When I think of grid-based dungeon crawls the first things that come to mind are dwarves, magic users, and 99 barbarians. The gang that makes up indie house RuneHeads had a different vision for their rogue-like dungeon crawler Conglomerate 451, which just released into Steam Early Access. They have gone all cyberpunk, complete with cloning, cybernetic upgrades, and androids. The corporations rule Conglomorate City, and it’s your job to lead a crack squad of agents to eradicate their existence. So let’s clone some agents, splice up some DNA, and even upgrade an arm or two and clear the corporations out of sector 451. Welcome to our Early Access preview of Conglomerate 451.
PAINT ME A NEON FUTURE
The cyberpunk theme may be an unusual choice for a dungeon crawler but it is a nice change of pace from the typical high fantasy setting. The visuals and ambient sound (complete with techno soundtrack) both set the mood for a futuristic dystopian city, reminiscent of shows like Blade Runner or Altered Carbon. The rain beats down around you as you traverse the gritty streets, and even the liberal plastering of neon on the buildings can’t completely pierce through the shadows. Building interiors are a stark contrast to the dreary streets – crisp, clean, and fully illuminated.
Like most grid-based dungeon crawls, the map textures do become a bit repetitive. One thing dearly missing here that some recent games (Bard’s Tale 4 for example) have added is a free look camera. The added freedom to look around the environment would help negate the effect the rigid movement has on immersion, and the world of Conglomerate is just begging for this addition.
The special effects of the combat abilities are well done, but the enemy models and animations don’t match that same quality. There are glimpses of detail in the clothing so it’s possible the models are still a work in progress. This type of inconsistency can be expected in an early access title where some areas are more polished than others.
PERKS AND TRAUMAS AND DISORDERS, OH MY!
Conglomerate doesn’t use the most complex RPG system for character progression but you are given a fair number of ways to differentiate between agents. There are five classes currently in the game. Three classes are available at the start of the game with two more unlockable in the Cloning tech tree. Currently, each class only has one character model. This can be explained away by your agents being clones, but gamers will want more diversity in their characters.
There is a little overlap of skills between classes, but each class has a distinct feel and purpose. All the typical archetypes are available to mix and match in your group. The Bodyguard and Soldier are your usual tank and primary DPS options, with the Infiltrator, Drifter, and Splicer offering their own brand of support skills and secondary DPS to the mix.
Beyond the skills you choose for your agents, they can also acquire perks and traumas through combat. Perks will give buffs useful in certain situations, such as higher attack power against cyborgs. Traumas, as expected, are the debuffs you agents get from severe injuries. These traumas can even become permanent if you don’t get them treated quickly enough.
TAKING BACK THE CITY
The core game mechanics, although not completely fleshed out at this stage of development, are headed in a good direction. Currently, missions are pretty rudimentary. Whether your objective is to kill all enemies, a single target, or collect an item, you are basically just working your way through the entire map, killing enemies as you look for your primary objective. Once the main mission is completed you can continue on to collect all the loot available or end the mission to avoid unnecessary combat and the damage your agents could take.
The first area of each mission has a terminal that can be hacked. Completing this minigame before you are detected means you can choose a bonus effect for the mission. These bonuses are very useful, ranging from unlocking all doors in the next area to increase in the amount of loot you will find. Taking too long or failing outright means enemies are alerted to your presence, making the mission harder.
Once the mission is over you will find yourself back at your base. Here you are able to heal up agents in regeneration tanks, making them unavailable for a mission or two. The time between missions is also where you will spend all your hard earned credits and tech points to progress through the tech trees and upgrade your agents. This aspect of the game has a very X-COM feel to it.
Filling out your chosen trees will open up more skills for your agents, making them worth the cost of repair. With low-level agents, it is generally more cost effective to dispose of them and clone a fresh replacement. This changes once you have done some research, making it important to invest in your agent’s survival to progress to harder missions. Permadeath is a possibility, so there is a big risk vs. reward factor in everything you do.
IT’S EARLY ACCESS
With the game just entering Early Access, there are some balancing issues that need to be addressed. Low difficulty missions yield only a small amount of credits and tech points which are needed in large quantities to make a dent on tech tree progression. This makes the start of the game a little slow, with several successful missions needed to unlock a couple of upgrades.
One major element missing from the usual dungeon crawler is loot. There are only a few loot caches within each mission and they give out only credits and tech points. Again, avoiding combat is encouraged since defeated enemies don’t drop any loot at all. All things considered, not being able to collect loot to equip on my agents is the biggest opportunity Conglomerate 451 has.
This is early access, and along with that comes the usual bugs, incomplete game mechanics, and inconsistent visuals. The core game is solid though, and as long as RuneHeads continues to put in the time and effort, there is a lot of potential here. Fans of the grid-based dungeon crawler genre should find Conglomerate 451 worthy of their consideration, and the moderate $14.99 price tag should be well worth it as long as the devs continue to make upgrades until the games full release. Be sure to check back as the game nears release to get our full review.