Wish death in Dark Souls was permanent? Necropolis is your next challenge

Before you know it, 'Soulslike' could be as ubiquitous a term as 'roguelike'. The Dark Souls name is now legend: it's a series lauded for its unrelenting (but perfectly fair) difficulty, heavy combat at a pace dictated by your stamina bar, and the palpable atmosphere of its dark fantasy world. That aesthetic and design philosophy has influenced plenty of upcoming indies like Salt and Sanctuary, Eitr, and now Necropolis, a roguelike take on Souls gameplay with procedurally generated dungeons and the harsh finality of permadeath. Necropolis has plenty of design choices that set it apart from its primary inspiration and its Souls-esque peers, but perhaps its biggest distinction is that it's being made with the blessing of Bandai Namco - the publisher for the lion's share of the Souls series. Bandai Namco sees Necropolis as complementary to its seminal action RPG franchise rather than derivative, which is why it'll be publishing the game on PS4 and Xbox One in the summer of 2016.

Developed by Harebrained Schemes, best known for the success of the crowdfunded tactics series Shadowrun Returns, Necropolis is described as the yin to Dark Souls' yang, or the light snack version of Souls' rich, hearty meal. As a faceless, sword-and-shield wielding knight, you delve into the depths of a sleek-looking low-poly dungeon that rearranges form with each playthrough. You're led by the baritone mumblings of the Brazen Head, a gigantic one-eyed pyramid (#Illuminati) who mocks and guides you in equal measure. Your controls are almost identical to the typical Souls layout - light and heavy attacks, blocks and parries, and the constant life-saver that is dodge-rolling - but the Brazen Head is the first clear departure from the familiar template. As the overseer of this 'pocket universe' abandoned by the wizard who created it, the Brazen Head is your main benefactor and primary antagonist, who's perfectly happy to see you clearing out enemies or dying pitifully at their feet.

Being able to carefully circle-strafe so you can set up a backstab is just as powerful and vital in Necropolis as it is in Dark Souls, but a few small tweaks help distinguish the combat here. For starters, the varied enemies and monsters you'll encounter belong to three factions (undead ghouls, gold-armored guards, and shadowy red warriors) with distinct susceptibilities to certain weapon types. Plus, they'll readily attack and kill one another if you manage to lure them into a fight. You can charge up your sword swings for a Power Attack, which will devastate the opposition in a flash of light, but your maximum stamina will be reduced until you take the time to eat some food. Oh, and make sure that the meat you've found or the healing potion you've crafted isn't toxic, lest you end up vomiting your guts out when you were hoping to heal up.

As a Dark Souls dabbler, I enjoyed my fatal trips into Necropolis' shapeshifting dungeon, though the roguelike format greatly prioritizes combat over satisfying exploration. With the first rune-laden door you open, you're accosted by groups of rotting vikings - and if you try fleeing in another direction, you're likely to alert the other noise-sensitive enemies and start a conga line of deadly creatures who could probably take you down one-on-one, let alone as a rampaging mob. It felt overwhelming at first, but once I grabbed a lightning-infused dagger (every enemy drops their own gear on death) and started jumping around the environment for advantageous positioning, I was having a good ol' time slashing through foes and turning tail as necessary. What might've made it even better is the soon-to-be-added co-op for up to four players, which lets other intrepid adventurers drop in and join your quest, offering the promise of resurrection by your allies in exchange for scaled-up difficulty and tougher enemies. Unfortunately, you'll never get the opportunity to team up and take down a particularly tough boss: Necropolis doesn't have any distinct boss fights.

Though the dungeon's layout changes each time you perish, it does contain seven distinct environment types - I was able to catch a glimpse of a swamp populated by freaky snail-wizards and deranged marshmen. It may not have the labyrinthine interconnectivity of Dark Souls' open world, but Necropolis seems perfect for players who love to assist others or chart unfamiliar territory with a dedicated ally at their side. Necropolis does have a definitive end point, where the only way out of the dungeon is down. Like Dark Souls, you will die many, many, many times before you reach it... and even when your quest is complete, you might be inspired to jump right back into the fray and start your harrowing journey all over again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucas likes his games like he likes his music: eclectic. With all the weird and wonderful stuff he's played over the years, the two of you are bound to feel the same way about something!

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