Necropolis is a new third-person roguelike game by Harebrained Schemes. The game has some of the usual elements of roguelike gameplay like procedurally generated levels and perma-death, but throws those elements into a 3D hack-and-slash environment. Throw in some attempts at humor (another roguelike staple), and you’ve got a solid formula, right? Well, the formula is solid, but Necropolis often has trouble coming together in quite the way you’d like it to.
To start the game, the player is given the option between using a male or female character, although the player’s choice of character doesn’t change anything in-game aside from aesthetics. The game also does not explain much in terms of gameplay; the game’s controls are written on a wall on the first level of the game, and the player is expected to move from level to level in the dungeon and learn through trial and error. This results in dying many many MANY times.
With the exception of walking, every action the player makes in the game — running, jumping, light attack, heavy attack, special attack, shield, and parry — costs stamina, which regenerates over time. But, the player must be careful to not spam their special attack or chain too many attacks together, because this will result in a permanent reduction in maximum stamina which can only be restored through consuming potions or rations that you can buy or craft with items picked up from fallen enemies or chests.
One interesting quirk in Necropolis is that players can make progress even in death. During the game, tokens are earned by completing quests. Those tokens can be redeemed for codexes, which carry over in successive playthroughs. Unfortunately, what each codex actually does is unknown, and the player can only find out through trial and error. Players can only carry one codex at a time, but they can be freely swapped out for different ones at the end of each dungeon level.
Necropolis is generally glitch-free with the exception of one instance. If a player gets too close to a ledge, cliff, or object that they want to jump on top of, they will only jump a portion of the height that they could normally reach; the player must take a slight step back in this instance before jumping in order to complete their jump. This is just something to take note of and is not really a game-breaker.
Sometimes, a player will walk off a cliff and land on a ledge and have no way to jump back up to where they were. However, this is not exactly a glitch, as there are potions or codexes that can increase a player’s jumping ability. The solution to this problem is typically to just jump off the cliff. Falling to your death doesn’t count toward perma-death, with the game respawning the character back on top of the cliff with a minor hit to health.
This game is much more fun and addictive when playing multiplayer, which allows other players to jump into your adventure, or vice versa. Friendly-fire is very real! In my first multiplayer playthrough, I got too close to my friend while he was charging an attack and when he unleashed it, I was immediately dead and he was quickly swarmed by a mob and died. If one player does manage to survive and get to safety, the living player can revive the dead player, so they don’t have to forge on without their friend. If at any point all players in the game die, the game will restart.
Unfortunately, while Necropolis champions procedurally generated levels — levels that are randomly built as you go using game assets like Lego bricks — the goals given to the player at each level were repetitive. Layouts or the number of enemies encountered at once change slightly, but the types of enemies encountered are always the same for whatever level you’re on. Necropolis boils down to completing a few quests for tokens if you can on your way to finding the room that leads to the next level. There was not much need for me or my teammate to do much besides hack and slash our way to the next level, consuming food or rations to maintain our health and stamina. There were some cool spells that make the game a bit easier, but their casting time or cryptic descriptions made them hard to deploy effectively without dying.
Most potions, spells, weapons, armor, and almost all of the codexes have very cryptic descriptions on what they do and, true to the spirit of the game, the player must use trial and error to learn their powers or effects. Armor and weapons also suffer from this cryptic wording — I largely chose weapons based on their tier number or how fast I could attack using them, rather than basing my decision on stats or special attacks. There was no way to know how strong a piece of armor or weapon was or if they had any special abilities, although it’s often possible to guess if you’re familiar with the genre. It would be nice if the descriptions could change once a player uses an item for the first time, or even if there was an ability to write your own notes or descriptions on the item. However, this is not the case, and any notes must be written either by hand or by alt-tabbing out of the game, which takes away from the addictiveness the game can otherwise have.
Sights, Sounds, and Story
As usual for procedurally generated games, the textures in Necropolis are very simple. It has to be that way, since those textures and elements are being stitched together randomly as you progress through the game. But, the assets used change from level to level, so while each level won’t be that much different on successive playthroughs, there’s still lots of visual variety as progress is made. The palette is generally pretty dark, but the game isn’t afraid to throw in some bright colors for a little contrast. The light, cartoony look goes well with the wry, humorous tone the game is going for.
The music and sounds in the game are exquisite. Different music is played at different situations or levels and the sounds that the monsters and mobs make is at times interesting, funny, or even scary. It was a very nice complement to the gameplay.
Story is is a trickier subject. The game does not present a clear story or goal aside from delving further and further down into the dungeon, although there are superb roguelike games out there that also largely ignore storytelling (see: Dungeons of Dredmor). The occasional hieroglyphics that appear on walls that the player can read are at times funny, but largely serve no purpose. The game’s antagonist/quest giver, a large, unfriendly, upside-down one-eyed pyramid, mocks the player’s progression through the game.
Ultimately, this approach to the story hurts the game because it does not give the player a goal to play for outside or just exploring the dungeons to see how they changed from the last playthrough, or to unlock the codexes and see what they do. It’d be OK in some other games, but the gameplay in Necropolis is too repetitive to make up for the lack of story.