Dark Souls has turned out to be one of the most popular franchises in modern gaming. Its brutal gameplay and atmosphere have driven many a player insane trying to mount the perfect run. It’s no surprise that many developers are trying to capitalize on that success by releasing similar games. One such example, Harebrained Schemes’s Necropolis, is the latest that proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve. But does Necropolis live up to what it’s trying to emulate?
No. Not by a country mile and a half.
As soon as the game begins it’s apparent that it’s going to be a slog. Mouse sensitivity is so high you could stare at the mouse too hard and send the camera spinning off in space. Turning it all the way down helps only marginally and it takes effort getting used to. Your movement speed,on the other hand, is slow, and bumping into objects brings you to an immediate halt. Some basic enemies spawn close by, showing how stagnant and clunky combat is. You have a basic stamina bar and every attack and block drains from it. You don’t have much flexibility, as even the so called “quick attack” drains a lot of stamina.
“Quick attack” is a misnomer. This attack is a heavy, lumbering swing which leaves you open to attack. It can only be called a “quick” attack in comparison to the heavy attack, which is only slightly slower. The damage output isn’t much better either, so there’s never any reason to do anything than bash the attack button.Enemies are equally slow, lurching towards you like the last drop of honey from the jar, and striking with the speed of a sloth covered in molasses.
"The combat doesn’t just lack speed, it lacks depth. Where Dark Souls’s was strategic and engaging, Necropolis’ combat mechanics are as simplistic you’ll find."
Necropolis doesn’t just suffer from its lethargic pace, but also its vacancy. This isn’t a world that feels lived in; rather a series of rooms designed for the player to wonder aimlessly. Enemies stand around doing nothing. Story text is scribbled on walls with no context. There’s no clear motivation for the protagonist or your enemies. Everything exists for the sake of being there. That emptiness permeates throughout the gameplay.
The combat doesn’t just lack speed, it lacks depth. Where Dark Souls’s was strategic and engaging, Necropolis’ combat mechanics are as simplistic you’ll find. Not only is the supposed quick attack slow, it’s really all you have. You can pick up basic swords and shields, but your offensive capabilities are limited. All you can do is hit enemies until they die, which doesn’t matter, because that’s all your enemies do. Once you hit an enemy, they’re stun locked, and it becomes a matter of repeatedly hitting them with a basic attack.
You hope you’re hitting them anyway. The game lacks much in the way of audio-visual feedback. There’s not much to suggest you hit an enemy other than their stun animation. Your sword feels like it goes through assailants, and it doesn’t register that anyone’s taking damage until they’re dead. The same can be said of the player. I didn’t realize I was taking most of the time until I was already dead. Enemies seem to be able to land hits against you from several feet away.
Combat lacks any sense of flow. You never get a sense of learning enemy routines, because they don’t have any. Neither you nor your opponent will employ anything resembling strategy. Most combat scenarios consist of charging at hostiles, blocking their first attack, then pummeling them until they’re dead.
"Item descriptions, including weapons and potions, are given a short description of random words. More often than not, these descriptions are useless at relaying information."
Unless there are more than three enemies around, in which case they’ll surround you and lock you in place. Because your stamina meter is so low, you’ll quickly lose the ability to attack or block, and since enemies are solid you can’t run past them. This is how you’ll die more often than not. If you do manage to break free, it’s impossible to turn around and mount any kind of offensive, as they’ll just surround you again, and you’ll run out of stamina again just as quickly.
Good thing enemy AI is so appalling. They’ll do nothing but stand around until they see you, at which point they charge you headlong without rest. When they catch up to you, each different enemy will perform its one basic attack ad nauseum and nothing else. Some enemy types are hostile towards one another and will fight. It’s not unusual to see one enemy bashing another which’ll do nothing to defend itself or attack. Stairs aren’t their friends either, as most enemies will fruitlessly run in place at the bottom of them.
Another fun way of dying is from the option menu and other down time. There’s no pausing, which is fair enough, however there’s no indication that the game isn’t paused. During one run, I paused the game to look at some inventory items when an enemy spawned behind me and killed me. Yes, enemies can (and do) spawn after you’ve cleared rooms. Merchants are in the game, but they’re death traps for the same reasons. At least you can get out of a pause menu quickly. Each merchant has their own un-interruptible animations when activating or trying to leave them, and you can take damage while it plays out.
You must spend a lot of time with merchants and in your inventory too, because item descriptions lack any coherence. Among this game’s many sins is vagueness. As slow and empty as it is, its biggest problem is how abstract it all is.
Item descriptions, including weapons and potions, are given a short description of random words. More often than not, these descriptions are useless at relaying information. Some items are clear in purpose, such as the Potion of Vitality. Others aren’t so clear, especially the differences between multiple swords you can pickup. After experimenting, every weapon felt identical, and many potions and healing items offered the same benefits.
Whatever story exists is communicated in the same way. There are vague notes scattered throughout various walls, but none of it makes any sense. There’s a narrator, a big pyramid you meet in the first thirty seconds called Braze Head, but his purpose is unclear. He speaks in a made up language, and only in nonsense. You miss most of what he says anyway because he only sees it fit to talk when you’re in the middle of combat. It’s like you’re given pieces to a puzzle and are told to solve it without looking at the final picture, and missing half of the pieces.
"With each death, levels change completely. While this is supposed to lead to replayability, it does it opposite."
Objectives are also displayed without meaning. You’re told to “Shatter the Grime” or “Mark Ground with Chalk,” without context. It’s never clear what you’re supposed to do, or why you’re doing it. With each death these objectives reset, and you’ll be left wondering why breaking 39 pieces of pottery is deemed as important as wiping out a group of skeletons.
The ugliness of the graphics cannot be understated. Much like the plot and item descriptions, the art style on display is minimal. Everything in this procedurally generated world is flat and dull, filled in with washed out colors. Nothing stands out, and nothing has any focal point to draw the eye. As a result, backgrounds, objects and enemies bleed together resulting in something more like a drunk, half-finished Picasso painting than a coherently designed video game.
Any sense of progression is sacrificed with the extreme procedural generation. With each death, levels change completely. While this is supposed to lead to replayability, it does it opposite. You’re constantly starting over from whole cloth, having to rebuild your mental map. You can never get your bearings in this world. It’s all alien, which is completely against what Dark Souls is supposed to be.
In a Dark Souls game, you progress through the same levels and achieve the same objectives because it’s part of learning how to master the game. The same logic can be applied elsewhere. Items and weapons have clear differences and are labeled clearly enough for you to learn what works best in what situation. The art style is realistic to give you a sense of dread, and it provides a story of its own. Story is something you have to dig for, but its deep and engaging, not random non-sequiturs bulked up by made up nonsense and bad attempts at humor.
This game was reviewed on PC.
I didn’t run into any bugs. The music’s good.
Combat is utterly broken due to slow speed, too little stamina, poor AI, and simple tactics. The difficult curve is non-existent, as one moment you’re killing enemies without taking a scratch, and the next you’re swarmed by a gang of 10 monsters. What little story that’s present is poorly presented. Everything is vague and empty, and there’s never any sense of progression.
Necropolis started out boring, transitioned to annoying, and ended up being frustrating. There’s no fun to be had here.