STAFF REVIEW of Crimson Keep (Xbox One)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Crimson Keep Box art Over the past few years I’ve come to really enjoy most indie games I’ve come across. They offer a unique experience you sometimes don’t get with regular AAA games, and are often made with love, as it’s usually a passion project. I’m always open for new experiences and keeping an open mind with smaller titles, as they will obviously be nowhere near as polished as bigger titles, but sometimes it’s difficult to do so. This is one of those games that I had a hard time staying positive with throughout, for many reasons.

As a game journalist, I’ve had my fair share of great and terrible games. Sure, it’s great when you are surprised by a title that you would have never expected to be fantastic, but the other end of the spectrum is that you’ll be surprised with the completely opposite as well. I’m not one to completely be negative towards a title without giving a good basis as to why, but I really struggled to find many positives while playing Crimson Keep. Knowing that this was only made by a couple of people too makes it difficult to be so critical towards, but I’ve also got to be honest.

Crimson Keep has you descending into a procedurally generated dungeon, filled with traps, monsters, permadeath and frustration. You need to find a way to escape and destroy every beast that stands in your way. Normally I’d delve more into the narrative and story, but that’s really about it, and it won’t matter since you’ll be dying many times due to poor mechanics.

Core gameplay revolves around dungeon delving in first person, meleeing or casting magic at your enemies until you ultimately die and have to restart all over. I have no problem with rogue-like titles, as there’s usually some type of progression you’re always working towards or that carries over, but not here. In Crimson Keep, when you die, you start completely over with no progression of any sorts.

Randomly generated dungeons, enemies and loot sounds like a great idea, but execution is a large part of the enjoyment as well, something Crimson Keep completely missed the mark on for numerous reasons. Even delving into the options, you’ll notice that “Mouse Sensitivity” wasn’t even changed from its PC port to reflect the console version, not that I would hold that against it, but it was a sign of things to come.

Played in first person, you’ll be able to attack, defend, cast abilities and dash. Your first choice every time you die and restart will be to choose from a melee user, a wizard or unarmed. Melee starts you off with a hatchet, wizard a spell casting twig and the unarmed, well, nothing but your weak fists. Next you’re literally dropped into a cave with a small tutorial section to teach you the basics.

Drop into the pit ahead and you’ll start your adventure, the first of many, within winding and randomized caves, caverns and pathways, filled with an assortment of enemies. Here you’ll blindly guess where to go, as you’re not given a map of any sorts and simply need to wander until you find the next pit to drop down further into the dungeon, denoting “progress”.

There’s an assortment of enemies you’ll face, from skeletons, headless monsters, imps, rock creatures, ogres, floating skulls and more, none of which are really unique in their attack patterns or require any real strategy to defeat. While the enemies are at least somewhat varied, the levels themselves are bland and barren of anything interesting aside from the odd wooden barrel and lava pit.

While mechanically Crimson Keep is very simple, it’s executed quite poorly. Combat is very slow, AI is nonexistent and you’ll be happy if the game even registers the hits you think you should have landed. Sure there’s a bit of a learning curve to overcome these issues, but it’s not intentional and causes a lot of frustration due to many unfair and untimely deaths. Given that permadeath is a thing, you’re going to be punished for a lot of unfairness.

If you’re lucky enough to find some apples, bread or potions along your adventure, you’ll be able to heal up, but the amount you’re healed is so miniscule that it’s almost worthless to do so. While the levels themselves are randomly generated every time you play, so are the enemies and loot. This means you’ll either have a decent run with some good upgrades, loot and food to heal up, or get multiples of the same weapon or armor that does you absolutely no good at all. Start praying to the RNG gods now.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll find armor, necklaces, rings and better weapons along your journey, but it’s completely random. You may find a ton of swords when you’re a magic user, doing you no good, or wands when you’re a melee character. Even if you do by some miracle gain a bunch of upgrades, you won’t feel any more powerful. Even one run when I managed to have over 200 health, I still died quite quickly when I became swarmed and ran out of ‘ammo’ for my wand.

Yes, as a mage, your little twig that shoots magic will run out of ‘ammo’. Now I’m not sure if this is a bug, but if you drop your empty wand on the ground, pick it up and reequip it, it’s magically full of ammo once again. Keep in mind that doing so and playing with your inventory doesn’t pause the game either, so if you’re fighting more than 3 enemies at once, you’re in for a bad time and most likely a death.

As you kill monsters you’ll earn XP, and as you level you’ll get to pick one of a couple of perks and abilities that will help you along the way. While a few of these abilities are somewhat decent, they need to be recharged, and perks don’t really seem to make much of a difference. So while there are some light RPG mechanics, again, once you die, you’re going to have to start all over from the beginning, as nothing carries over from one playthrough to the next.

I really don’t enjoy being negative towards a game, especially a smaller indie title, but there’s no possible way in good conscience I can recommend Crimson Keep in any sort of fashion, especially at the exorbitant $25.99 CAD pricepoint. There are so many glaring issues mechanically that it was a constant frustration to play, devoid of any real enjoyment and doesn’t seem to be self-aware enough to realize it.

Overall: 2.5 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 3.0 / 10
Sound: 3.0 / 10


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