I have said this many times but one of the best features of PAX East is the depth and breadth of gaming experiences; for every FF VII Remake there is a soon to be Indie classic like Curse of the Dead Gods. Reminding me of Dead Cells mixed with the risk/reward systems of Darkest Dungeon, this game hooked me from the moment I saw it in action.
I had a chance to try it out on the show floor and again when I returned home, as it has just launched in early access and I am already addicted to the systems, art style, gameplay mechanics and sheer atmosphere.
It’s billed as a skill-based roguelike, for this game has a tortured hero exploring a dark temple filled with monsters, traps and curses as well as untold riches, relics and weapons to discover. The game starts quickly with a snappy cutscene and then gets right into action as I choose a path through the temple.
This choice is usually in the form of what reward type will be available once the enemies or traps are cleared. It may be gold, stat increases, new weapons, or a surprise choice. As this is a roguelike, every time I died the journey started over, but any skulls I found or perks I unlocked stayed with me.
So while my weapons restart to basic items, I may have more starting gold, or do more damage with fire or extra starting stats/hitpoints. There are many perks and enhancements that can be unlocked as skulls are gathered, and these carry over on each playthrough.
As the levels are being explored, new weapons, stats and relics can be equipped to make battles easier to get past. On the flipside, these bonuses are not free and have to be paid for with gold or the character’s blood. Using blood enhances the chance of getting a curse, which adds both a perk and a penalty. These curses can only be lifted once a boss is defeated, so balancing getting new items with the associated curses is a calculated gamble.
Mechanically the game is snappy and responsive. Quick dodges and parry maneuvers help you to get out of sticky situations, and there are some fast combos with the base weapons of sword and gun. There are numerous new weapons to replace the starting items, and also two-handed weapons to be found as a third more intense option.
Dodging or using the two-handed weapons drains a point of stamina (you start with five points) so there is a real need to keep an eye on that tally when backed into a corner. Traps are everywhere and many cannot be seen without light (either your torch or lit braziers). This means that keeping the room bright (a similar but different mechanic from Darkest Dungeon) is incredibly important.
Some traps also need to be triggered by lighting them or walking in front of them. These will explode, spew flame, or shoot a fireball. Careful timing and movement can make this very handy for clearing a large room. I would like to see more environmental damage types in future updates to spice this up, but these traps add a nice tactical layer.
The branching paths also give a cool choice between rooms to truly decide what’s most important: weapons? relics? stats? good old Gold? This nice tweak on the formula reminds me of Hades a bit, as it is nice to strategically choose how I power up.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how amazing this game looks. The lighting, animations, textures and overall look and feel are stunning. It is nice to see this quality of art design, which veers from the pixel art style (which I also love). The lighting is so key in this title, and they nailed it.
Curse of the Dark Gods just released in Early Access and while I saw some odd glitches when hitting some function keys and had to restart, overall the game is very nearly bug-free so far for me. There are some placeholder sections (and one tab that literally says WIP on it) as well as menus that are not accessible, but the game is already very content-rich.
I used to sneer at the idea of Early Access, but Dead Cells and Hades have made me love the format. Add to the fact that Baldur’s Gate 3 will launch this way, and I can get truly excited about this release option. It lets us directly interact with the developer to shape the game, but only works if the original DNA of the title is good.
In the case of Curse of the Dead Gods what we already have is frankly amazing and addictive. I can’t wait to see what the developer Passtech Games has in store as they make regular updates. Curse of the Dead Gods is available right now in Early Access on Steam.