3D Realms had their second annual Realms Deep online event last weekend and it meant that they announced a bunch of retro and retro-inspired shooters and demos of retro and retro-inspired shooters to try. The standouts for me were Cultic, a fantastic homage to Blood in a pixel-based art style that weirdly reminds me of Devil Daggers for some reason, and the topic of this week’s entry of first impressions: the Early Access release of Dread Templar.
Dread Templar is a first-person shooter that is described as “a fast-paced retro FPS that combines 90’s shooter elements combined with modern skill-based FPS controls” and that largely amounts to Quake 1 with the dash from Doom Eternal thrown in. And while it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to reinvent the wheel, it does a dang good job of getting those wheels in running order and throws in a damn good axle on top of that (that’s the thing wheels attach to right? I don’t know jack about cars.). The narrative threads are essentially you are a Templar who is seeking revenge in Hell and that’s about all I can find because the Game doesn’t concern itself with establishing a reason for why you gotta kill a bunch of monsters. It’s kind of refreshing to see, to be honest, and while I love that stuff like Viscerafest abs even the more recent Doom and Wolfenstein games are doing narrative out the butt, sometimes it is as simple as “go here, shoot thing with an awesome weapon”, but I’m mostly a “gameplay over narrative” guy when it comes to games, so your mileage may vary.
At the time of writing, there are currently two episodes in the Early Access build of Dread Templar and I’ve finished episode 1 and half of episode 2. The structure so far (and it could be subject to change because it’s Early Access) is to go in, shoot stuff, find secrets. And the secrets are incredibly hard to find because I can’t find any outside of some of the really obvious stuff. This adds up to some real good exploring and secret hunting for items and upgrades (we’ll get to that), and you can go back to those levels to get the stuff you missed, which is nice. Some of the modern stuff that Dread Templar has us in the aforementioned upgrades and how they change weapon behaviors. There’s the simple stuff like increased ammo capacity and fire rates for each weapon type barring the dual Katana, to the more powerful stuff like being able to recall your dual katana after combining them into a spear you yeet at monsters and the super shotgun being able to fire both barrels individually for a faster fire rate and both at once for double damage, ala the shotgun from Blood (the upgrade is even called “I Live…Again!” For God’s sake). I can see how the system can affect the play experience in the long run, but it’s a good foundation for now.
I should probably talk about weapons now, the most important part of a first-person shooter. You start off with the aforementioned dual katana that you can turn into a spear to yeet at fools, a pair of dual pistols that you can rapid-fire, making them great as crowd control and trash cleanup. Followed are a pump-action shotgun and double-barreled Super Shotgun, which serve as your reliable workhorse weapons for the bigger enemies, a pair of SMGs that eat through ammo and also deal great damage, a literal bow for increased precision damage (oh yeah, headshots are a thing in this game), a trap launcher that stuns enemies, making it great for dealing with huge mobs and an inferno canon that serves as the game’s rocket launcher and lastly a Demonic looking Magnum that does a fuckload of damage compared to the dual pistols at the cost of firing much slower. They all work well enough and there’s a time and place for each one of them, but like everything else in the game, it’s a good foundation. Combine that with the dash and a bullet-time mechanic where you can slow down time and you have a set of mechanics that can carry a game based on what I've played so far.
At the end of the day, Dread Templar is a game that I want to play more of, but so far only feels like a good foundation for a bunch of more interesting ideas sometime down the road. I can see this game benefitting more heavily from Early Access than the other games I’ve covered in the past few months because of how much more there is with how it can pan out. I am definitely keeping an eye on this one.