Release Date: April 29th, 2015
Platforms: PC, Mac (Steam)
A review copy was provided by Mastertronic
Throughout the last few years – between Steam Greenlight and the indie game resurgence – “roguelike” games have seen a surge in popularity. By definition, roguelike games are “characterized by procedural level generation, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, a permanent death of the player-character, and typically based on a high fantasy narrative setting.” During my time with The Weaponographist, I’ve discovered it’s, in fact, a “roguelite”: a subgenre of roguelikes that are easier, and – some would argue – more accessible.
The Weaponographist is the story of Doug McGrave, famous demon hunter for hire. He’s a seasoned warrior who’s reached the maximum level, has the best gear, mightiest weapons, and an arrogant, selfish attitude to match them. When he refuses to help a town being plagued by demons, a witch places a curse on him that removes his might, powers, wealth, and gear. The only way to break the curse is to fight through dungeons, using various enemies’ weapons against them.
The story in The Wepaonographist is bare-bones but snappy and humorous. Every character has their self-aware quips, and the game doesn’t hesitate in letting you know it knows it’s a game. Your hub in the game is a small town, containing various vendors and townsfolk who offer upgrades and powerups to assist you on your journey. Unlike roguelikes, where you would lose these purchased goods in-between deaths or game sessions, you’re able to keep the upgrades you acquire.
You can control the game with the keyboard, using the familiar WASD layout to move and the arrows to attack, or you can connect a controller and map the buttons on it. I highly recommend the latter. I used my Xbox One controller to play The Weaponopraphist, and even then it was a bit dicey. The controls are easily the worst offender of this game. They’re slippery, respond poorly, and not intuitive. If I’ve ever seen a game that would benefit from the “twin-stick” version of a control scheme, this would be it; sadly, besides mapping the controller yourself to make that happen, it’s not an option. I thought mapping the buttons to the stick myself would make it far easier to control, and it did, in fact, make it exponentially easier than the default controls, but there’s still many moments per play session where the controls get in the way of a decent experience.
The combat is very straightforward: when you’re next to an enemy, you hit the attack button in the direction of your enemy. Unfortunately, this sometimes doesn’t work as easily as it sounds, and the lack of intuitive controls has had me swinging at air and firing arrows off into the distance with an enemy two feet to my right more times than I can count. Each enemy has a unique weapon that they have a chance to drop, and your character can pick them up and fight back with them. You can only carry one weapon at a time, and that weapon deteriorates quickly based on your use of it. In the first few levels alone you run into swords, spears, Tommy guns, whips, slingshots, bows and arrows, and ninja staffs. They each have their pros and cons, and it seems to come down to personal preference and availability when it’s time to pick. I personally vastly preferred the tommy gun, which did a fair amount of damage, was rapid fire while knocking the enemy back, and didn’t drain ammo too quickly.
In addition to the weapons, there’s also magic spells you can use. They appear much less frequently and seem to be more in the vein of emergency contingency plans than actual weapons. The first few – a fire staff, a tuba laser, and an octopus ray gun – were fun to use but didn’t seem to help a whole lot. The vendors back in town let you upgrade these spells, as well as each of your weapons, to do more damage and last longer. Experience in this game is mostly measured through combos – the more enemies you kill, the higher your combo meter stays, and the faster experience meter fills up. If you don’t kill an enemy in time, your combo meter will hit zero, and then your experience meter will start to drain in its stead. This gives an excellent incentive for you to not stop killing!
The levels are set up in the form of rooms – you enter a room, defeat all the enemies in there, and a door open to the next. You rinse and repeat these steps until you come to a checkpoint, which allows you to save your progress – hence the roguelite nature. The levels end up with a boss and multitudes of spawning enemies, and upon completion you’re sent to the next “depth”. When you make it to the next depth, and subsequently die, you can choose to start in the first room of that depth from scratch, or your previous checkpoint. The last checkpoint allows you to retain your experience, weapons, and spells but costs some of the in-game currency to travel to.
The main problem I had with The Weaponographist was that, frankly, it was boring. Don’t get me wrong – there seems to be a large amount of content to wade through, and plenty of visible work went into the game. But unless your cup of tea is a near-endless hack and slash with obnoxious controls, you might begin to find yourself getting tired of the same scenery. Nearly every room looks similar, and while enemies offer an appealing visual variety, the vast majority of them end up attacking you in the same way. On top of that, if you make a mistake or end up dying before your checkpoint, you’re relegated to starting that entire level over. I spent one late night playing for an hour and a half. The entire time was spent in the same three rooms, fighting the same enemy variations, dying in the third room every time, a different way each time. I enjoy challenges in my games – I always select the hardest difficulty – but grinds such as this, with no progress and little to no reward, seem pointless and frustrating.
On the upside, the art style is fantastic. The enemies have funny and well-done animations, the characters all have their brand of uniqueness, and the menu system is very attractive. The soundtrack complements the game style nicely though if you’re in the dungeon for three hours like I was, you may find yourself supplementing your tunes. The sound effects are nothing special, and they end up being too repetitive to be of any use.
In the end, The Weaponographist delivers exactly what it promises – a roguelite game that will keeps fans of the genre entertained for quite a while. If you’re new to the genre, it’s definitely a decent place to start delving into the roguelike arena, but I’d make sure you bring a controller.