Shadowrun developer Harebrained Schemes has something slightly different in store with Necropolis. Zach Welhouse valiantly attempted to survive its depths in order to report back on what awaits players this summer.
Necropolis is a departure for Harebrained Schemes. For one, it's not a Shadowrun game, which it has earned praise for here and elsewhere. Instead, it's a procedurally-generated rogue-lite with permadeath and pervasive upgrades. Moreover, it's being published by Bandai Namco, which considers it "a perfect companion game for Dark Souls fans." Necropolis requires reflexes and strategy. My poor showing at the demo suggests a personal lack of at least one of those strengths, but also a can-do spirit and miles of heart.
In a game that celebrates character death as much as Necropolis, persistence is a virtue. Not only does repeated death provide the player with more knowledge about treasure limitations and enemy types, it allows the character to build up a library of abilities that persist between characters. These skills reside in a bookcase at the top of the dungeon, overseen by the Brazen Head. As much as the cyclopean mastermind plays the role of the Cryptkeeper and derides the player's efforts and unfamiliarity with elevators, he is also dependent on their ultimate success. As a giant, floating pyramid he is unable to retake his dungeon and his rightful glory. He needs a lackey, such as one of the countless expendable characters the average player will go through over the course of the game. Apart from a cloak color, name, and title, each selected from a short list, each lackey is identical. Unlocking pervasive skills and learning how to best use them will be the key to survival.
Necropolis's comparisons to Dark Souls derive from its unforgiving combat. The character's attack speed is deliberate, so victory requires a plan of attack. Leading enemy groups, timing attacks, and staying mobile all play a part in keeping control. Picking up on the moving parts is a little tricky at first, but by the end of the demo they made sense even though mastery had evaded me. The character can make light and heavy attacks — each of which can be charged — block, shield dash, jump, and draw on a variety of items including scrolls, potions, and meat. Using an item at the wrong time is an invitation for monsters to surround and pummel you while you're happily eating good meat.
The demo station wasn't set up for the promised option to drop in and out of co-op, which was disappointing. As fond as I am of stand-alone campaigns, a dungeon delver this unforgiving would let me find out once and for all who are my real friends.