Review: Sword of the Stars: The Pit is fun, but plays by the rules a little too much
Roguelikes such as FTL and The Binding of Isaac manage to encapsulate a lot of the charm that was so prevalent in the genre to begin with. At the same time, these experiences feel fresh because they incorporate gameplay elements that aren’t seen in these types of games too often. FTL is particularly interesting, as it is one of the deepest experiences you could possibly hope for, as far as roguelikes are concerned, thanks to its many gameplay systems. Sword of the Stars: The Pit also relies on micromanagement and varying mechanics to a degree, and while it may not be as robust an experience as the two aforementioned titles, it’s still a lot of fun and deserves to be played by roguelike buffs.
You don’t need to have played previous entries in the Sword of the Stars series to jump right into The Pit. In fact, it’s probably better if you haven’t, because those games weren’t all that well received. Previous titles focused on strategy gameplay, and this latest installment deviates so much from them that it can be seen as a nice little standalone venture and a great new direction for Sword of the Stars.
You’ve got three characters to choose from — a marine, a scout, and an engineer — and they all have several strengths and weakness that will come into play as you get further into The Pit. While one character may be skilled at picking locks, another will fare better when it comes to gun-based combat. As you progress, however, you can level up and improve your character’s individual skills, so it’s possible to turn that nerdy engineer into a badass soldier, but it’ll take some doing to get there.
You move your character using the WASD keys, selecting targets with the directional keys. Enemies start out harmless enough, only doing bits of damage at a time, but as you get deeper into the game, it’s not uncommon to find yourself bombarded by an onslaught at the hands of multiple baddies. You move freely around the various floors of the 30-story space dungeon, but combat plays out in turn-based fashion. You can move, attack, or select items during your turns, and waiting to see what the enemy does next can be quite intense.
These parts of The Pit are fun, but they’re hardly deep. If you’ve got plenty of ammo in one of your many guns, you can wipe out aliens, rats, robots, and all other types of threats. It’s almost disappointing that the melee and weapon mechanics don’t feature a more complex set of systems, because that seemed to really work out for FTL. Still, I fully understand that not every roguelike can be the same, but I couldn’t help but want just a little bit more from The Pit in terms of depth.
The most interesting aspect of this adventure is actually the exploration. Every time you enter a new floor you must seek out the exit so you can get to the next level. All you have to go on is a blank map that slowly fills out as you move around the area. It’s exciting to discover new rooms filled with loot, and more often than not it’s up to you to override computers, wedge open old containers, or crack safes. All you’re really doing is hitting the spacebar and watching a meter fill up, but it’s entertaining to see whether you’ll actually get it open or fail. In some cases, you can actually ruin these “chests” and miss the opportunity to collect some spoils.
Loot comes in the form of health items, food, weapon upgrades, and scrap. A lot of the time you can combine specific objects to obtain a stronger item. These range from sandwiches that fill up your hunger meter (separate from your health bar) to equipment that helps you access locked doors. Many times you’ll come across mods that will either help or hinder you, so you can either spruce up that laser cannon of yours or possibly ruin it. It’s a gamble that makes you really think about whether or not you’re willing to use everything you find.
The most unique mechanic in The Pit is easily your field of view. While the entire game is played in a top-down perspective, you can only see what’s to the front and sides of your character. Anything behind you or within the confines of a closed door is grayed out, so you never really know what’s coming up next until it’s right in front of you. Many times you’ll be ambushed from behind, adding a nice sense of panic to the overall mood of The Pit.
A lot of doors are booby trapped, which means your character can suffer from status effects as you pass through. You’ve got the standard slow movement and health killers, but easily the most obnoxious ailment is the 30-turn blindness. Everything will be dark for 30 turns, which means you’re left vulnerable until you can see again. By then, however, you can expect to have suffered from some enemy cheap shots.
The Pit is a fun little game that delivers exactly what you expect from roguelikes: that addictive style of gameplay that makes you want to play just one more turn immediately after you’ve perished. There’s a disappointing lack of variety and depth, but there’s still plenty of entertainment to be found in this game. The turn-based combat is neat but also somewhat underwhelming, though exploring the levels makes for some real enjoyment. There are undoubtedly much better games in this niche genre, but if you’re looking for a fully functional title that will keep you hooked, The Pit is certainly worth checking out.
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