Grossing Us Out Since 2020
Being disgusting on purpose is rarely a good idea. It didn't work out for Eddie Murphey in Norbit, or Pauly Shore in real life. When Arboria comes front and center with a pretty disgusting world and character design I have to wonder who made that decision. Arboria is an action-RPG rogue-lite with a gross feeling pretty much all the way through. The characters look gross and misshapen, and everything glistens in a way that makes you feel unclean just for looking at it. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. The Oddworld games are also pretty gross and they're awesome for it. So it can work.
Arboria opens up with an unfortunately tired premise. It takes real effort not to fall asleep halfway through reading the phrase: 'procedurally-generated action-RPG rogue-lite'. It's not just that procedural-generation has been done to death. It's the fact that you have to have a good sense of design and a decent level generator. If you don't, then your levels end up being bland, forgettable, and more than anything, confusing. So is that an issue that Arboria managed to avoid? Not by a long shot.
Combat is very Dark Souls-esque. There's no stamina management but the controls are very similar, and even the 'fast' weapons feel pretty slow. It's also all about timing and placing your dodges well to avoid taking damage. Not that it's as hard as the aforementioned game. It's pretty easy to figure out that the winning strategy is to just do a single attack with your weapon, dodge away, and then do it again. Otherwise, you have a longer wind-up time and have to eat a bunch of damage. Also, there aren't any bosses yet.
The main thrust of Arboria is exploring dungeons to heal the roots of the Father Tree. When you die you lose your progress but any roots that you've healed remain healed between runs. The way you heal these roots is to activate them, then fight off a few waves of enemies. You also fight off waves of enemies to open special chests. So you basically end up fighting waves of enemies a lot. There's also a lot of repeated cutscenes when you die when you re-enter the dungeon or when you make it between the different levels of the dungeon.
The biggest problem which faces Arboria is the level design. Because it's procedurally generated, none of the dungeons feels particularly distinct. You're just trudging through square rooms built out of the soil. These rooms are almost all filled with leaves and small plants and they all look the damn same. Not that you actually have to find your way through them, you've got a map for that. But, it does mean that the entire experience passes in a haze of softly glowing neon and weirdly annoying bug attack sound effects. Plus there are traps hidden everywhere and there's no indication that you're taking damage from them.
Not telling you stuff is a pretty strong theme actually. Beyond learning the basic controls Arboria doesn't feel the need to explain how almost anything works. There's a screen that comes up when you die with a bunch of numbers and bars on it. It has something to do with donating the resources you've collected to the gods for some reason. Eventually, I figured out that it increases the chances of having good stats on your next randomly rolled character, but it would have been better to hear that from the game, rather than just figuring it out myself.
All-in-all, it's not that Arboria is a bad game. It's just that in its current state there's not much to recommend. This feels like the barest bones of a video game experience. It's the skeleton of a game that is going to be filled in later. You might argue that this is the point of early access games. But when something is being sold on a storefront for actual money no amount of 'it'll be good eventually' is enough to save something that just isn't ready for primetime yet. Maybe when it leaves Early Access, Arboria will be worth trying. Right now, that's just not the case.
TechRaptor previewed Arboria on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.