Necropolis review: A great concept which falters in execution

Who doesn’t love a good old procedurally-generated dungeon? In Necropolis, developers Harebrained Schemes’ (Shadowrun Returns) latest third-person action adventure, players will be able to experience their fair share of random, procedurally generated labyrinths filled with magical deathtraps and ferocious foes. And with permadeath thrown into the mix, each death means the end of your journey.

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It can be frustrating starting from scratch each time you die in Necropolis, particularly when you feel the procedurally generated level design had some unnecessary obstacles in a room filled with high damage/high health pool enemies preventing you running away (this happened to me not once, but twice). This seems to be the point of Necropolis, a game which promises big, offers replay value in the form of learning from both your mistakes and the limitations of the game’s design, so that you can overcome both during your next attempt.

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Before picking up the game, I had a good hard look at its store page on Steam. The trailer was impressive, the screenshots showed off its sleek, minimalist visual style (I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, admittedly), and I was raring to have a go at it. It looked like a bringing together of Dark Souls’ combat and Diablo’s level design. What was puzzling, however, were the dozen-or-so reviews (at the time—now there are over one thousand), almost universally panning it. I chose to disregard them, dive in, and form my own opinion. In hindsight, I should have heeded the advice from victims of this game’s promises.

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Your career as an adventurer begins with choosing your character. After you’ve picked an avatar from a limited set of cosmetic options and your gender, you dive right in. Necropolis introduces you to its lighter side right away, with the game’s narration featuring a healthy mix of melodrama and humour. Almost immediately, you’re informed of the game’s non-customisable control scheme. You can choose to play the game with a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, but I would strongly advise using the latter. Both combat and movement seems to have been designed with a controller in mind and you’re less likely to find yourself getting annoyed by the game’s wonky camera and combat controls.

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Necropolis’ levels are procedurally generated, and you’re unlikely to encounter the same level layout twice. Exploration and combat comprise the meat of the gameplay, with your primary goal being to find the exit to each level. In order to exit each level, you will need gems—a sort of in-game paywall which prevents players from just dashing through levels to the exit (although you can simply “farm” earlier levels for gems and do this anyway). Once you’ve killed some enemies, gathered gems and perhaps an incrementally better sword, shield or piece of armour, you can simply descend further down into the next labyrinth.

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With no mini-map and only a rudimentary checkpoint system, exploring various doorways, rooms and paths in a level can be fun. Necropolis also features different “biomes” or level design types, ranging from forests and rivers and floating platforms to more traditional Egyptian/Medieval style dungeons. The game’s levels might be procedurally generated, but one thing’s for sure: this is no Diablo. At times you’ll encounter some impressive scenery, while at other times you’ll see huge empty rooms with nothing inside them.

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Enemies and combat add to the game’s level design woes. First, combat is not fun. The animations are choppy, there’s no real challenge to it (other than enemies which do more damage and have more health), and you’ll often find yourself employing the same tactics no matter which enemy you’re up against. The game’s lock-on mechanic feels like it was implemented with no playtesting, because it’s a mess. Not only does it randomly keep switching targets, it also causes the camera to bob uncontrollably.

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The only times combat turns challenging is when you’re literally backed up against a wall and the game throws a horde at you, offering you little-to-no chance of coming out on top. Enemy design feels uninspired as well, and the lack of any form of boss fights really accentuates the feeling of the “grind” that is Necropolis’ gameplay.

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Despite incorporating basic RPG systems such as loot and crafting systems, Necropolis’ veiled simplicity is really an anti-RPG approach to game design. First, there are no numbers in the game at all, be it health, damage, or armour values. Players can also earn “tokens” to purchase “codexes” (which are available to all characters, transcending permadeath) which give your character some kind of buff—these aren’t quantified either. The joy of playing any RPG is watching these numbers float around, min/maxing and making DPS calculations, and while I get what Harebrained Schemes are trying to do here, it just makes Necropolis feel even shallower than it is.

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The permadeath system itself is probably Necropolis’ most interesting aspect, but it can be frustrating for players reaching the game’s final, tenth level and perishing. Fortunately, the game also sports a co-op mode. Necropolis can either be played solo or co-operatively with up to 3 friends. More importantly, if you kick the bucket, you can be revived by your buddies, with the game ending only on the death of all players in the party (‘bleeding out’ will result in a player respawning with starting level gear). There’s no matchmaking, however, and you’ll have to convince all your friends to drop some cash on the game if you want to play it in co-op.

Necropolis fails to deliver on its promise of an exciting, infinitely replayable third-person action/adventure. However, if you’re willing to put in the time, there is an endgame with secrets to uncover and stuff to unlock. But, frankly, I don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time. The combat makes up most of the gameplay and is particularly disappointing. Best wait until its heavily discounted, and convince a friend to pick it up to share the spoils (and disappointment) on a budget.

Necropolis is available on Steam for Rs 729.

RATING: 5/10

Pros

  • Cool minimalist art style and atmospheric music
  • Permadeath offers some replay value
  • Humour

Cons

  • Repetitive, uninteresting combat
  • “Anti-RPG” approach works against it
  • Disappointing loot, lack of character customisation
  • Feels like an early access game

Published Date: Jul 19, 2016 04:24 pm | Updated Date: Jul 19, 2016 04:24 pm