There have been a few clones of the superb Souls series. From Software's brilliant mixture of action, RPG, and downright punishing difficulty has won over the hearts of a legion of gamers, and other developers want a piece of that pie. Let It Die is the latest of these attempts, and this time comes from Grasshopper Manufacture, the studio behind Suda 51 titles like Killer7, No More Heroes, and Shadows of the Damned. As a huge fans of these games (Killer7 is a personal all-time favourite), I had very high hopes for a Dark Souls clone with a typically bizarre twist the studio has become famous for, and Let It Die has been on my radar for some time. Now it's finally out, we can see if it's been worth the wait.
A free to play title, Let It Die is a third-person dungeon crawler with rouge-like elements and a microtransaction backbone designed to support the upkeep of the game and its future development. The game itself is very much a hybrid of Dark Souls and the strange stylings of Grsshopper, with a similar asymmetrical approach to online play.
Events take place in the Tower of Barbs, a huge tower seemingly formed out of a city's worth of crushed building and roads. Inside this tower lurks all sorts of nasties and gruesome monsters, and people enter it to find their way to the top to uncover its mysteries. I say people, but in true Grasshopper style, things aren't that clear cut.
You control what seems to be either an animated corpse, or someone from the Matrix, as you choose your first character from a subway train of various options, both male and female. You enter the tower in nothing but underwear, and you have to fight your way upward, floor by floor, picking up weapons and armour as you go. After a brief intro, you end up in the Waiting Room, the game's central hub, and your base. Here you can use various services, such as shops, R&D for new equipment, a storage area, and a freezer, in which you store your other, not currently active fighters, who are hung up like frozen meat in an abattoir. You can also access the Arcade, where you can find quests, get tips and hang out, and level up your character via a floating brain that squeezes juice into your fighter using it's tentacles. Talk about restrained chickens.
Also in the hub is the Mushroom Emissary, a rather odd, semi-naked pole dancing woman sporting a mushroom head who can apply decals to your fighters that bestow various buffs. Yep, it's a Grasshopper game all right.
Mushrooms play a large part in the game, and are items used for healing, defence and offence, depending on the type, as do 'beasts'. These are usually giant frogs that you can eat for healing, but there are other kinds too. Both items can get thrown into fire to be cooked, altering their properties.
Weapons and armour found in the world are not very durable and break quickly, so you need to constantly find replacements, and once you find blueprints for an item, you can use the R&D shop to build and acquire more at any time for gold, the in-game minor currency you earn for kills and quests. You can only carry so much, and your storage bank also has a limit. This leads to a lot of inventory juggling, and I found this to be a royal pain in the backside.
When in the tower itself the game plays almost exactly like Dark Souls, albeit a far less polished and more clunky version. Sadly, the meat of the game just isn't as good as I'd hoped it would be. The control system is overly complex, with buttons performing double-duty instead of a well laid out control scheme, and the combat, whilst decent, isn't a patch on other clones. Simply attacking is easy enough (when the awful lock on system accommodates you), but guarding and rolling are on the same button, and can be tricky to manage in hectic fights. There's no lock-on flicking to change target, a la Dark Souls, and it's far too easy to become stunlocked by foes, especially when ganged up on. This can be avoided, of course, but the controls and defensive mechanics just aren't good enough to work together to make the kind of truly fair system we see in the Souls' series and other games like Zelda. Simply put, it often feels cheap and unfair.
Add to this the levels themselves, which are made up of far too many repeated rooms and corridors, and the actual game leaves you wanting, and it's a shame, as I love the aesthetic and quirky design, which could have created a truly great free to play alternative to Dark Souls. It just doesn't manage it.
Other elements are also equally disappointing. After you progress far enough up the tower you'll unlock the player invasion aspect. This allows you to raid the Waiting Rooms of other players in order to kill and steal. You can kill their fighters and capture them to hold hostage in your Waiting Room's toilet. To get them back, players have to pay a ransom, or try to rescue them. This is also part of a global leaderboard of US states and other counties, with teams vying for the most points.
It's an interesting twist on the invasion formula, but it's just not executed all that well. Other players don't actually fight you in PvP, but their fighters are controlled by the AI. The only difference is they have the stats and equipment of the other player's fighters. The AI is the same as in the tower for the most part, and invading a Waiting Room isn't that hard. This robs the mode of most of it's appeal, at least for now. I have no doubt things will change down the line, but on release, it's not a great system, and like many of the mechanics in the game, is more to push the premium currency, Death Metal.
This is used for various reasons, but mostly for bringing your fighters back to life if they die in the tower. As this is a rouge-like dying in the tower means you'll lose the fighter and everything they carried. You can get back to the point of death with another fighter, at which point you'll need to defeat the fallen fighter, now a 'hater' to get them back. Alternatively, you can spend one Death Metal to instantly revive on the spot. Other players' dead fighters can also crop up in your game as Haters, and these can even be high level, adding more of a threat than normal foes. Despite better equipment, though, and their fondness for also attacking your enemies, they're still fairly dumb in the AI department, certainly not the same as being invaded by a real player, as in the Souls series.
A few Death Metals are awarded to you initially, and you get more as login rewards, but they're essential if you're struggling in the tower. There's also an express lift service that comes with premium cost, another microtransactional element. Indeed, a lot of the game's systems do enforce the use of premium currency, and some will find this a problem. I have to say, however, that I didn't find it too bad, certainly not as bad as most F2P releases. This isn't on Warframe's level of F2P done right, but it's far from the worst offender. It's a decent middle ground, and you can play the game totally gratis if you prefer.
I did have some problems on a technical side during play, the most notable of which was server downtimes. This is expected for any online game, but as disconnecting when not in your Waiting Room is considered a death, this isn't really workable. I was disconnected in the middle of a level without notice after spending a couple of Death Metals to stay alive and keep progressing. When I restarted I was back in the Waiting Room, losing said progress. Thankfully, my fighter and items were in tact, and I even got messages of apology and some free Death Metal, which was nice, but in the long run, I can see this being a problem. Giving free premium currency as an apology is all well and good, but losing progress on a tough level will still annoy plenty. Still, it was a nice touch, and I can't find fault with Grasshoppers handling of the hiccup.
As with a few Grasshopper games of late, Let It Die is currently more style over substance. As a Grasshopper fan, I find the game enjoyable, as I love the studio's style and downright weirdness, but the core gameplay is lacking and really needs some spit and polish. Compared to its inspiration, it's a shell of what it could be, and I hope the team can improve upon what could be a great F2P title.