Procedural generation in games has been on an upward swing ever since Minecraft broke the floodgate back in 2009. Since then we've seen hundreds of games use or in some cases misuse, the mechanic. Games like Terraria and Don't Starve used procedural generation for their maps, and the process even made its way to triple-A circle for Borderlands and its ridiculous variety of different guns. Crimson Keep is a first-person RPG which uses procedural generation to handle a lot of its mechanics. The dungeons are random, the enemies are random and, unfortunately, the items are all random. Your job is to tackle your way through as many floors of the dungeon as possible before dying a violent and horrible death by the hands of a giant ogre.
The main focus of Crimson Keep is crawling dungeons to level up your character and find better loot. You control your character from a first-person perspective similar to many classic dungeon crawlers. There are three classes to choose from each with their own starting weapons and different level up abilities. As you fight through the dungeons you unlock new abilities and permanently unlock access to better level up powers.
Each level of the dungeon has different monsters, and each one ends with a boss fight. As you work your way down you also come across different traps and items as well. Although the dungeons are technically different each time you die they all feel pretty much the same. They're all constructed from 5 or 6 different pieces so you'll probably get used to seeing the same rooms over and over again. The treasure rooms, in particular, are annoyingly similar, always with the same enemies to fight and a single random treasure chest.
It's not just the dungeons that feel tired and clunky. Crimson Keep has kept one old mechanic from old-school CRPG's that just doesn't fit all that well: hunger. As you explore the dungeon, you need to keep eating or your character will start to lose health. The issue with mechanics like this in a game with procedural generation is that all the items you gain are randomized as well. While in a game like Ultima 1 it was possible to stock up on food and prepare you cannot do that in Crimson Keep. You have to hope you come across a moldy apple or something before you character just keels over. It feels like an artificial way of making gameplay last longer than it needs to.
That's not the only thing which feels like padding. You have to deal with these things called 'Soul Doors' as if the enemies and hunger weren't enough to contend with. These are doors which block off every level or two of the dungeon. To open them, you simply have to reach them alive, but opening them kills off your current character. Meaning that even if you're skilled, you'll be forced into dying every few levels. This once again just feels like something included for the sake of padding the game.
Honestly, enjoy might be a strong word. The combat in Crimson Keep is nothing short of atrocious. While you do have a reticule to aim with most of the time it doesn't actually help. Most enemies have hitboxes that don't necessarily align to space they actually occupy. During combat, you wildly swing at huge enemies and watch your weapons go through them without doing any damage. It gets especially aggravating when you meet the enemies which explode if you don't kill them quick enough.
The AI presents another sore point. It works completely randomly, which isn't a surprise considering everything else. Half the time, enemies run at you, pummelling aggressively. The other half, they just wander in circles like they've suffered a collective aneurysm. It seems like the monsters don't function properly when they're in groups. Most of the time, the AI only breaks when you get two or more monsters in the same space. On the other hand, it does make the combat easier when half of your opponents are wandering around a corner rather than charging towards you.
As if things weren't bad enough there are also some questionable decisions in the way you attack as well. Both your block and dodge abilities have stamina bars which mean your use of them is limited. While limited stamina can work for these things it doesn't make much sense in a game with such loose combat mechanics. It's especially heinous with the shields, which have a random chance of being destroyed by every attack you block with them anyway.
Crimson Keep doesn't just settle for being a bad game but feels the need to assault your other senses as well. Complaining about the graphics in an indie title feels pointless. For the most part, they function well enough even if they do look ugly and poorly put together. It's really the audio that causes the most problems. The sound effects are fine but the voice acting is awful and amateurish. It only crops up twice, but the vocals sound as if someone recorded them on a toaster. Both occasions would have been much better served by text-based dialogue.
The animations are just a bit slapdash at times. No matter what sort of food item you eat the animation always shows an apple. Not to mention that you can actually see a bite make on the apple before you even eat it. These would normally just be minor issues but the games larger lack of quality throws them into sharp relief.
In the end, Crimson Keep would have just been a forgettable dungeon crawler/roguelike hybrid if it weren't for the terrible mechanical decisions. It looks bland, it sounds awful and it's almost more padding than actual gameplay. While you might be able to squeeze some fun out of the game there are many better-executed offerings out there. At the end of the day, Crimson Keep wears its randomization as a shield rather than using it as an interesting feature.
TechRaptor reviewed Crimson Keep on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher.
- It Technically Works
- You Can Cheese Your Way Through Most Fights
- It Looks And Sounds Terrible
- Enemy Hitboxes Are Misaligned
- Badly Padded Gameplay
- The AI Is Just Plain Broken