Curse of the Dead Gods, available today on Steam, punches all the roguelike buttons. It features most of the hallmarks of the classic dungeon hack while also including several mechanics that are obviously inspired by contemporary spins on the genre. It’s almost as if Curse of the Dead Gods has been playing through a roguelike itself, collecting valuable equipment and treasure in preparation for the next big boss—or, in this case, early access.
Players jump into the hiking boots of an old-timey explorer rummaging through the ancient ruins of an Aztec-like civilisation. The top-down gameplay is reminiscent of dungeon crawlers like Diablo, but with a satisfying combo system that rewards commitment. By finishing out a string of attacks, the player will unleash a brutal finisher that deals extra damage. The basic weapon’s combos can also be strung into the secondary weapon, usually a pistol or a bow.
Almost everything players do in Curse of the Dead Gods is tied to a stamina system à la Dark Souls and its ilk. Basic attacks don’t dock stamina, but dodging and secondary weapons all revolve around smart conservation of this resource. Parrying, while dangerous, restores stamina on the spot. This turns combat into a fluid dance of attacking, evading, and countering when the opportunity strikes so as to maintain pressure on the various beasties that hinder your progress.
Progress in Curse of the Dead Gods reminded me of Slay the Spire or FTL, in that I was able to choose my own path through the game’s temple. This often presented some interesting decisions. Should I go where the gold is before trying for a weapon? Are stats more important than relics? These choices culminate in a final boss battle against a giant, panther-spawning warrior that I’ve reached multiple times but have yet to beat.
Curse of the Dead Gods also utilises a system akin to Darkest Dungeon, where the main character earns various curses as a Corruption metre fills. Accruing corruption is as easy as getting smacked around by enemies or even just advancing between stages. If you’re low on funds, you can also offer some of your own blood in exchange for items and a little extra corruption. Some of the curses I’ve seen so far include one where the screen goes sepia and the user interface disappears entirely when I get damaged, making for quite the distraction. Another ensured that I lost gold with every hit I took. These start out as minor inconveniences that eventually build into quite the burden over time.
Even though Curse of the Dead Gods is in early access, it feels like every other fully-formed roguelike on the market today. I’m still finding new items to play around with and strategies to test, but that may change the better I get at the game. The few enemies that are available have started to feel pretty rote after only a few hours of playtime, and once I get the aforementioned boss figured out, I’m sure I’ll be wishing there were more to challenge.
Curse of the Dead Gods may incorporate aspects of several other games, but that doesn’t mean it feels like a cheap rip-off or imitation. It’s very much its own thing, brimming with charm thanks to its cartoon visuals and unique setting. Like other roguelikes, the fun of Dead Gods is in its open-ended and replayable nature. I never know what I’m going to find around the next corner, and every death is an opportunity to head back to home base, check out the new stuff I can buy, and get ready for the next adventure.