Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you’ve probably never heard of.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Erich Schaefer, who's currently working on the upcoming Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. He's also one of the core people behind the Diablo games. Over the course of our conversation, he told me about a friend from the same era who was working on an interesting game of his own. This is It Lurks Below, a solo project by David Brevik.
A casual examination of It Lurks Below shows a game that mashes together Terraria and Diablo while throwing some survival mechanics into the mix. I felt a sense of utter dread even glancing at the title. I spent somewhere around 4,500 hours of gaming between Terraria and Diablo II. Here I am with a game that combines some of the mechanics from each. I was in mortal danger.
A game begins with you selecting from a handful of classes, each with their own special abilities and quirks. Classes are typically limited to either melee or ranged weapons, and it seemed like "ranged" was largely restricted to magic users at the moment. I initially went with a Warrior just to get a feel for the game before putting a lot more time in with a Necromancer. The Warrior's melee combat was a wee bit too risky for my tastes.
I decided to begin as I do in any other game of this type. I built a base, electing to use a small sort of castle design. Unfortunately, the starting pickaxe worked terribly slow. On top of that, I had a bit of a difficult time securing cobblestone (believe it or not). I added onto the castle piecemeal throughout my six hours of playtime in It Lurks Below.
One of the most frustrating features of the build I played is the way farming works in Survival Mode. In most survival games, a harvested crop will give you one or more seeds, allowing you to expand and grow your farm. This doesn't happen in It Lurks Below. The only source of seeds is killing enemies. A harvested crop will give you a single piece of food and nothing more. I dug around a bit and found that it hasn't always worked like this in the past, so I'm guessing that this is a deliberate design choice.
I'm not terribly fond of it. Getting to the second boss took me six hours. Most of that time was because I was stuck in a loop of going hungry and dying. It's not that I'm against a challenge. I've put hundreds of hours in Dwarf Fortress, a game often likened to a mystical tome that drives anyone mad when they try to understand it. It's more that this particular kind of challenge seems to go past the point of difficulty and straight into the territory of "extremely annoying".
Much like Diablo, the world populates with randomly named boss creatures. These hefty monsters typically have far more HP than the minions that surround them and deliver sweet loot upon their death. The game's first boss sat atop an expanding mass of corrupted land. He constantly spits out enemies to send out into the game world. I was able to kill him by hanging back and blasting him with my magic wand.
The second boss was a fair bit more challenging. This creature was shockingly similar (but legally distinct!) to a Beholder from Dungeons & Dragons. I suddenly found myself in a mildly difficult shmup - I had to dodge projectile novas coming out of the boss and the occasional gigantic orb. I've read the 3.5 Monster Manual cover to cover, and I really wish I had remembered that these creatures are known to use a powerful disintegration beam. Once I respawned, I managed to kill the boss in my second attempt.
A quest system is what keeps you moving forward. While It Lurks Below gives you a lot of freedom, you do get a general direction as to what you should be doing. First, gather up these basic materials and learn how the game works. Then, kill the first boss. After that, dig down to the bottom of the muddy layer and kill the second boss. Slaying him gave me a quest to get to the bottom of the icy layer directly below and kill a different boss. I imagine there's another one after that, on and on until whatever the current state of endgame is.
It Lurks Below is definitely a project that makes good use of its Early Access label. A casual glance at its news feed on Steam shows that changes are being pushed out to users ten or more times a month on average. If you're going to be picking this up, you should know going in that changes seem to happen quite often.
Graphically, It Lurks Below makes use of an interestingly subtle 2.5D style. It took a little while to notice that the blocks were ever so slightly popping out of the background. Your character has a somewhat simple humanoid design, while monsters have a fair bit more detail. As an aside, any fan of D&D will recognize many of the game's creatures, especially as you get to the icy layer.
As for the sound and music, it works well enough. It seems that there's a single music track playing as you move throughout the world. Nice background noise that doesn't distract you too much from the action, it's perfect video game music. It would be nice to see a little more variety pop up for the different layers of the map. Hopefully that's something that comes further along in development.
While It Lurks Below does have a few issues with its flagship Survival mode, the meat of the game is still very solid. The rapidity of updates ensures that problems tend to get fixed sooner rather than later - there's already an update that should address hunger issues - and the foundation is there for an excellent game. It makes for a fine title in the vein of stuff like Terraria and Starbound. Pick it up if you like those kind of games and want a bit more of a challenge.
TechRaptor covered It Lurks Below on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
What do you think of It Lurks Below? Do you enjoy games where it's a challenge to find food or do you prefer something a little more forgiving? Let us know in the comments below!