Free-to-play roguelikes have a spotty history.
A good roguelike is fair but firm; giving you just enough to get by, sometimes rewarding generously only to shower you in a rain of foes. Sometimes it is cruel, manipulative, and strings you along as you desperately seek something that will give you any edge against the forces of the random number generator. Free-To-Play games often fall into the same trap for Roguelikes – too much pain, so they offer you the edge you are seeking… as long as you have the money to pay for it. And the deeper you go, the more you end up paying to maintain that competitive edge.
Let It Die is an unfortunate name, then, for the latest attempt at a F2P Roguelike. From the mind of Suda51 and the talent at Grasshopper Manufacture, you’d expect something slick and stylish, something quirky and different, something unremittingly batshit insane to the point it leaves you with a grin like a Cheshire Cat. And Let It Die… is none of that. Not by a long shot.
Though it does at least start out interestingly enough; you are a cyborg of sorts. A doll, Matrix-style, being dumped into something beyond your understanding. Then a Grim Reaper barrels along on a skateboard wearing zany glasses, calling himself Uncle Death, with a scythe that looks positively badass. He’s gone just before your brain can process the complete lunacy, and a short and fairly predictable tutorial session later – with a woman who seems obsessed with mushrooms and a pre-written death scene – we discover… there’s no point to it. What we’re actually doing is playing a gamer, who is playing a game, in a sleepy arcade with Uncle Death and a couple of utterly disinterested people who offer pointless advice and rather pointless quests. Then we go back into the “game” world to start climbing some sort of tower, with the promise there’s some treasure up there (of course, not real treasure; we’re a gamer playing a video game…).
If the story and set-up sound utterly oddball, then don’t worry. The game itself follows the usual F2P Roguelike tropes. You get to earn some experience, some coin – with obvious hard caps – and you inch your way through mostly randomly-generated levels peppered with Ragers, Invaders and a few boss fights. Despite the setup, and the game engine, Let It Die for me looks positively generic to a frightening degree. There’s nothing much to admire in this game visually, and things are repeated often enough that even the odd novelty gets lost eventually. It’s a bunch of pre-made rooms linked with a series of pre-made tunnels, and it feels positively soulless.
Things don’t get much better with the combat; the idea is nice, of course, but it’s clunky and unwieldy in practice. You get to find and pick up weapons and armour (with very limited durability, sadly) and use them until they break, earning skill levels and bonuses the more you favour certain weapon types. The problem? The combat is basic; you are pre-locked to a three-hit combo and if you miss, chances are you will be stunned into a foes three-hit combo. Lock-on can’t be toggled on the fly, so you have to unlock and then tap the stick again, hoping this time you’ll target the right mob – and as a result, multi-enemy rooms, especially those with multiple invaders, can be positively infuriating. There’s nothing more annoying than an unfair fight, and Let It Die positively revels in brutally punishing the player for their limited movesets and mobility.
Bosses? Well, I got through three – I think it was three – and they were about as typical as you get. Each mid-boss has a specific attack pattern, you memorise it, you punish in the open gaps. All very typical and boring really, and the bosses clearly are trying to go for a sort of Silent Hill vibe – at least, I assume that’s what they were going for, if it isn’t oh boy Grasshopper Manufacture do I have some bad news for you…
The real problem I have with Let It Die is, for the most part, it’s empty space. Nothing is said, nothing is done, you just trudge along trying to pull enemies for one-on-one showcases, with the odd occasion when a Magnum drops with limited ammo and you can pick things off from a distance without much problem. You take a lift up and down, spend experience and coin, trying to find a balance so you don’t exceed the caps, hoping for patterns to drop. And… that’s it. I don’t really get why we’re meant to care about the game-in-a-game; Uncle Death simply says we should because ‘you’re a gamer, right?’
Thing is, gamers have standards and Let It Die falls far short. There’s little to do here except repeating the same action over and over, as floors become more difficult. By floor 12 or so, and this was going back to open up bonus floors – you can do that when bosses are killed – I’d twigged that this was frankly going nowhere. A lot of empty platitudes, and a lot of effort, for a game which offers a simplistic roguelike formula in a souped-up game engine. I’ve played a few free roguelikes in my time, and Let It Die may not be the worst – but it’s far from the best, and the even worse news for Suda51 is that one of the better roguelikes – Hellgate: London – appears to be about to make a comeback, with a passionate new team trying to breathe life into the heart of a good game which has been brutally abused by corporate greed.
Hellgate: London is an interesting case in point though. Because it always did fall into many of the same traps that Let It Die does; pre-set assets linked by pre-set tunnels, repeated monster models and recolours, claustrophobic battle areas. The difference is, Hellgate: London gave you reasons to care. Stops had NPCs and dialogue. There were other players running around. The story was told of a dying world, of heroes trying to save it from the forces of Hell. It’s why, years after its last sad demise, I’m hopeful again for another chance for this game to shine on its own merits – there’s something in there, somewhere, which is why I can’t just let it go… or Let It Die. Was that a terrible joke oh who cares…
Let It Die doesn’t say anything, doesn’t suggest any reason why we should care… it’s not that it’s cynical – all F2P endeavours are – it’s that it’s so obviously cynical. Repeated jokes and dialogue grate. It’s just so… damned… limited. You begin to notice the rooms where invading mannequins can spawn. You begin to notice patterns in the game world, in enemy movement, and it’s this repetition and predictability that actually does this genre a disservice. You’re supposed to let the game surprise you and adapt to its demands, and when you can see a clearly marked out room for an invader or boss fight… am I ready? Nope? Okay, back down to the basement to prep…
Let It Die falls into the same bracket as Lost Reavers, Bandai-Namco’s F2P duffer on the Wii U. The sad part is, you could see a potential game in there… somewhere. It’d take more work, and more money, but that’s why we buy video games isn’t it? Let It Die and Lost Reavers just feel designed from the ground up to fleece you, and I’m not okay with games designed only to milk people through punishing them for game design beyond their control just so they feel compelled to drop a few dollars here and there. That way, for me, lies the death of an industry.
It’s sad that Grasshopper Manufacture have been reduced to this. I feel so bad for them, and if this is the game which kills them off… that’s just a terrible way for these crazy kooks to go out. It’s just boring. Bland. Flavourless, with repeated notes and jokes that eventually give you a headache. After the first mumbling rant from the Mushroom Lady, rambling about how without Mushrooms there is no life and nothing makes sense (so, a fan of The Last Of Us. Bet she’s happy about the sequel…), and after a few repeats of Uncle Death proclaiming he went for his annual checkup and they found no organs, just “nasty gunky shit”, you realise this is a game made with the least amount of effort required.
I suppose it has been an interesting few days, but the truth is that less than a week after installing, it’s disappearing from my PS4’s hard drive. I have no desire to see further floors, and I have literally no interest in the people or places. It’s a free-to-play game, after all. We know what lies further ahead. Bigger difficulty spikes and constant badgering to buy tokens so you can resurrect. Without any other quality-of-life improvements, like you know, being able to effectively quit the game if something happens because noooooo in this game they count it as a death if you don’t find a lift, somewhere, and go all the way back to the basement/waiting room. Even Diablo 3 had this from the outset. Seriously. This isn’t an unreasonable request in a roguelike. Seriously, even most budget roguelikes let you suspend the game so you can return later!
No, I didn’t enjoy Let It Die. I’m all for stupid, pointless games, but this just doesn’t do it for me. The kill moves, the weird extra characters… they don’t interest me, because there’s nothing to be interested by. To paraphrase the Mushroom Lady, “Without fun, there is nothing, there is no life, there is no love, nothing makes sense”. Let It Die simply isn’t my idea of fun.
And I’m happy to let this game live up to its title.