The path to power is never easy. If you want to make it to the top of the pyramid, you’ll need to bring your A-game because in Curse of the Dead Gods, even the doors are out to get you. In this brutal roguelike from Passtech games, skill (and a bit of luck) is the only thing that will get you through it. The goal is to reach the top floor of the pyramid. Why? I have no idea. That’s the first issue I have with CotDG: there is just about zero story to it. Even a brief intro would have been acceptable, but as it is, I have no idea why my explore guy is here, nor do I even know his name. The best you can hope for is a brief description on the store page. I know that lack of a story might be a deal-breaker for some people, but for others, it’s all about engaging gameplay so let’s got taking a look at that!
To get to the top of the pyramid, you’ll need to pass temples and beat bosses to earn the required amount of special emblems needed to unlock the next tier. There are three themes: Jaguar, Eagle, and Serpent. They dictate which type of traps and enemies you’ll be dealing with as you progress through each room. Choosing one brings you to the map, which resembles a small flowchart. Here you can plot your preferred path to the boss. Each room has an icon designating what you will find there; such as health fountains, weapons, relics, etc. These offer a variety of ways to power up your character for your run, but nothing is free, however. In order to gain something you must give something, which in this case is either gold or corrupting blood sacrifice.
Corruption is one of the unique mechanics found in CotDG, and every step of your journey will be plagued by it. There are many ways to gain corruption, whether it is by sacrificing blood for new weapons or bonuses, healing at a blood fountain, getting hit by certain enemy attacks, or even passing through doors to pass into the next room. No matter how you dice it, corruption is unavoidable in your journey. Why does this matter? When your corruption bar is full, you will gain a curse at the start of the next room that will persist until you either die or beat a boss. These curses can seriously cramp your style, but they can grant you small benefits as well, such as losing gold whenever you get hit but also receiving less damage. You can gain a total of five curses at a time, with the fifth being referred to as “The Final Curse” and is supposedly catastrophic. I say supposedly because I’ve always died before getting to that point. Did I mention the incredibly steep difficulty? And permadeath?
That’s right, my favorite combination: tough combat and permadeath. Dying strips you of all your accrued wealth, stat bonuses, and weapons but leaves you with whatever crystal skulls and jade rings you’ve collected. On top of that, you’ll lose all progress in the temple you were in and start over from the first room. This is especially frustrating in the later temples when the difficulty ramps up and the game starts throwing multiple bosses at you per temple. The skulls and rings can be used to purchase persistent bonuses that can be used to give the player a bit of an advantage for subsequent playthroughs, but a lot of them aren’t very useful, in my opinion. The best things to upgrade are the weapon altars, giving you a chance at better starting weapons for your runs.
Now we’ve reached the bones of the game: combat. Since the gameplay is based more on skill rather than leveling up to get stronger and clear tougher challenges, it may not be accessible to all gamers. Curse of the Dead Gods does well at offering players a multitude of tactics when it comes to fighting. There is a parrying and stamina mechanic familiar to anyone who has played any Souls games, and it is crucial you get these skills down or you won’t get out of the first temple. Pulling off a perfect parry not only saves you from taking damage, but it weakens and stuns your opponent. Pulling off a perfect parry can be the most satisfying feeling in the world. You will find various weapons, ranging from swords and daggers to spears and pistols. Since all the face buttons (A,B,X,Y) are mapped to attacks, you can equip three at a time; a main-hand weapon, an off-hand weapon, and a two-hander. This setup is nice for near-seamless transitions and making combos. The A button is reserved for the torch, and that brings us to another important game mechanic: light.
Your torch comes in handy for a few reasons. When standing in the darkness, you take extra damage. Having the torch equipped provides you with the light defensive bonus, plus you can use it to light up braziers (and even enemies) to keep a light source active while you fight. Since it’s harder to see traps in the dark, it’s in your best interest to keep the lights on. Some of the more destructive monsters can put out the light and even destroy braziers completely. Traps are just as bad for badguys as it is for you, so taking the terrain into consideration is another important tactic. While some traps are movement-activated, others can be triggered using your torch. I know the game is supposed to be dark, but I found it a little too dark and hard to see when playing in handheld mode, making it hard to nail those parries. Playing on my tv negated that issue, though.
Even though the gameplay is satisfying, the lack of story combined with no substantial rewards doesn’t do much to ease the repetitiveness of fighting the same enemies and dying over and over. While the level of challenge may appeal to the hardcore roguelike fan, the average gamer probably won’t get much value out of the experience. There are only so many times you can run through the same temple and die before you end up moving on.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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