Steve “Stiv” Tramer returns to talk about this roguelike tribute to Lovecraft.
It’s kind of unfortunate, but there’s not really a whole lot that’s worth saying about Eldritch, a roguelike-like dungeon crawling game which draws loose inspiration from Lovecraft. Hold on here – let’s back up a minute. Just in case you don’t know what a roguelike is, they’re dungeon crawling games – turn-based, with a top-down perspectively, usually primitive graphics – that have large amounts of randomized content, punishing difficulty, and permanent death. There’s been a wave in the last few years of “roguelike-like” games, which take some of these elements (usually the randomization and permanent death) and tie them into new genres. We’ve gotten arcade platformers (Spelunky), space combat sims (FTL: Faster Than Light), and now an immersive sim that is kind-of-sort-of a horror thing in the form of Eldritch. Just in case you’re on the internet and don’t know who Lovecraft is, he was a horror author of the early 20th century who was paid by the word and as a result had a talent for writing incredibly long, descriptive prose which told the reader basically nothing about what was happening. Also because his work is in the public domain, we’re regularly subjected to what is pretty much Lovecraft fanfiction. In fact the majority of what people think of as the “Lovecraft mythos” is actually early-era Lovecraft fanfiction written by a fellow named August Derleth, who was a friend of Lovecraft and published many volumes of his work but was not a great writer. So here we are now, with Eldritch, the video game equivalent of August Derleth.
Eldritch is definitely a well-designed game, but not particularly scary. Seasoned players from either of the genres it draws from will figure out to be cautious and careful with resources from the very beginning, which means that there’s never a real feeling of threat simply because the way you die in games like this is either by total surprise, or “man, I really fucked that up.” Some of the monster mechanics are a little freaky (like the statues that don’t move when you’re looking at them, but then completely destroy you when they’re out of your field of vision) but these are pretty quickly internalized as part of the game’s rules and you work around them. That’s the problem with roguelikes in general: They’re a series of rules, and the more of the rules you know and act by, the more likely you are to win. The biggest knock against Eldritch is that the amount of crazy, emergent stuff that can happen in the dungeon – the stuff that makes Spelunky so good – is pretty much “none.” Some monsters are aggressive towards one another, but you’ll never see them fighting, just find the corpses (to loot.) You can change and damage the environment with explosives, but those new paths don’t really lead to more interesting interactions that I found. You can kill the shopkeepers to loot their stores, but it’s too easy (and gives you huge advantages.)
It’s just a reasonably difficult dungeon crawl with some kinda-goofy art, great sound design. It makes some very smart choices about how to get players to learn the rules of the dungeon, and bring them gently into the fold, but for more seasoned players of these games while it might be pretty fun at times, it’s largely uninteresting. A solid, playable game, but I want it to be more. I just wish there were more to say about it.
- Released: October 24th, 2013
- System: PC
- Developer/Publisher: Minor Key Games