Damned by a deceased deity? It can only happen in Curse of the Dead Gods.
If I told you that Curse of the Dead Gods was a hack ‘n slash rogue-like then there’s a fair chance you’d overlook it and move on, because it’s not like there’s a shortage of them these days. If I told you that it’s probably one of the best, most polished rogue-likes I’ve ever played then I’d hope you’d take a lot more notice. Curse of the Dead Gods is fantastic. Even in its Early Access state it boasts enough features and content to place it above the majority of full releases on Steam. Frankly, it’s already well worth a purchase, and there’s a lot more content promised to come over the remainder of this year.
You’re thrown straight in at the deep end with little to no explanation as to how to play. Holding just a torch — at least as far as I knew at first — you are given a quick rundown of controls via an objective list in the corner of the screen. WASD to move left click to attack, right-click for a ranged attack, and multiple clicks for a combo. None of these worked for me at first, until I realised that I had a sword and pistol that I could equip by pressing 2 and putting away my torch. It would have been nice to have had this explained to me, but once I had it figured out I started having a lot of fun.
If there’s one criticism I had to lay at the feet of Curse of the Dead Gods, it’s that it does a bad job of explaining how to play, leaving a lot for you to figure out for yourself. I understand that that plays into the theme of your character discovering an ancient temple and needing to figure out the rules of it, but not knowing how to use the parry and dodge systems until my third run was a bit irritating. A simple tutorial would have been enough to resolve this for me.
Beyond that though, I had a tremendous time on my various runs through the Jaguar Temple. You move from area to area using a map similar to that of Slay the Spire to gather resources, skills, and weapons before taking on a champion or boss. You’ll need to gather better equipment and stat-boosting relics, as well as managing your stamina and corruption.
Stamina works in a similar way to many hack ‘n slash combat games, but corruption is something quite interesting. You start with 0/100 corruption, and many, many things will increase it. Enemy attacks? Damage and corruption. Use a healing station? Corruption. Buy an item you can’t afford? You get it for free. That’s not true, of course, you get corruption. Even moving to the next area you gain corruption. If you reach 100, you don’t die as I expected. Instead, you gain a curse.
Curses are a mechanic that can change how you’ll play in future areas, increasing challenge, but also occasionally offering benefits. Enemies might explode on death, or your torch may not light certain areas. Perhaps gold will vanish after a short while but in return, you’ll take less damage. The curses that are given appear to be random, but they always lead to you needing to play in a different way. Defeating a champion will allow you to choose a curse to remove, but accumulating too many curses will lead to the end of your run.
This being a rogue-like means that failure will reset your progress and generate a new random set of rooms for you to explore. You’ll be able to buy and equip permanent buffs before your next run depending on how many crystal skulls you found during your previous efforts.
As I said previously, Curse of the Dead Gods is incredibly polished by full release standards, let alone Early Access. The controls are very tight and responsive — although beginning an attack means you’ve committed to it and can’t dodge out of the move — which means that pretty much all mistakes are your own fault. The visuals are fabulously well done and reminded me of the dark fantasy stylings of Darkest Dungeon, but with much quicker and more detailed animations, whilst the sounds are heavy and powerful, giving your attacks a great sense of weight.
As it stands, it’s hard not to recommend this game, especially considering there are due to be two more temples to explore, as well as new enemies, additional weapons, and a slew of different curses with which to corrupt your hero. If this is the sort of curse I can expect from Curse of the Dead Gods, then sign me up for desecrating a few temples!
Curse of the Dead Gods is available now through Steam Early Access