Preview: Curse of the Dead Gods

This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with Curse of the Dead Gods by Passtech Games. Out now in early access on Steam, it’s a rogue-lite game that puts you in the shoes of an adventurer exploring an ancient temple. Cursed by the gods, you’re now exploring both for loot and to escape the cycle of death and reanimation you find yourself trapped in.

For the most part, Curse of the Dead Gods is a randomly generated isometric hack-and-slash, but where it differs from similar games is in the curse mechanic. Each room you go through will grant a bit of corruption, some enemy attacks will corrupt you further, and lastly, instead of paying gold at the shrines you find for relics and stats, you can gain corruption instead. As you become more corrupted you gain curses, all of which offer some detriment to gameplay like constantly lowering health, making enemies invisible in the dark, or making foes explode shortly after death. Quite a few, however, also have beneficial trade-offs to them, such as making it easier to hit enemies with traps, reducing damage taken at the cost of gold, or the aforementioned exploding enemies ALSO taking out their allies.

This led to two approaches toward going through the temple: Trying my best to avoid corruption wherever possible in the hope of keeping my run as simple as possible, or throwing caution to the wind and embracing corruption in the hope of getting more curses I can twist to my own ends than strictly detrimental ones. However, even then, some caution was advised. In my experience, the fifth and final curse tended to be run-endingly awful.

Now, that all said, this game is hard. Like, I’d argue unreasonably so. The benefit of the game being early access is that this is all subject to change, but I’m unsure how much of this is the game needing further balance, and how much of it is intentionally making it this hard.

By far the biggest issue I had was with healing. There are only two ways of healing in Curse of the Dead Gods: Either find a Haven room and gain corruption to heal some health (Havens are uncommon enough that an entire run may have none at all), or from an effect on weapons or accessories, but these tend to be low healing amounts that also require special conditions, such as “Heal 3% of max HP when performing an off-hand combo as your finishing blow,” and these aren’t even much more common than havens. You can’t count on having any healing whatsoever, and this makes every single hit you take a major problem. Especially given the length of each run, and the requirement to kill every enemy in a room before proceeding. I’m not afraid of difficulty in my games, but this feels like “Dodge/parry every attack. Or else.”

One other complaint is how obtuse a lot of the game systems are. While it does have a neat tutorial system where, on your first several runs, it’ll tell you how to do things like charged attacks or parrying and encourage you to use them, MANY of the mechanics are not explained in any way. For example, the additional effects on off-hand combos (interrupt on pistol, knockback on shield, etc) was something I learned by accident. The fact that I take extra damage in the dark was something I only knew about thanks to a tracker in the death screen. But then there’s cases like the “Weaken” effect, which I was able to inflict with certain weapons or by lighting enemies on fire with a specific blessing. Does that mean they do less damage to me, or take more damage? Is there perhaps some core mechanic vital to surviving that I just never found? I might never know.

Outside of that, I really did like the aesthetic of the temple environment, the curses added an interesting risk/reward mechanic, and the combat felt very fluid (Interrupting a melee combo with an interrupting pistol shot felt extremely satisfying.) I’m looking forward to what they do going forward, even if I find the current build more than a little frustrating.

Preview copy provided by Focus Home Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.