What’s Good About Curse of The Dead Gods

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

If you’ve read my work over the last year of me doing this series, first off: thank you, it means a lot. And second: I play a lot of roguelikes as it turns out. A lot of this is due to the shorter, more gameplay-focused loops they go with and the randomization associated with the levels therein. I mostly never know what I’m going to get and it keeps me on my toes for the most part. Today’s subject, Curse of the Dead Gods by Passtech Games, came out of Early Access three weeks ago, and while it’s still a Roguelike ass Roguelike, but it does that formula in some really interesting ways.

The Basic story set up is that you are a nameless treasure hunter who finds a temple associated with the titular Dead Gods and is subsequently cursed by Xbeltz’aloc, the god of death, to endure an endless loop of death and suffering and must ascend the temple as a means to break the curse. Like with Skul The Hero Slayer, it’s not on the level of narrative that Hades dishes out, but as a justification and set up for the gameplay, it’s elegantly simple.

The main differentiator between Curse of the Dead Gods and other games in the genre is the structure. Most are randomized levels leading to a boss and biome change and you typically don’t know what you’re gonna get. Curse of the Dead Gods looks at that and goes “Nah, here’s what you’re getting and you’ll like it.” This was a bold strategy by Passtech and I’m pleased to say that it worked wonderfully. Each tier of the temple is locked off until the appropriate amount of blessing tokens are achieved and blessing tokens are gained by completing a smaller version of the run. This is great for easing in new players into the structure of a run by getting shorter, quicker segments in before unlocking a full go at the entirety of a full temple and the final boss, which opens it up to a more “take it slow” pace. There are also special event runs that are more or less the daily challenges from Seplunky and make you do a run from start to finish with special conditions for extra rewards upon completion. When in an actual run, you get a map screen reminiscent of FTL or Slay The Spire, where you are shown the map of the entire run with rewards per room. This adds a layer of strategy and lets you map out runs the way you want to do it, it’s great stuff.

Decisions, Decisions

My favorite parts of the game have to be the minute-to-minute combat and the risk/reward management of corruption. The gameplay of Curse of the Dead Gods is an isometric action RPG where you navigate the temples, avoiding traps, fighting enemies, and generally not getting the shit killed out of you. You got a torch for lighting the way and lighting fools on fire if need be, your main hand weapon, a secondary weapon, and a heavy weapon; all of which are accompanied by a parry and dodge as your main defensive options. The finishers for your main and secondary weapon combos, heavy weapon attacks in general, and dodging all take up stamina. You regain stamina by one point by killing an enemy and doing a perfect dodge and parrying gets you two stamina points back, and in the case of the latter, it’ll weaken the enemy you parried for a short time so you can deal some extra damage and successive enemy kills increase the amount of gold you get from them, called a Greed Bonus. Combine these with a host of unique enemies in each of the three temples, relics that augment your abilities, boons from the titular dead gods that give passive bonuses, and a dynamic lighting system that determines how much damage you deal and receive depending on whether or not the area you are in is illuminated or not all add up to making to combat in Curse of The Dead Gods being very involved. It can lead to some pretty hairy situations, but ultimately it’s nothing you can’t get around without a Perfect Dodge or Parry.

There are also persistent Meta Upgrades called Blessings you can acquire through the collection of Crystal Skulls that augment your playstyle; these range from dealing increased damage to enemies with traps and increased damage for a short period whenever you take damage to more ridiculous stuff like parries giving you all your stamina back (a personal favorite), Healing half your health back when defeating non-optional champions and bosses, to even gaining increased damage for completing rooms without taking damage. There’s also a third currency called Jade Rings that you can use to unlock new weapons that can be found and equipped in the temples on subsequent runs.

Get Smacked

And this is all on top of the Corruption Mechanic. Remember how I mentioned that the game starts with you getting cursed? Well, that’s not just for show. Every time you start a run and transition to the next room, you gain a bit of corruption, 20 in total. If you fill the corruption meter to 100 on the bottom right hand of the screen, you get cursed. These stack up to 5 times and on the fifth and final curse, your health continuously ticks down to 1 HP. These can, depending on the curse you get, range from being slightly inconveniencing to absolutely goddamn debilitating when stacked up in specific combinations. These can be slight things like enemies spawning smaller enemies upon death and parts of the map being obscured, to more fucked up and mean stuff like corruption increasing passively over time, blood offerings made at item shrines costing health instead of increasing corruption, and the worst of them all for me: Curse Effects Being Hidden until the Curse that causes that one is lifted. This is a brilliant system because it layers itself perfectly on top of the other systems as a constant that you need to think about at all times and whether or not taking on all of the extra corruption is worth that sweet lightning whip, it’s very reminiscent of the best parts of the stress system in Darkest Dungeon, where you are constantly weighing your decisions through the filter of “is this worth the long term negatives for the short term gains?”

“Knew I shouldn’t have taken that Corruption for the sweet sword” -Me, 2021

Curse of the Dead Gods also sports some of the best isometric views and visuals I’ve seen in a game of this style since Hades. A lot of that is due to the aforementioned dynamic lighting system mixed with the game’s cel-shading to makes something that, when mixed with the game’s disturbing take on Aztec, Inca, and Mayan temples and mythologies lead to a look that screams “Yo, this shit is fucked up” and I mean this in the nicest way imaginable. This is also bolstered by the game’s music, which utilizes drums and foreboding woodwinds to give all combat encounters a tense, life-or-death feel.

Dark, Foreboding, and All kinds of Rad.

Curse of the Dead Gods has joined Cyber Shadow as one of the first big standouts in the early days of 2021. It’s a game that, while never rocking the boat too hard, masterfully takes what works before and polishes it to a mirror shine. If you don’t mind a curse or two, pick up a torch and machete and get to exploring. Just watch your step first, this temple doesn’t take kindly to intruders.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store