Eldritch Review – A Lovingly Crafted Rogue-like

Eldritch weeping angels

Enemy corpses can be looted, offering much-needed keys and ammo, as well as the artifacts that act as the game’s currency. However, Eldritch makes you think twice about collecting supplies from the dead, since doing so will allow that enemy to respawn back into the level. It presents an interesting choice between scavenging for resources and potential dangers later on that made me constantly weigh my need for supplies.

However, the system is also fairly easy to abuse, allowing you to essentially mine weaker enemies to stockpile ammo and artifacts. In fact, during one playthough, I was forced to mine the respawning enemies for a key after falling into a chamber where the only escape was a locked door.

The artifacts that make up your currency also pose a choice for players as well, since those coins also double as your mana pool for casting spells. Spells can be obtained from idol totems scattered randomly throughout the game, with a different random spell at each totem. One spell might render you temporarily invisible, while another unlocks doors and yet another hypnotizes enemies. Each has a mana cost per use, and can quickly sap away your wallet.

Alternatively, you can spend those artifacts at shops in each level to buy an assortment of gear, such as boots to jump higher or walk silently, a medical kit for a second chance after dying, or perhaps a talisman that allows you to shoot and destroy the voxel-based scenery. Of course, the game’s randomized nature ensures that you can never count on when you will find a shop or spell totem, or what it will offer if you do find one, so every playthrough offers a slightly different play style depending on how you spend your artifacts.

Aside from gear and spells, your main tools will be a trusty dagger and revolver — once you find them. There are also tools like rocks and bottles to distract enemies, and dynamite to blast through walls, and it’s left up to you to figure out which to bring along in your limited pair of weapon slots.

But at first glance, it is difficult to see how all of Eldritch’s systems work together. There is a difficulty hurdle, but in the opposite direction one would expect from a rogue-like. The three mystical books aren’t particularly challenging to complete, starting you out with a compass to always point you toward the exit, while enemies don’t pose too great of a threat. Stealth has value for avoiding the occasional invincible monstrosity, but revolver ammo is plentiful and the dagger can fell most creatures in a few hits before they can attack even once.

Eldritch Cthulhu

I beat Eldritch on my third attempt, and felt rather confused that so much effort had been put into systems that never really came into play. The dual purpose of the artifacts had potential, but I never really needed to buy gear or use many spells. The rocks and bottles seemed like interesting stealth tools, but there was so much ammo that it was far more efficient to just shoot the cyclopean terrors than sneak past them. And if an enemy respawned after raiding its body, it just meant more ammo in my pocket when I killed it again.

Then I played Eldritch’s New Game + mode, and it took me almost as long to make my way through the first book as it had taken to complete the entire game before. New Game + makes the enemies faster and more aggressive, while significantly reducing the loot you find throughout each dungeon. Stealth becomes a far more attractive tactic with the more dangerous monsters, while finding the right spell or relic in a shop can make the difference between escaping with your life or turning into fishman food.

Eldritch also doesn’t give you a compass at the start of a New Game + run, forcing more careful exploration to reach the exit of each area and adding the possibility of getting lost in the randomly generated labyrinths. In fact, I’d encourage players to get lost while exploring in New Game +, as the claustrophobia from the winding tunnels and caverns mixes well with the sound design’s unsettling paranoia for an effect that lives up to the game’s Lovecraftian inspiration.

Minor Key Games has packed Eldritch with tense exploration that forces interesting choices on a moment-to-moment basis. The downside is that it took some significant digging to reach that rich, ichor-covered center with New Game +. Not that the post-game is perfect by any stretch, with its severe spikes in difficulty and the occasional inescapable dungeon where a wall bars the way and there is no dynamite in sight. Eldritch is designed to be replayed over and over, so a few bad playthroughs are forgiven fairly easily in the long run, but tiny annoyances and an overwhelming atmosphere hold it back from scratching that “just one more try” compulsion.

Eldritch is almost two games for the price of one. Initially it could be said that it’s a comedy. The difficulty is un-obstructing and many of the enemy designs and animations are actually quite cute for nightmarish abominations. It welcomes you in and builds up your confidence, only to tear you back down again in New Game +, where Eldritch reveals its true colors as a first-person Spelunky with a horror slant.

Pros:

  • Paranoia-inducing sound design keeps a high level of tension
  • Exploration is filled with meaningful moment-to-moment choices
  • New Game + turns Eldritch into a harrowing first-person rogue-like

Cons:

  • Not much of a challenge until you unlock New Game +
  • Three dungeons and an epilogue feels a bit short, especially with such a huge hub world

Final Score: 80/100


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1 Comment on Eldritch Review – A Lovingly Crafted Rogue-like

Mccrackelz

On November 2, 2013 at 10:34 am

Lovingly crafted, well played Mr Nichols… well played.