It's always nice to see Steam's Early Access program being used the way it is meant to be used, as a way to help fund indie games that are still being developed and not as a dumping ground for misleading garbage. Though this is happening less and less due to the Steam Refund Program, Early Access still has a bit of a bad reputation that will require some good games to help fix. Luckily, Leap of Fate is a step in the right direction.
Leap of Fate is a top down shoot-em-up Rogue-lite being developed by Clever-Plays. Taking place in a cyberpunk world with magic, the game starts out with the player escaping a police raid and hiding in a warehouse where they are offered a chance to confront the Deck of Fate in order to increase their power. The Deck of Fate is a magical Tarot card deck that serves as the player's map throughout each area in the game. The game is currently under Steam's Early Access program but is nearing completion.
Currently, at the writing of this article, the game is almost complete. The AI is competent, all of the assets are in place, the game has music, and there are achievements that can be unlocked. All that appeared to be missing were two characters out of four. It is possible to play through an entire round of Leap of Fate with the two characters, and it is possible to fully upgrade them by unlocking their achievements.
The two playable characters are Aeon, the Shadow Mage and Big Mo, the Cyborg Techromancer. Each character has a primary attack, a secondary attack called a "glyph," and a movement ability. Aeon has a lighter repeating attack that can be fired infinitely by holding down the left mouse button, while Big Mo has a laser beam that deals much more damage but overheats when fired for too long. Aeon has a shadow walk ability that dashes through enemies and can be upgraded to do damage, and Big Mo will teleport to where the cursor is pointing while leaving behind a decoy that attracts all the surrounding enemies. This ability can be used to take out waves at a time if done properly, and makes Big Mo much more fun to play than Aeon.[caption id="attachment_53083" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Baited and Outsmarted[/caption]
Glyphs can be swapped out for a new one when the player manages to find one while playing, and when unlocked are usually a random find. They range from silly things, such as a giant revolver that slows down time and fires three shots to "This is Magic III," which is literally God Mode as it deals damage to enemies while dealing knockback and making you invincible to all damage. This makes the final boss level a walk in the park. If the player finds a new glyph they don't like, they can switch back in between levels. This is always nice because Rogue-lites tend to be based around getting a build for a character that they enjoy, and it is always annoying to have that messed up.
Both the shadow walk ability and the glyph have a limited number of uses per level and can have extra uses added on by finding a specific upgrade for them. If the player runs out of uses for their abilities, they can use a currency called "Charge" to continue using it. Both the movement ability and the glyph use charge when they run out, so it becomes an important resource in the mid to late game as the difficulty begins to ramp up.
As mentioned earlier, Leap of Fate has a randomized level select that are all based in certain areas and played in the same order. The cards act as a preset map that the player must navigate their way through. When the player completes the level, the card or cards below it flip over to reveal the next levels that are available. Cards vary from combat levels to shops to places where players can level up.
On each combat card there are skulls to represent difficulty, from one to three, and different sized treasure chests to represent treasure that can be unlocked when the level is completed. Overall this is a good, quick representation of risk and reward that the player can check to see if they're ready to take on that round as health, which is replenished via health drops from enemies, does not regenerate in between levels. One thing that does annoy me is some levels will have their treasure chests locked and require keys to unlock, which makes the level feel completely pointless if the player doesn't have any keys.
There are also areas that must be unlocked with keys dropped more rarely from enemies. These tend to lead to areas with new glyphs or keys that unlock one of three cards—which unlock rooms with health, new glyphs, or upgrades for the player. Finally, there will be a boss level hidden somewhere in the area, usually towards the end. These will almost always have two waves, the first being normal enemies and the second having the boss and a wave of normal enemies.
There are six areas total: On top of buildings, a lab, the headquarters of the Cabal (magic Illuminati basically), in a child's nightmare, a fighting pit, and an area surrounded by the darkness. Each area has their own enemy types and each area fits into the world in its own way. The police hunt magical beings, the lab does horrifying experiments in the name of the greater good, the Cabal is the last safe haven for mages but hunts down those who leave, you're facing your own nightmare, the pit is for bloodsport, and the darkness represents death. In order to ascend and become a more powerful mage—the story is pretty loose about this—they must overcome all of these challenges.
The story of Leap of Fate is practically non-existent. Its only real purpose is to introduce the concept of the Deck of Fate and explain why the player is there in the first place. Any additional context to the world is given to the player through short paragraphs in between levels, which also give players tips. Even the final cut-scene that I saw was of the character powering up and flying off into the night.[caption id="attachment_53331" align="alignnone" width="660"] What fills in the gaps in the world of Leap of Fate[/caption]
The combat in Leap of Fate is fast paced and intense. Each level is wave based, with the difficulty determining how many waves of enemies the player must fight before completing the level. There is a good variety of enemies in the game. Each area has its own set of enemies that fit its context with their own attacks and abilities. These range from simple melee fighters who are manageable, to classic shoot-em-up enemies that fire projectiles to ungodly over-powered AOE enemies that cut off your only route of escape as you die to melee guys—not that I'm bitter or anything. My favorite area is the Cabal, where enemies mostly fire projectiles or beams with some that teleport around the stage or drop traps on death.
The enemy variety in a shoot-em-up style game is incredibly important. Without a good variety of enemies, each area just feels like a re-skin of the last one. With a change in enemy types, it forces the player to change up their play style while keeping the same mechanics. That combined with new glyphs becoming available at random times helps make each game feel different from the last, which is one of the big appeals of Rogue-likes and Rogue-lites.
Each round that I played felt different from the last due to its random elements, but the random elements never felt like they screwed me over. Normally in a Rogue-like, such as Binding of Isaac or FTL, the player can just get bad luck due to its random nature; however, the amount of emphasis that is put on luck in Leap of Fate is significantly lower, with glyphs and upgrades being the only real random elements to the character in the game. Not only that, but if the player doesn't like the glyph they picked up, they can just swap it back to the previous one. There is nothing stopping the player from advancing like FTL's fuel, and you won't get screwed by a bad item pickup like in Binding of Isaac. This can be either a sigh of relief or a death knell for Leap of Fate depending on what people like about Rogue-likes.
Overall, Leap of Fate is a solid game; however, I have difficulty calling this game a Rogue-like or even a Rogue-lite. Comparing it to games like Binding of Isaac would be a little bit misleading because the actual Rogue-like elements are comparatively small. It is easier to call Leap of Fate a solid shoot-em-up with small Rogue-like elements. This game is for fans of a shoot-em-up that they can complete a round of relatively quickly but is different enough each time they play to make each round feel fresh.