Roguelikes are all over the place right now. Englightenment by developer LizardKing is a game that is attempting to stand out from the crowd with a more dark and gritty atmosphere and a top down shooter like gameplay. Style however is not the most important thing, let’s see if the many other elements necessary to put a game together got the same type of creativity and care.
We need to start right at the beginning. The barrier for entry almost prevented this review from even happening. I spent probably the better part of an hour upon booting this game up trying to find a control set up that worked for me. It’s difficult to convey without having someone try it themselves but the keyboard and mouse controls just felt off. They are sluggish and at times unresponsive. Luckily the game does host controller compatibility, sort of, which led me to eventually being able to make a substantial amount of progress.
I say sort of because no matter what I did, I could not bind the injection button, this games version of a heal, to the controller and had to press it on my keyboard whenever I needed a boost. There are options for key binding but the ones on the main menu don’t seem to transition to in game and the ones in the in game pause menu are for some unexplainable reason missing the option to bind the heal. This was obviously a big issue when I found myself in the heat of battle and had to make a gamble on if I should keep hold of the control or pop an injection. Also there were many times that menu options, which normally worked, just didn’t want to and required me to click on them with my mouse. For this game to attract an audience, it can’t be with this first impression and needs to be ironed out.
Another thing that will frustrate people will be how much they die. I realize this is a selling point for a roguelike and something that should be expected but not like this. Especially early, death will come from the poor handling, enemy in-balance and poor design decisions like how the fixed camera angle will result in a lot of obstructed views and inability to see incoming damage. That last one especially should have been addressed, make the wall fade out of view if you are stuck against it in a narrow room with obstacles all over the place.
There are many examples throughout where the game seems to know what it wants to do but fails in its execution. For example, there are fire traps that seem to have hit boxes that linger even after the animation of the flames is gone, instances where enemies can throw a projectile through an open door but your bullets won’t follow, and even an occasion where a door I needed to open to progress just didn’t, for no reason, causing me to have to give up on that run.
It wasn’t all bad; I did end up having a decent amount of fun with the game once I learned to work around the short comings. Picking up a new weapon or power up and getting to see how it’s used and how it changed the approach to battles was always fun. At some point, hours in, I found that desire that usually comes with a roguelike where I just had to try again to get that just alittle bit further.
The mix between overall progression and that of an individual run was fairly well done. During an individual run, money would drop that would be used at machines to refill ammo and healing items or at the store that appeared on each level to buy random items or weapons. Keys could also be found or purchased that would open specific chambers that would increase the players health or stamina pool for that run.
Across runs you would retain the characters prestige level that came from kill experience as well as a more rare currency called illumilets. These worked in tandum at your camp, the hub you visit before a run. As you level, more NPCs show up and the majority of them provide a service at the cost of these illumilets. Virginia for example would at specific prestige levels allow you to use them to purchase an increase to the potency and number of injections you have. You could pay to have weapons created from the blueprints found in a run so that they appear in future runs or play a game of scratch cards to unlock items and stat increases for the next run.
Probably the most important NPC for changing up the game is Thotep who provides the player with a random passive ability for the next run at the cost of a loan. This could be something such as melee attacks restoring health or the always desirable infinite ammo boost. All the money you collect initially in the subsequent run will go towards your loan and if you pay it off before dying will increase your credit and allow you to take out more abilities the next time. Fail to pay it off however and your credit goes back down. You can however, ignore all of this and just meet him at the rest shrines between levels where he is feeling more generous and gives you a free ability out of a choice of three.
The biggest absence in the progression is an ability to jump ahead. Many roguelikes are made as more bite sized experiences, allow you to suspend a run or even unlock portals at certain milestones. This game doesn’t have anything like that and with each run taking a substantial amount of time, eventually the tedium and repetitiveness does get tiring and results in the gamer being pushed away.
Enlightenment is a game with some good ideas and a unique take on the genre that could be patched into a much better experience but in its current form, even at the low cost, it is simply a below average game.