There is something moving around on the other side of this wall. I can hear it shuffling and dripping some kind of unspeakable ichor as it slides over the ruined stonework. I have only my knife and a rock to keep me safe in this cyclopean hell and I must make it back to the relative safety of the labyrinthine library. A giggle rises from my lips, but I quickly silence myself. I cannot afford to lose my sanity in these deep corridors. I creep forward, darting my view in all directions. Suddenly, there is a dreadful noise behind me! I turn whilst steeling myself against this fresh horror… Awwww! It’s just the sweetest looking Deep One I’ve ever laid my eyes on! Come here, li’l guy! Come – OH GOD, WHY IS IT KILLING ME?
Eldritch, by Minor Key Games, is a first-person roguelike set in a blocky Lovecraftian fantasy. It’s unforgiving of mistakes, and it’s so dang adorable, you’ll want to hug every deadly enemy you see. Next thing you know, you’re looking at the death screen, getting ready to resurrect back in the mysterious library.
Like any good Lovecraftian horror, Eldritch begins with forbidden knowledge. You awaken in a library. Endless shelves of books, tables, and reading lamps surround you. The only exit requires the acquisition of three magical orbs to unlock. Reading one of three glowing books in the middle of the library will transport you to a deadly realm filled with traps and monsters. Your exploration of these three randomly generated dungeons will net you loot, weapons, and the orbs that will free you from imprisonment. Dying puts you back in the library. The catch? You have to gather the orbs in one life. If you die before you unlock the exit, you’ll lose any orbs you have returned to the library, forcing you to gather them again.
The first dungeon you go into is easy. It’s baby’s first roguelike. You’ll be punching cultists, Deep Ones, and beetles to death. You’ll run through the halls with abandon. You’ll be given a magic spell by praying at a statue of Dagon and the artifacts that power your spell will litter the ground. You’ll find a revolver and you’ll never run out of bullets because looting the dead gives more ammo than you spent. The knife is god-tier. You’ll grab the first orb and you’ll teleport back to the library thinking, “This is it?” It’s a trap. In the second dungeon, you’ll run into deadlier monsters that will laugh at your ineffectual flailing. Your gun will never have enough bullets. The hissing Serpent Men will chase you. You’ll begin hoarding the increasingly scarce spell-powering artifacts. You’ll realize that the gameplay resembles Dishonored with its sneaking, spells, and assassinations. Just as you’re getting your groove again, a Shoggoth will crush you with it’s cuddly black tentacles. Awwww. You’ll wake up back in the library.
That’s when the deeper mechanics of Eldritch start to make sense. There’s a lean button for a reason. Crouching makes you stealthier. Looting the enemies you kill makes them respawn somewhere else in the level. A rock can be the best ranged weapon because it’s quiet and you can recover the missile after you’ve thrown it. The knife is best used in sneak attacks from behind or above. Bottles can be thrown as a distraction. The Shoggoth will kill other denizens of the dungeon for you if you lead him into them. Spell-powering artifacts can be banked in a treasure chest so you don’t lose everything when you die. You’ll discover that you can purchase weapons and power-ups from oddball merchants. Do you want to keep your artifacts for spells, or spend them on boots that let you leap higher? You can unlock shortcuts to deeper dungeons, but zipping right to harder levels without getting some better equipment is a mistake. Finally, a Chthonian Worm will bite you to death with its lovable lamprey mouth. Awwww. You’ll wake up in the library again.
The screen that informs you that you’ve died again has a button that lets you tweet the manner of your death to the world. It’s a painful reminder that Eldritch could really benefit from leaderboards or at least achievements to chronicle your struggles against the forces of cosmic terror. It’s hard to play any roguelike without a scoreboard after Spelunky’s wonderful daily challenges. No matter. Unlike Spelunky, most players will see the end before their hundredth death. Onwards! There are cute monsters to kill.
This time, you’ll use the run-and-crouch move to slide through a hole as a Spawn of Chthulhu chases after you. This spell lets you teleport behind that Deep One and stick him in the back before the nearby cultist knows what happened. There’s the orb! If you can only reach it before the moaning horror catches up to you! Nope. You weren’t watching your step and the collapsing floor dropped you right next to your Shoggoth friend. Awwww. Back to the library with you.
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