We’ve all been there. Grinding through a difficult segment of a game, underpowered, low health, perhaps missing an ability or two due to a poorly developed skill tree. You utter to yourself, “What I wouldn’t give for a few more experience points.” or, “ I’d trade my soul for an upgraded weapon right about now.”
Well, I have – countless times.
Enter Curse of the Dead Gods, a game where you can easily feed your insatiable greed to power up in exchange for a chunk of your soul…. (figuratively and, well, literally.)
The latest offering from Passtech Games, brought to you by Focus Home Entertainment, Curse of the Dead Gods is a ridiculously addictive top-down action rogue-like that features ferocious gameplay with excellent strategic elements layered in. The intense reflex-heavy gameplay allows you to wield an assortment of swords, bows, spears and staffs necessary to mow down a wide array of demonic-type enemies as you venture through three intricate temples. Your adventures are then handsomely rewarded with unique mystical items and tons of new upgrades.
Sound familiar? <ahem> Hades <ahem> Nope. Not even close. Curse of the Dead Gods is nowhere near a Hades rip off. While it resides in the same roguelike genre, and gracefully draws influences from other blockbuster games in its class, the game does much to approach the genre in a very unique and gratifying way.
Right off the top, Curse of the Dead Gods demonstrates all of the main principle mechanics of a rogue-lite game. You essentially fight your way through a myriad of challenging maps, levelling up and collecting crystal skulls and jade rings along the way. You gain valuable experience points to contribute to your blossoming skill tree – unlocking critical quality of life buffs. Along with this, you discover new weapons and upgrade your deadly loadout as you progress deeper into the game. Finally, if you die (and you will die), you come back to a new and slightly different level. (Fans of Dead Cells will be no stranger to this life.) However, once you die and start again, you still retain all of the buffs and upgrades that you’ve worked so hard to earn. This will make your next attempts at the level slightly easier.
Noting that Curse of Dead Gods has expanded on this roguelike formula, the game has taken strides to make the gameplay a bit more engaging. Unlike similar style titles, you are not expected to conquer all three temples at once. Rather, Curse of the Dead Gods eases you into each temple, exposing you to enemies and traps slowly so as to learn basic mechanics first. From there, you’ll find the difficulty increases at a rather satisfying pace. The game will shortly expose you to slightly tougher baddies and tricker traps, all of which build on the basic maneuvers you’ve seen in earlier stages of the game.
The game’s control style is amazingly simple but surprisingly deep. Let’s begin with your stamina meter. This gauge is at the heart of your game. All of your actions require the use of stamina. The bar is divided into five exhaustive chunks and it depletes incrementally with each action you take. Dodges, dashes, finishers, sub-weapon attacks and heavy attacks all cost one stamina point to use. Once you are out of stamina you need to wait for a second for it to refill – which may seem like an eternity considering the chaotic action happening on screen at any given point. However, there are ways to replenish your stamina meter faster. Every time you kill an enemy, you gain a point back. If you complete a successful dodge, you get a point back and if you pull off a well-timed block and attack, you gain two points back! This gives an excellent risk vs. reward feeling to the combat system as well.
Mixing it up with these nasty enemies, however, is no joke. The vile hordes of monsters lurking within each of the temple floors are waiting to sink their talons into fresh meat like you at each run. While they are difficult, they are still manageable. All enemies have clear visible nuances that alert you just before they are about to attack. You can use this alert to your advantage as you can almost quickly prioritize which enemies need to be iced out in your head and in what order. You must use caution however to conserve your stamina bar. Going too heavy on offence can quickly diminish your bar, leaving you to potentially fall prey to even the most basic enemies. Though they do not stay simple for long, these foes will soon evolve from temple to temple. You will find harder versions of the basic ghouls you’ve encountered in earlier levels with more hit points, heavier attacks and more complex attack patterns.
While this combat system sounds slightly overwhelming, it is manageable. Even with so much going on at one time, you can survive it and eventually, you can master it. It’s amazing how all of these game engines gel together to keep the overall gameplay fun and engaging!
Let’s talk about the curses. Alongside your health meter, you will notice an ominous corruption meter that fills whenever you enter a new room, take darkness damage, or buy items with a blood offering. That’s right, a blood offering! Rather than using in-game currency to pay for items or weapons, you can elect to offer a blood offering (ie. take on a curse) to pay for anything you can’t afford regularly. Doing so will fill your corruption bar. Once that bar fills, you obtain a ‘curse token’ that essentially alters the quality of your game in odd and annoying ways. The effects of these curse tokens range from slightly bothersome (think: slower movement, slower attack speed), to incredibly burdensome (think: traps go off even if you are not close to them, or enemies explode after you kill them, unleashing areas of effect damage). You are able to stack up to five curse tokens, all of which work together to ruin your life and essentially make it incrementally harder to finish your run. However, all hope is not lost. You can remove these curses only when you defeat a boss found at the end of the level. On their own, some curses you can deal with. They aren’t that bad. Just don’t let them pile up. The fifth and final curse is basically a death sentence that quickly drains your health to 1 hp.
Here is where the strategy elements of the game truly begin to shine. The game challenges you to decide and critically weigh out the need to take on more corruption than you need for that shiny new weapon or that new ability unlock. Do you dare trade your soul for that next new weapon in exchange for notably harder gameplay? Can you deal with a harder run in the next level? You have to ask yourself, is it really worth it?
There is also much to think about before you start each new level in Curse of the Dead Gods, all of which are tied to a specific reward that is granted to you upon its successful completion. Whether it’s gold, a relic, a new weapon or experience points everything has a price, and it’s not always monetary. You need to consider which route you want to take in terms of how you will build up your character. For example, one route may offer a tangible reward – gold (to safely afford a new weapon). Another route boasts a new weapon unlock. Do you take one for the other, or do you choose the dark and greedy path by suffering a blood offering (taking on more corruption) in order to afford both options? Decisions don’t come easy, and this game certainly does not make it any easier. Your greed to amass more goodies in between levels may quickly overcome you!
Curse of the Dead Gods will have you crawling through temples and brawling vile monstrous grunts for about 30 hours. After conquering the last boss, you can continue to play through the game’s additional (read: harder) bonus levels that are unlocked once the game’s campaign play is over. While there really is no real reason to return to older levels you’ve cleared, you can still revisit previous temples if you wish to achieve 100 percent completion by collecting all of the crystal skulls and jade rings hidden within.
Ultimately, Curse of the Dead Gods really is a natural blend of different mechanics and it comes together in a very fun and addictive way. Even without the curse elements in the game, it is still positioned as a rather unique roguelike. With its smart regenerative combat system, a great variety of enemies, traps and bosses, the game eases players into its world and difficulty. There is a great variety of level design and trap composition that keeps the action intense and engaging. Layering in the curse mechanic certainly brings fun randomization to each of your runs and keeps the game different each and every time one picks up the controller. The added strategic elements of choosing reward over risk force players to engage with the game on a deeper level and challenge them to look before they leap. A quality that will ultimately keep the game unique amongst other roguelikes in its class!