Even a casual browser of Steam's wares is spoiled for choice when it comes to roguelikes these days. Not only that, but there are plenty of games looking to take the example of Dead Cells and Slay the Spire, improving into legendary titles with the help of Early Access. It's never a sure thing whenever you invest in one of these games, but you can also usually tell which ones will stick with you and which ones will fade with time. Like an evil hex cast by an ancient demon, Curse of the Dead Gods is hard to ignore once you take the initial plunge.
It's reductive, but the best way to describe Curse of the Dead Gods is with a comparison. Take the combat from Hades and the progression of Darkest Dungeon and you've got a good idea of what you're dealing with here. You play as an unlucky spelunker who's stumbled across an ancient temple filled with nothing but evil. On the plus side, the temple has granted him immortality by means of death and reincarnation. On the negative side, he's trapped in the temple with no choice but to slay demons and stave off the demonic curses as much as possible. There are moments of power to be had, but most of your runs through this roguelike will have you trying to survive rather than thrive.
For one, Curse of the Dead Gods is a dark game. It takes advantage of the tense feelings of exploration you get in any roguelike and compounds it with tons of shadows. You have to go around lighting torches to really see what you're dealing with, and enemies aren't going to wait around while you do that. It makes even the earliest rooms rife with tension, forcing you to pay attention to every encounter or risk starting all over. And that's all before the titular curses take hold.
How do these curses manifest? Besides the curse of wounds and bruises that won't come out in the morning, each strike you take in Curse of the Dead Gods costs you blood. Once you lose enough blood, a random debuff awaits you in the next chamber. Sometimes, you'll only have to deal with monsters hiding more efficiently in the shadows. Other times, the spike traps lining the halls take on a mind of their own. There's not a ton of variety to this mechanic yet, but it's really the signature of the game, and I can imagine they'll be plenty more curses to dread as the months roll on.
Another change I foresee happening sooner rather than later is how the weapon system works. As of now, you start with a simple machete and handgun on every run. You also have a torch to use in emergencies, although it's much better at lighting bomb traps alight than fending off opponents. If you're lucky, you'll find more powerful armaments as you move along, either in a specific weapon room or as a random drop. More often than not, you won't see replacements, especially in your first runs as you get used to the game's rhythms. I find that the best roguelikes put their variety front and center, ensuring that each run has something new. In its current state, I don't see that variety in Curse of the Dead Gods' combat.
It's a shame too because the weapons that you do find are a hell of a good time. There's a flaming shield that makes you dash forward into harm's way and a polearm that gives you incredible reach but a slow attack speed. Each weapon feels like an equal tradeoff, and you can combo between your options seamlessly to stave off any attack. I'm particularly fond of how the default two weapons combine a few vicious swipes with a hand cannon shot that easily tears through anything. If you do what the game wants you to do, you can also block and parry attacks, but I've never been much for that, and Curse of the Dead Gods is flexible enough to let me stumble through encounters in my own foolhardy manner.
After going through each level, you'll be faced with a choice on where to go next. Each room promises a specific treasure, whether that's more currency to spend on upgrades a relic that gives you passive boosts, or a new weapon. There are also mystery rooms and rest chambers where you can trade blood for healing that you'll likely desperately leave. If you've played Slay the Spire, you'll immediately recognize the level select screen, but that's not a bad thing. Choosing between a high-risk weapon chamber and finding more gold for future runs adds a bit of welcome strategy to the combat puzzles.
If you've played any roguelike or roguelite in the past, you'll likely find yourself slamming up against the barriers of what Curse of the Dead Gods has to offer in Early Access after a few hours. This is a game that will evolve over the year it plans to be prerelease, and I have a feeling that may extend further as more people get their hands on it. It's not great yet, but it has the potential to really innovate. The team at Passtech Games already mastered borrowing from the greats, they now have to find that special something that will set their game apart from the pack. Considering that initial offering, I have faith that they'll get there.
TechRaptor previewed Curse of the Dead Gods on PC via Steam Early Access with a copy provided by the developers and at PAX East 2020.