told that it’s essentially the basic campaign but with multiple people.
Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. The violence is cartoonish and bloodless, and I didn’t pick up on any profanity, sexual content, or anything else that would be deemed inappropriate for children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Sound plays no vital role in the game. I played most of it with the sound off and it never posed a problem.
Remappable controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.