Eldritch Review – A Lovingly Crafted Rogue-like
Eldritch, like any respectable Lovecraftian tale, begins in a library. The library is vast, stretching outward and upward to a ridiculous degree. Yet despite its size, the library manages to feel quite claustrophobic, especially once I’ve realized it primarily seemed to hold thousands upon thousands of copies of the same four books.
It isn’t a normal library, of course, serving more as a hub world for the three colorful tomes that lie at the library’s heart. Each of the glimmering books transports me to a bizarre sort of nightmare realm, full of monsters, traps, and madness.
This is Eldritch, a first-person dungeon spelunker from the two-man team at Minor Key Games.
Developer: Minor Key Games
Publisher: Minor Key Games
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2013
Eldritch wears its rogue-like inspirations on its sleeve, embracing the subgenre’s penchant for permadeath and randomization. Inside each magic book is a randomly generated voxel dungeon matching the theme of its patron Elder God, from Dagon’s swamp to Nyarlathotep’s more Middle-Eastern ruins. Your goal is simply to survive and escape each book world, in the process descending through multiple dungeon stages to reach the Elder God soul that can open a portal back to the library.
The randomly generated dungeons work well as an analog for the non-Euclidean geometry of which Lovecraft was so fond, and many of the wall textures have an exceptional quality that makes the flat cubes appear warped to drive home the effect. Rooms don’t always fit together properly either, often appearing as if two completely separate locations had been jammed together. It’s jarring, but purposefully so in order to reinforce the otherworldliness of the locations.
The dungeons also have a remarkable verticality to them that is fairly rare among first-person games. Even traversing between rooms on the same floor often means finding a hole to fall down through in order to climb back up on the other side. Throughout the three book worlds, progress is always downward, forcing you to leave the relative safety of elevated platforms where most enemies cannot reach.
While the randomly generated levels establish an unsettling tone, it’s through sound design that Eldritch excels, equal parts brilliant and sadistic. While trying to make my way through the dungeons, I was constantly bombarded by the moaning and footsteps of what seemed to be practically every enemy in the level. There is no sound muffling for enemies that are farther away, or on the far sides of walls, or on completely different floors, for that matter, creating a deeply unnerving atmosphere.
Imagine that while lying in bed, you look up and see a spider slowly descending toward you. You quickly jump out of bed, and by the time you look around, the spider is nowhere to be seen. You know it’s still there, somewhere, probably hiding in the folds of your sheets by now, but you can’t see it anywhere. That’s what playing Eldritch is like.
Hearing every enemy simultaneously is like knowing the spider is there but not being able to see it. A Deep One might walk through a door several rooms away, yet the sound would be so close that I’d frantically spin around, expecting the monster to be immediately behind me.
The effect is compounded by the fact that some enemy types don’t get along, killing each other without any provocation on my part. Each enemy has a distinct sound when it spots prey, and it is deeply unsettling to never know for sure whether it is me or some other beast that is in the crosshairs.