Below will finally be released next week, and it looks worth the 5 year wait

Cast your mind back to a time before the Xbox One was even released, and you might just recall the beautiful, melancholy roguelike Below being announced on stage at Microsoft's E3 2013 press conference. Five years and a least a couple of delays later it has a release date and - surprise - it's out next week on Xbox One and PC.

"The project has been very difficult for us," admits Kris Piotrowski, creative director at developer Capy. "We've been in a long development cycle for a variety of reasons. Part of it is just the game is a genuinely complex game."

Spend a bit of time with Below and you can see where the time has gone. Every tiny detail in the top down world is an impressive mix of gameplay and eerie design, from glowing platforms to tiny foxes. The story - and progress - hinges on a magical lantern. It can show you secrets and traps and if you die - which you will - it marks the location of your death in the deep bowels of Below's world, so you always know what point you have to work your way back towards. 

"Every time you die you start as a new wanderer arriving on the island after the death of the previous one. You're slowly building on progress. The island itself is persistent, so every little change you make is safe from life to life but each character begins as a blank slate."

That means that even if you die doors and gates you unlock with the magic lantern will stay that way, and Piotrowski promised that there are hidden shortcuts built in so you won't always have to retrace your steps to get back to the scene of your untimely demise. There are also elements of survival and crafting - you can manage your health, hunger, thirst, and body temperature with soups and elixirs crafted at campfires - a small army of enemies, and a bigger, darker narrative that will be revealed as you play. 

"The combat in the game is very much inspired by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, just as far as the move set that you have. For me Wind Waker is my favorite feeling combat, it's sort of like Dark Souls but a little bit more snappy, a little bit more forgiving," adds Piotrowski.

"It's not a game that you really have to deal with stats, you're not building a character with levels and the weapons you pick up don't really have big stat differences, it's really just about how good are you with the combat."

I got to see a bunch of levels from the game, and there's a real sense of visual progression as you move down. There are serene campfires by beaches, flowing grass, and later on there are stalagmites. Even later things get very interesting, with something that I can only describe as technological coral reef that reacted to the lantern. Yes, everything is procedurally generated, but in that curated Spelunky or Diablo way, so each cavern and level feels like part of a delicious whole. Or, indeed, hole. 

Below will be released on Xbox One and PC on December 14.

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