Let’s face it, for big developers, Early Access exists for one reason and one reason only – to make money on an unfinished product. For indie developers, EA can have a myriad of purposes. It can be a title near release that just needs a bit of hype, or possibly budget constraints require an early alpha release to allow eager players to help fund development while giving them a voice in the development process. As an indie developer, after over two years of hard work, Codex World is bringing Battlecursed to early access on Steam, and fans of rogue-like dungeon crawlers should be excited.
In Battlecursed, you will recruit a party of four adventurers and then progress through the lair of the Lich Lord Xelo Van, an evil ruler defeated long ago who has risen once again to spread his blight across the land. The first-person view combat takes place in real time, and each procedurally generated level will have a varied list of creatures to kill, as well as a challenge to complete to unlock the path onward. At the end of each level, you get the chance to use potions to heal up, rearrange your party, and check your stats.
Once you are prepped for the next level you will be offered multiple paths to take, each with varying difficulties and proportionate rewards. With the threat of permadeath looming, it becomes critical to tread that thin line between risk and reward. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily depending on how you look at it), upon a party wipe you will be able to spend your recently gained gold and glory upgrading the town and your guild, unlocking new classes, recruiting new adventurers, and researching powerful party buffs. Then it’s time to equip your new group and head down once again, each time getting closer and closer to your ultimate goal.
Real-time dungeon crawls often have a lone champion to control, while a party-based game can cripple the player with too many choices to make in a short time period. The end result is to dilute the action by adding a pause button (welcome back to turn-based) or make the player focus on just one character (may as well be solo). Battlecursed doesn’t have a pause button so, to keep combat fluid, each character has a limited number of abilities. Each party member has one passive ability, two basic abilities, and one powerful ultimate ability.
At first glance, this may seem simplistic, but the devil is in the details. With four party slots to fill you have a total of sixteen abilities (4 passive, 12 active) to manage. With varying cooldowns, (de)buffs, AOE vs. single mob attacks, stuns and heals scattered among the party members, you have a deceptively robust system to work within. Do you go with a damage heavy party, relying solely on potions to heal, or do you choose characters void of attacks to increase your available buffs and heals? You quickly realize finding new ways to combine these abilities means the power of the party will be greater than the sum of the individuals.
Another roadblock to having parties in a real-time environment is a cumbersome UI. Switching between characters must be quick and seamless, and Batlecursed pulls this off whether you are using a mouse and keyboard or playing with a controller. I usually prefer mouse and keyboard for first person games as controllers don’t generally afford the same precision, but once I tried the controller I never went back. Using the left and right bumpers to move between party members was quicker and more natural than reaching for the 1-4 keys, and more accurate than spinning the mouse wheel. More often than not, navigating menus can be difficult with a controller, but since you only access menus in between levels it is easy to switch back to the mouse and keyboard.
While the Battlecursed website notes a Q3 2018 release, the preview copy provided is limited in scope. As mentioned above, most of the town portion of the game is currently just a placeholder hinting at what’s to come. Combat is already fun and visually appealing even though it is still missing some functionality. If you are the type of person who expects an early access title to be fully functional, then you may want to wait before committing to the game. If you are intrigued, as I am, by the potential a game has to offer, then Battlecursed may be something you want to check out.