It can be worrisome when someone says a given item is “two great tastes that taste great together.” Sure, the idea is sound but it is open to failures – after all, even Combos has made some nasty flavors. The problem is often that when you mix two good things you either come up with a combination that’s garbage – I’m looking at you 7 layer dip Combos – or one where the items combined are diluted too much. In gaming it’s become a bit of a requirement for indie games to mix genres and tropes to create something new, and a lot of the time one of those in the mix is “rogue like.” It’s much more rare for the other half to be the Cthulhu Mythos.
For one, I am a huge fan of both. I love the brutal difficulty, addictive gameplay and risk/reward style of rogue-like games. On the other hand, the Cthulhu Mythos is one of the greatest examples of a shared universe in fiction, as well as one of the few times that a single author can be credited with creating an entire genre. While the Mythos has been well represented in games – check out the fantastic Call of Cthulhu game on PC/Xbox for proof – I can’t think of any time that a cosmic horror roguelike showed up. Good thing we have Eldritch.
Eldritch is a FPS game with Minecraft-style graphics based upon the Mythos with a rogue-like system of gameplay. You awaken in a library with no idea why you are there and no way to escape. The only exit will be unlocked after you enter three tomes of eldritch literature to take the souls of three old gods. Each book features multiple levels to go through to find the soul, and each time the level is randomly generated. Two other books are available to play as a bonus: a level based upon the classic “At the Mountains of Madness,” and the Asylum which is purely randomized and tasks you with going through three levels to collect trapped souls to be released. Every time you die in the game – which will be a lot – you can choose to resurrect either in the library or in the Asylum. You will lose the items you’ve picked up but you can keep some artifacts – which allow you to use magic or buy items in stores – in a bank chest should you come across it and then keep them if you die.
What makes this game so good is that it combines these two tropes and never muddles them up. All too often a game has a lofty idea that never lands the dismount just right or mechanically is just fine but has nothing interesting going for it. Eldritch avoids both of these pitfalls very well. Let’s look at how it sticks both halves of its formula down.
The first half is the roguelike formula. The permadeath, crushing difficulty, randomly created worlds and slow progression due to player improvement are all accounted for. The permadeath is handled in a Mythos appropriate way as with each death you find yourself back in the library, sans any items you had accumulated. You will find yourself in the library a lot as not only is the difficulty high but some times that demon Murphy uses his law to screw you. The levels are randomly generated so there are times that “random” means “you just got bent over a table with no lube.” On the plus side there are no stats to worry about so losing a life doesn’t affect you there. What makes the gameplay so addictive is a combination of old school FPS style, a bit of Minecraft style exploration and a difficulty that rewards you for trying in that “What do you mean it’s 3AM already?” style. There’s something so innately awesome about putting in the effort to learn a game and making it farther than you had with nothing but your own experience and skills, not a leveling system. The only reason you progress in this game is because you got better.
The other part is the Cthulhu Mythos. The very genesis of the cosmic horror story features arcane spells, a hidden world that humans only slowly gain knowledge of, bizarre monsters and insanely powerful old gods. The game plays perfectly into this as you pray to statues of the old gods to get a handful of powerful spells that take artifacts to use. The creatures you encounter range from mad cultists to mummies to Deep Ones to even Shoggoths. Interestingly, in the Asylum levels you have 3:00 per level to escape or an imprisoned abomination will be let loose to attack you. Nothing you can do can stop this, nothing you have can harm it and unless you just outright run fast enough you will die. This is right in line with Lovecraft’s vision of a cosmos full of horrifying, powerful deities to whom humanity are annoyances at worst and beneath even their notice at worst. As for the slow creep of knowledge, you start the game completely unaware who your character is, why they awoke in a library or why there are glowing books you can jump into. As you play the game you gain scraps of knowledge that let you piece together how all of it is connected, in a way that perfectly resembles how Mythos humans put together their knowledge from occult tomes. Not only does the stuff based in game do a fantastic job, but they outright have a level directly based on the classic “At The Mountains of Madness” where you do battle with 6 foot tall penguins, Elder Things and Shoggoths. Awesome.
I could spend more time gushing about how addictive the gameplay is, or how perfect the setting is for a Lovecraft fan but there’s no better way than to play it. It’s just $15 on Steam, and you will get your money’s worth and then some. I’d love to spend more time trying to get you to buy the game, but that would be less time I have for summoning a Shoggoth to eat giant penguins. If you like rogue likes, late 90s style FPS games, the Cthulhu Mythos or any combination of those three I urge you to try this game out.