Let’s get it right out of the way: Necropolis wouldn’t exist without the Souls series. This is not to imply it’s a rip-off, because it most certainly is not. Nor is it an homage. At most, it gets close to being a parody of the revered series, and in it’s worst moments, it becomes a cynical exercise in ticking Souls-like boxes without having a real understanding the mechanics and intricacies of its obvious inspiration.
The player starts out as a slim, stylized hooded figure with nothing but a sword, a shield, and a few rations, immediately thrown into the titular Necropolis, a dungeon that randomly generates after each death. As soon as the player takes the first few steps, he or she is taunted by a shadowy figure soon revealed to be a giant floating pyramid head–a permanent (text-based) voice in your ear that multitasks as quest-giver, experience dispenser, and comic relief.
Growth in Necropolis is both loot-based and generational. The player can equip loot found along the way or bought from the odd vendor with acquired gems. This equipment can translate into boosts to attack and defend, and even some special attacks. Consumables are also available to find and craft, and bring a variety of buffs and effects to the table.
Completed quests and repeated attempts at conquering the dungeon will see each death rewarding the player with Tokens of Favor, a currency that can be spent to unlock codexes that empower your character in a variety of ways once equipped and are then made available for your later incarnations to use.
The writing, by the way, is the game’s strongest point. It constantly and brilliantly makes fun of Dark Souls’ trademark gothic, overly elaborate dialog and lore, and not in a nasty or disrespectful way. As someone who lavishes attention over every item description and dialog line in the Souls games, I found myself laughing out loud often.
The game also looks good. The style may feel overly simplistic in screenshots, but the straight sharp lines and simple polygonal surfaces make for a compelling and atmospheric dungeon setting. The enemy designs are a bit more varying in quality, with some very stylish foes being presented side-by-side with Unity Asset Store rejects. The animation, in the meantime, is fluid but occasionally feels a bit too mechanical.
What’s mostly lacking for Necropolis to rise above the status of curiosity is what is arguably one of the hardest tasks for any action game: the precision and feel of the character’s movement. Basic running, jumping, and strafing feels floaty, dodging is doubly so–a real mess–and while the weapons have particular sensations of weight and rhythm, they never feel quite right; the same can be said for the enemies. Readability and pattern recognition is part of what leads to the sense of mastery crucial to this kind of game, and floaty animations just never allow the player to feel like he or she has grasped it properly.
It bears saying that none of these things are game-breaking, but here is where the obvious Dark Souls inspiration casts its long shadow; someone who hasn’t played the Souls games will probably feel that the combat mechanics and character movement are “ok.” But players used to From Software’s opus will find themselves unable to let go of the comparison, and it’s not a favorable one to Necropolis.
On the other hand, the structure of the game does it no favors either. Its randomly generated nature fails to give the dungeon any kind of personality or intricacy, and once you’ve learned how to avoid the traps and have gotten a solid grasp on combat, little will test you.
By then, what initially presented itself as a gauntlet to be conquered will, with alarming speed, turn into a pretty straightforward dungeon crawl–and soon after, into a boring slog. You’ll be wishing you were done with it a long time before you get to the game’s final stretch, never a good sign.
So what are you left with if you strip away Dark Souls’ finely tuned combat mechanics and intricate word design? As it turns out, some endearing lines poking fun at one of gaming’s modern classics, and not a whole lot more.
Necropolis was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes | Publisher: Harebrained Schemes (PC)/Bandai Namco (Consoles) | Genre: Action RPG, Rogue-like | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: Out Now (PC) / Summer 2016 (Consoles)