Roguelikes are a way of life for me. I’m a huge fan of the genre. I think the appeal lies in the randomised design, where success is based not just on luck, but through an intimacy with the game’s system and its logic, which educates you to make calculated risks and manipulate the situation to your favour. Thus, I have been treated with a special preview build of Julian Edison’s In Celebration of Violence, a game that promises a marriage of the roguelike to Dark Souls-esque gameplay, delivered with a retro 8-bit aesthetic. The game is currently in development and a playable build is available through Greenlight, so give the game a vote if you get a chance.
The game begins with a title screen that allows the player to choose between 1 of 4 playable characters, each offering a varied playstyle. The Hermit has the advantage of starting with a bow, the Peasant carries a long-ranged pitchfork and swift sickle, while the Merchant starts with a number of keys and other utilities to aid survival and exploration. My current favourite, the Coward, has a significantly stronger underling to engage in combat, while the player attacks from the flanks with their rapier. The character classes show a lot of finesse and creativity, so it will be interesting to see how the classes develop (and perhaps expand) as the game moves towards launch.
At the moment, the game prioritises careful and measured melee combat to defeat a variety of foes on the map. Like the Souls games, positioning and evasion is very important to success, as is correctly timing the direction and angle of attack. It is very easy to miss an attack, and swinging your weapons wildly will result in stamina loss and leave you wide open to counterattack. As enemy damage is proportionally quite high to your health bar, death is only a few strikes away. This prompts a careful and conservative approach to gameplay, where kiting enemies is key to survival. The roguelike elements in the game come through randomised maps and enemy types, while the game is dotted with a number of mysterious spells and weapons available to the player. So far I’ve found spells that grant invisibility, spawn damaging bushes in the environment, and an item that produces a deadly spider every time an enemy is killed. There is a pleasing level of randomisation in the design – I have played through maps where a fire has broken out through the stage, and sent a number of humanoid opponents charging me while on fire, before collapsing at my feet from their injuries. These sort of environmental hazards, where enemies are similarly subject to the laws of the game’s cruel world, is a sign of consistent design, and reminds me of my time with Spelunky (2008), where enemies would often trigger their own traps.
The game does remain in early days however, and some issues may need to be addressed as development progresses. At the moment, the game’s movement is very sluggish, as are character attacks. To counter this, I placed a number of my skill points into increasing the character’s base speed, but even with a 20% addition the game still felt too slow. Weapon attacks are similarly very slow, and the game requires precise strikes in melee, as enemy hitboxes are small. From my experience, this means that my attacks are missing half the time on even simple enemies – more infuriating is that very small enemies are even harder to hit, and can make the combat something of a nuisance. While I believe this difficulty is an intentional aspect of the game’s design, it requires further balancing to move away from frustration, and produce a greater sense of challenge. I imagine that some of these issues come from mapping Souls-esque gameplay with an overhead perspective, and may need some tweaking. Another issue typical of early game builds is a lack of clarity in terms of receiving damage or becoming stunned. In every game I have played, I have wound up bleeding to death. I have found no way to undo this bleedout state once it is activated, and I remain confused as to how to survive in a lengthy battle of attrition. This lack of clarity extends to the collection and use of multiple resources throughout the game. There are several different kinds of resources to collect, but outside of crystals (used to purchase items and spells) I remain unsure how the others are used. This suggests that the game’s overall design could use greater accessibility and some simplification of its systems to avoid the dreaded feature creep.
If I were to summarise my experience of In Celebration of Violence up to this point, I would say that I admire the ambition and concept of the game. The randomised elements and items have proven the most interesting aspect of the core gameplay experience, but combat needs to be considerably more responsive and fluid to provide an engaging gameplay experience. Finally, where the graphics maintain their own unique style, the in-game music is something of a tuneless dirge at the moment, and could do with being either restored or replaced with ambient environmental sound, as music and sound in the Souls series are so crucial to its design. With these changes considered and put into place, In Celebration of Violence would be a real contender for the roguelike crown, so keep your eyes peeled and your sickle sharp.