The game starts off in the hub. Get used to it because this is where you’ll end up the many times you die. There are a few people here to talk to but they’re mostly useless. Cecil and Brothir will sell you items and equipment, but you don’t start with any money and you can’t return to the hub unless you die, which forfeits all your possessions. The only way around this is to stick items in the storage boxes that you will hopefully find during your jaunt through the totally randomized dungeon of the Soul Tree. You can then access them from the hub at the start of your next run. In your explorations, you will come across punch cards. These can be returned to an old woman in the hub by the name of Quara the Scholar. Every one you bring her unlocks bite-sized journal entries to help flesh out the world-lore. Aside from the opening, it’s one of the few things in the game that flesh out the narrative.
The dungeon is fairly simple to break down. You need to scavenge through the level to find the missing gear that unlocks the gate to the next area. The problem is all the enemies wandering around trying to stab holes in you. Aside from the cool distance aspect that I’ll break down in the next paragraph, you have a health and stamina bar to keep track of. Stamina works exactly like every other game: actions such as attacking, dashing and blocking drain it. Inaction regenerates it. Health is trickier. Once you lose a bar of health, you gain an injury. If you have four injuries the next one kills you. There are items such as bandages and sewing kits that can be used to remove injuries, but they can be hard to find. Oh, and they can also sometimes make things worse for you, depending on the quality of the item. It seems everything in Soulblight is out to get you! What kind of world do we live in when you can’t even trust a healing item?!?
Next up is the taint system. This is the big one that Soulblight likes to use in all its marketing. Personally, I think it is super annoying: it is an idea that sounds cool on paper but delivers very little satisfaction gameplay-wise. The taint system replaces the traditional level-up style. Instead, you worry about synergy, like some sad business rep trying to motivate fellow office workers over and over with the same catchy lingo. Synergy is your main source of power, the higher your meter is, the stronger you become. At certain intervals in the dungeon, you will come upon some nodes offering you a selection of taints to choose from. These are essentially perks that come with often detrimental caveats. What is interesting is that they are based off of your actions during the game. If you’re like me and you like looting every chest before moving on, you may end up seeing the hoarder taint. This ability grants you a passive bonus depending on how many items you are carrying but penalizes you every time you lose one of them. It is often the case that the taints that give you the best bonuses also come with the worst penalties. My main issue is that the taint/synergy system is your main source of strength but it depends too much on specific situations in a totally randomized game. Hell, I couldn’t even find a food item until my 4th or 5th run so I kept incurring the hunger penalty. The player is often placed in a situation where luck means more than skill and that simply isn’t fun or interesting to me.
Summing it up, Soulblight is a nice-looking, nice-sounding game with some cool ideas that don’t quite add up to an enjoyable time. I was having a fun time for about the first hour or so until the poorly executed permadeath and the overbearing reliance on luck to get me farther into the game left me feeling like the whole thing was an exercise in futility. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment or a person who really loves roguelikes, you should probably avoid this one.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5.5/10
+ Good sound and visuals
+Nice distance management mechanic
-Too much emphasis on luck
-Poorly executed permadeath
-Feels way too repetitive
-Excrutiatingly small font sizes