More than just a pretty face, Necropolis is a gorgeous Dark Souls-inspired roguelike from Harebrained Schemes, developers of Shadowrun and Shadowrun Returns. In its current pre-alpha state it’s a little early to declare that the game will be an unbridled success, but all the signs are there for a potentially great adventure – or many adventures, as it were.
I said in my PAX East preview post that any generic review adjective for great graphics should be used when describing Necropolis, and I damn well plan on using them. The game is stunning, even in this early stage of development. On the surface the style is a simplistic low-poly look, but the animation is tremendously smooth and gives the game a new level of personality. Character animations – of both playable and enemy characters – all look great. Another series that Necropolis draws heavy influence from is The Legend of Zelda, and in the case of its aesthetic, it’s very reminiscent of a darker-looking Wind Waker. Much of the environment is made up of dark hues of blue, purpole, and teal, but there are the starkly-contrasting bright reds of minerals, or the glistening silver of a weapon that you can pick up always catching your eye.
During the brief time that I had to play Necropolis at PAX East, many other passing attendees were stopped dead in their tracks from their first glance. It has such a striking style that it’s hard not to be at least a little captivated when you first see it, then once the animations kick in, and the idea of what is actually happening on screen becomes clear, it’s hard to look away.
As Necroplis’ art director Mike McCain told me (and it’s pretty clear while playing the game) the main influences for Necropolis are Journey and Dark Souls, with a delicate touch of Zelda sprinkled on top. The Dark Souls lineage comes in the form of the combat and progression of the game. It’s a familiar mix of target, dodge, and hit for fans of the oft difficult Dark Souls games, complete with having to memorize and learn to dodge certain fighting animations of enemies. It will also feature an “obituary” type system that should also be familiar to anyone who has played Dark Souls. In the PAX demo there was a real-time counter showing when you got to a certain spot to tell you how many players have made it there before you. Necropolis hopes to expand upon this and offer a full way to see how a player died when you find their remains.
While not implemented as of the PAX demo, there will be crafting in the game, and one particularly fun effect of a potion was demonstrated. One of the things that you will be able to craft, using various ingredients that enemies drop, will be a flying potion. By using this potion, the goal is to give players the ability to skip parts of games if they feel up to it. But, being that this is a roguelike afterall, death is death and if you jump ahead of your natural progression and instantly get to a lower (and more difficult) level you will most likely be paying for it.
Necropolis will also give players the ability to pit enemies against other enemies using a paper/scissors/rock style of picking what fights what. A creature called the Gemeater, surprisingly enough, eats gems. It just so happens there are enemies made of gems, and if you bring these two groups together, magical things happen that involve you being able to let them duke it out and fight against the victor. This won’t be a required skill to attain to beat the game, but if you want to truly master the game and be proficient at it, it’s something you’ll need to learn eventually.
Customization is limited, but not absent. You can choose from eight different armor sets to start the game, which will eventually mimic picking a certain playstyle. There will also be various ‘Codex’ books hidden around the game which will be used to give your character different powers and abilities while you try and escape the evil lair unharmed. And of course, what would a Dark Souls turned roguelike be without lots and lots of swords? No exact number was given, but there will be many different types of swords to pick up throughout your quest, all bringing different weights and playstyles to the table as you’d expect.
Similar to Cabin in the Woods, or other uber self-aware properties, the story of Necropolis will be told mostly straight, but with hints that it is riffing on its own genres. There may be some tropey or cliched moments, but they will be obvious nods to anyone paying attention. It’s a story kept purposefully simple for this reason. Essentially, each time you start the game you are a brand new adventurer travelling down into a twisting labyrinth created by an archmage, Abraxis, who went insane before dying. All of the adventurers before you – and you when you die – feed into the crazed wizard’s power. Because of this, he is willing to do anything, and throw anything at you, to kill you. The story segments, and main charm of the game, come from various text bits hidden around when you interact with certain objects. The mad archmage’s ramblings and threats serve as a nice world-building tool, even in the short PAX demo.
Development of Necropolis has been in progress for roughly six months now, with an estimated launch window of late-2015 to early-2016 on PC, Mac, and Linux. Harebrained Schemes’ plans are to release the core of the game at that time, then release meaty content packs to supplement it later. For instance, Necropolis will ship as a singleplayer-only game, but a multiplayer component could potentially to be released later on, ala Don’t Starve and Don’t Starve Together.