The most upsetting moment I had in [email protected] was when my level seventeen mage fell off a cliff and died. I had lost my last resurrection item to a werewolf I accidentally had a brawl with while on an empty stomach on the previous floor. All those potions I had been hoarding were spent long ago in various encounters. My mage tumbled off the cliff and my three hour run on this dungeon ended. I didn’t want another run right away, but I knew that I’d be booting [email protected] back up and doing it again before long.
[email protected] takes its inspiration from the roguelike games of old, having you run a randomized dungeon with the goal of surviving twenty-six floors and escaping. Death is permanent, potions are randomized, and the graphics are text based. The last one is especially neat, and the ASCII-styled graphics help [email protected] stand out from the crowd. Characters, maps, weapons, basically everything in the game is built out of letters from the alphabet in often creative ways. It’s easily one of the most visually appealing games I’ve seen this year due to the art style alone.
At the start of every run in [email protected], you’ll have to choose between one of four classes. There are some minor differences between them. For example, the mage can use his staff to shoot magic bolts while the warrior has more HP and can throw his shield as a ranged attack. The major difference comes in which skills the characters start with, but you can eventually get those skills to any character just by leveling up. I had a mage who was dragging around a giant ax smashing people to death during one of my runs, and another saw my ranger lose his bow for a wand.
As I explored the dungeons, I would come across various enemies that would range from small-time foes like rats or spiders, to bigger werewolves, orcs, knights, and nymphs. The game’s combat system is rather simple: I had only a single three hit combo that I was able to use, and the speed and damage of the combo was entirely dependent on the weapon. Each weapon class also had a special attack on the condition that you have the right skill to use it, and these attacks would pull from a constantly replenishing bar. All the characters have a ranged attack, and they can also put up a shield to block. While the shield is up the characters could also dodge roll in certain directions. Dodging through enemies would confuse them and allow you to get a few free hits in.
Once I had figured out the combat, I found it to be strangely easy. Encounters against single enemies would require little more than constantly dodging through them so they get confused, and then hitting them a few times before they turn towards you. You can just rinse and repeat this tactic until you’ve killed the enemy. When there are multiple enemies, I found it easier to keep spamming special attacks indefinitely. Because you’re totally invincible while using a special attack, it was easy just to mash them out until my meter was empty, then run around and avoid enemies until I had enough for another special attack. Some enemies required a bit more work. Nymphs will steal the weapon you hit them with, so I had to turn to good old-fashioned fists for them. Priestesses would become invincible whenever I hit them, so I had to be sure my hits count. Later levels saw minotaurs that you had to get to charge into walls first, and golems that you had to trick into hurting themselves. These at least made combat feel more engaging, but it takes a solid fifteen or so floors before you start to see them regularly and that could take almost three hours.
Each floor has to be thoroughly explored as well, as hidden letters are essential to your continued survival. To craft items, you need to find a book related to that weapon which will tell you what letters are in the weapon. Then you have to find all the basic letters so you can craft the weapon. It’s visually interesting to look at how all the letters make up the weapon, and it’s a clever way to make sure you explore each floor thoroughly. You can also find elementally enchanted versions of letters to give the weapon specific elemental charges, like poison or fire. Later in the game, you can also find amulets that require having all five elemental versions of a single letter and provide you with bigger buffs.
If you can’t handle [email protected] on your own, then you can bring a friend to help you with the game’s local co-op. My friend and I got through a few floors together, and we couldn’t stop laughing and enjoying ourselves along the way. The game does become easier when played co-op, and teaming up against monsters saw them stuck in an endless combo that they couldn’t escape from. If you do die in a co-op game then your partner can sacrifice half of their health to bring you back to life. This is, of course, ignoring that one time when we both jumped off a cliff at the same time on the first floor. On the other hand, one of the attempts to make the game harder in co-op is that you don’t share items. If one of your characters starts going hungry and one player has been hoarding the food they can just let the other player starve.
As much fun as [email protected] can get in both single player and co-op, I do wonder about the game’s longevity. After my longest four hour run across seventeen floors, I felt like I’ve seen everything the game has to offer. I wasn’t constantly running into new situations, enemies, or items like other roguelites have. Instead, I’d keep coming across situations I already knew how to deal with. It lacks that extra bit of oomph that the genre greats have. Maybe they can be added in future patches or DLC, but as it stands, I feel as if [email protected] has good ideas but not enough to use them on.
[email protected] also has a “dungeon creator” to try to make up for this, though it’s closer to a floor creator as you only get to make a single level rather than a whole dungeon. It’s basic enough that you can make something interesting, but there isn’t much of a way to share what you make other than looking through the leaderboards for some reason. Even then, you can only share one map, and the maps don’t have features like crafting, leveling (you always start as a max-leveled character), or co-op. In the end, there’s not much reason to mess with it.
Regardless, I did enjoy my time with [email protected]. The striking art style proved to be an excellent way to get me involved in a game that I probably wouldn’t usually look at. The combat was simple at times but good enough to keep me through, while the exploration and co-op really won me over. I’m just hoping future updates give me more to mess with. Everything is there for [email protected] to become another legend in the roguelite genre, but it’s lacking that extra oomph to really push it.
[email protected] could use some more content to make runs feel more unique, but the game is pretty fun as it stands. A lovely ASCII-inspired artstyle, entertaining co-op, and some great exploration help carry so-so combat and a lame dungeon creator.