Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Curse of the Dead Gods released on March 3rd after spending a fair bit of time in early access on PC. This rogue-like dungeon crawler from developer Passtech Games attempts to imbue the ¾ camera action title with the run-based elements of a game like Slay the Spire. An emphasis on a more deliberate form of combat helps set it apart from the current king of the genre, Hades. How does this all come together, and are is the game successful in its goals?
Monkey Paws Everywhere
My first hour or so in this game was a tad frustrating. It wasn’t difficult as the first three temples are more of a tutorial that you’re expected to beat rather easily. The issue was that I didn’t understand how this game wanted me to play. I’ve been having a great time lately with Hades on PC and the frenetic, dodge-focused nature of that game is how I tried playing this one initially. The moment I realized that Curse of the Dead Gods is a parry first, dodge second game though it clicked for me. I beat the game’s initial easy mode three temples back to back to back and started having way more fun.
The structure of the game is basic in nature. You have three main temples and as you clear out each one you earn tokens. Those tokens give you access to the next difficulty which doubles the length of the run and adds a 2nd boss encounter. There are 3 difficulty levels for each temple and then one final temple that unlocks after you’ve cleared the rest. It’s a brilliant design that kept me feeling both a sense of progression and challenge that kept me wanting more. On top of this are several different unlocks you can earn. First up are the three pillars of starting weapon choices you’ll need to grind the various in-game currencies for. You start with a basic selection and through unlocks you gain not only three more choices, but those pillars can have a much wider variety of weaponry on them. There are a selection of passive buffs that you can choose from, also up to three in total. These start out locked away like the rest but are easy to start unlocking after a run or two. Weapon drops are randomized, and you can also unlock more items and different variants to help create a dream build, and finally, there are the Divine Favors unlock. These let you cycle through those random choices during runs several times to try and get exactly what you’re looking for.
Your run through each temple is very much a Slay the Spire style where you have branching paths that you choose, and the main resource available in each one is either clearly defined or left as a mysterious ?. I love this system and the choices it represents and I was glad to see it used here to great effect.
Stab, Smash, and Shoot Your Way to Ancient Treasure
The story is essentially that you are looking for ancient treasures and instead get cursed into forever running through a gauntlet of deadly temples. It’s basic and it works just fine, not every game is going to have the writing and voice acting chops of Hades and they don’t need to. To try and accomplish this goal you have three main weapons mapped to X (main), Y (secondary), and B (Heavy/2-hander). The A button is used for your torch and is key as by default you take 50% more damage when in the darkness. Various pillars are stationed in each procedurally generated level for you to light, and wacking an enemy with your torch helps keep the area aglow in a pinch. There is a good variety to the weapon types as you slowly unlock them, with a personal favorite of mine being a gigantic hammer that had a chance to strike with lightning on every attack. Daggers, Axes, Maces, Shields, Pistols, Bows, Spears, Hammers, and more are available with various random buffs or set damage types that help you craft a build focused on say poison, fire, or lightning attacks. The system works well though at times I repeatedly got drops that didn’t go well together and it could lead to major frustration.
As I said before combat is very deliberate. Right Trigger is a dodge and Left Trigger is used to parry, and both are tied to the stamina meter. Every charged attack, finisher, and dodge is tied to this stamina meter and certain passives can either raise or lower how many charges it has. Parrying helps refill your meter quickly and once you’ve mastered the timing of enemy attacks it becomes key to keeping the flow of your movement and the potential of your attacks. Parrying can also stun enemies and when five or six hard hitters are surrounding you this becomes rather important.
Lest Ye Be Cursed
Relics that offer various stat boosts and passive abilities are matched with the most unique part of the game, the curses. As you progress through each run you slowly (but surely) built up a corruption meter. Every 100 corruption earns you a curse, which in a monkey paw-like fashion have positive and a negative effects. The first four do at least, curse number five is something generally horrible and you will want to do everything you can to avoid reaching it. This mechanic wasn’t a big deal in the early runs, but as the runs become two or three times longer managing that corruption meter becomes key. The main ways to remove corruption are to sacrifice new drops to the gods or beat bosses to remove one curse entirely. This mechanic helps balance out the fact that your character has a surprisingly large health pool. I greatly prefer this style of increasing the difficulty over making damage avoidance so key. You can also gain corruption from certain enemy attacks which are denoted by a purple smoke effect.
Graphically the game looks nice if not a bit generic. Enemy design is ok, weapons look good, and the sound effects are solid. The game uses an in-house engine called the OEngine and it ran at a locked 60fps for me no matter how frantic the action on screen became.
Curse of the Dead Gods is a solid title for fans of rogue-likes and dungeon crawlers. An excellent progression system is tied to a damned fun combat system. Retailing for only $20 US it is easy to recommend, and as it is a Focus Home Interactive game I wouldn’t be shocked if it hit Game Pass at some point in the future. The time in early-access has really paid off, and you would do well to try it for yourself.