Having launched into Early Access back in March, ShiroGames’ Darksburg took the concept of a four player survival like Valve’s Left 4 Dead or Fatshark’s Vermintide and turned it into a top down Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) like experience. Unlike a lot of other titles that go through the Early Access process and continue to refine themselves over time, ShiroGames have instead taken what they had, threw it under a legacy banner and re-worked everything else into a two player cooperation roguelike.
Of anything that I’ve had the chance to cover over the years, this is the first time that I’ve had an experience change so completely that it’s actually kind of neat to be able to cover it as such. At its core, Darksburg is still a dark adventure going through a zombie infested city while trying to escape in one piece. Where things have changed though, and not all for the better unfortunately, is that instead of now leveling up a hero of your choice to become more powerful the more amount of times that you play as them, you’ll instead as per the rules of a Roguelike be starting over from level 1 with nothing every time that you play.
With all characters still available to be chosen from, you and a cohort (or an AI), will set out on a path to escape Darksburg together. What’s really interesting is that while each character no longer levels up on their own to become more powerful over time, instead there’s now a team experience counter that has both players level up at the same time. In probably one of the better “no person left behind” scenarios, it doesn’t matter who does more damage, who kills more specials, or who picks up more gold or crystals, it’s all shared because you need to make it through together.
The purpose of Darksburg is simple. Both players have to cross through five stages together and hopefully make it to the end. With four difficulties to choose from, the first few runs will probably want to be done on normal in order to get a feeling for what can be expected. While the end goals will always remain the same such as waiting for a ferry, repairing a cathedral door or running for your lives in a wheat field, everything in between has become a bit random so you’ll always have a bit of wonder as to what you’ll be facing. Walls that need to be blown open with a cannon or gates that have to be snuck into will randomly pop up in front of you making you have to work together that much harder as you need to get through together.
To get through the stages though, the controls are rather simple (which is a good thing) and can also be modified to suit your needs. By default you move with the left mouse click, attack with the right and use QWER for your abilities. Shift keeps you in place to attack without moving and CTRL shows you what your current abilities do. From there, it’s mow down enemies, pick up loot, and level up which gives you the choice from one of three abilities. Be warned to pick carefully though as you can only level so many times per district AND there is a total level that will cap you out forcing you to finish the adventure with what you have.
In the area of aspects that work very well, Darksburg will adjust itself depending on if you’re playing alone / with an AI, or, if you’re playing with someone else. Taking it for a spin with an AI the first time just to grasp how different things were, it allowed me to settle in rather easily. Once my brother was ready to join up after I had a session or three in though, and what greeted us out of the gate were enemies that I had grown accustomed to only seeing by the third stage. Because the AI can only be so good, I was glad to see that they adjusted the difficulty to reflect that as you can’t strategize with an AI, you can only hope for the best.
Having this kind of scale was awesome as while it was easier to play it with a human player and clear it the first time we went in, I’m still working at clearing it with an AI. That’s what works really well. What didn’t work so well though is that there are a few features that come from being a Roguelike that took away from some of the charm that the Legacy Mode has. Designed to run straight through, you always have to do stages, 1-2-3-4-5 unlike before where you could just load up whichever stage you wanted regardless of the order that it was supposed to be in. Now, you have to do them all instead of being able to just dabble if you really just want a quick match as the later stages are designed with you having already accumulated the levels and the skills to survive it.
The other part that doesn’t work so well, at least not to me, is the unlocking of “items” to help you out. As you are no longer leveling your character, you now have access to a three tier item system that can be unlocked with the crystals that you pick up over the course of your escape. The base tier cost about fifty crystals each so you won’t be seeing any unlocked item until about the third stage as it’ll take two stages to get that amount. Further to that, and I didn’t mind having to unlock new slots, was that you were never sure what you would be unlocking. Split into categories, you have to basically hope for the best that the item you decide to purchase actually works well, or at least works well for your character and play style. It adds some replayability but without a fair amount of items, you’re going to have a much harder time tackling the harder difficulties.
Finally, there’s the total amount of content. Darksburg for Marc and I at the beginning held a lot of promise as we already had five stages and several characters to pick from. Things since then however have moved to basically keeping those five stages but randomizing how they are showcased. Also now, since they are all in a row, there’s just 1-2-3-4-5, Victory Screen, Results Screen, and then play a new match. There’s no chance to keep on running through and just making it harder while keeping the abilities that you currently have. There’s no survival for however long you can with rewards for time or zombies taken out. It just ends and then restarts. The randomness of the levels help spice things up, but, they are the same five levels.
I had really hoped by release to see more in the terms of places to explore. Like does your party take the route A or B from this location. At least something more than the same five locations especially now that you have to do them in the same order every time. The difficulties are there for a challenge, but without new visuals, it just becomes more of the same as you unlock new items to hopefully make the run that much easier the next time.