Curse of the Dead Gods is the newest entry into the roguelike game genre from Passtech games and Focus Interactive. Prior to playing Curse of the Dead Gods, I was honestly not aware of the genre or these types of games being called roguelike. I had been watching others playing Hades on Twitch, and made the immediate comparisons even before loading up Curse of the Dead Gods. However, Curse of the Dead Gods proved to be a deeper and more richer experiences then I was prepared for. What initially looked like a Hades clone, ended up being its own amazing experience.
Unlike Hades, Curse of the Dead Gods does not have much of a story or any type of character progression arc. You are tossed into a cursed dungeon and must rely on journal entries to find out more about the enemies that inhabit each dungeon you explore. The game begins by showing the main character lighting a torch and walking into a cave entrance. You are playing as Caradog McCallister, an English explorer armed with a machete and a Webley pistol, exploring lost and ancient ruins in the 19th century. Just for clarification, this information isn’t given to you in the cut scene, but from journal entries and Passtech’s website. From there, you start your first run through the Jaguar Temple, one of 3 different types of dungeons.
The entirety of Curse of the Dead Gods must rely on its game play and aesthetics to really hold the interest of the player, and it does this successfully. If you want to find out more about the enemies you face that are protecting these temples, then really the only thing you get is the journal entries which are filled out as you kill more of certain types of enemies. Other then that, don’t worry too much about the why behind the game and just enjoy the ride.
Curse of the Dead Gods has all the familiar parts of a roguelike game at first. You work your way through procedurally generated dungeons, collecting gold, weapons, and upgrades that make you stronger with each run. You can use crystal skulls and jade armbands that you find in your run to purchase permanent upgrades to your arsenal and character, but weapons you find during your runs will disappear once you die.
There is a lot more here, however, then that. There is an actual curse that you have to worry about during your run. It isn’t called Curse of the Dead Gods for nothing. As you progress through the temple, you will need to make decisions that will increase your curse level. Opening doors, using blood as an offering, healing at certain fountains, fighting in the dark, all of these could increase your curse level. Once your curse level reaches 100, you gain a random curse that will affect your ability to run through the dungeon. These increase in severity with the more curses you gain, finally with a real nasty one at curse level 5. The last level 5 curse I had received was particularly nasty, especially just before I reached the boss fight. It had my health levels constantly draining until I reached 1 hp. You can remove curse levels by killing bosses, so it becomes a battle to manage your curse level with your progression through the temple.
Another major difference that Curse of the Dead Gods has over other games, is the progression of difficulty with the temples. When you first start the game, you are only given the first nine levels of the Jaguar Temple. These nine levels represent the first floor. Once you beat that floor, then you unlock the second floor, and finally the third floor before you unlock the temple in its entirety. As I said earlier, you also have 3 different temples to work through. These are Jaguar, Eagle and Snake. Each temple not only has different aesthetics, but enemies as well that really will change how you play the game. Snake, for instance, really goes all in with poisonous enemies.
Combat, in Curse of the Dead Gods, is the epitome of “simple to learn, hard to master”. You begin with 3 items, a torch to light your way, a melee weapon, and a range weapon. As you work through the temple, you may find a heavy weapon as well. You also have 5 diamonds under your character, which represents your stamina. You attack your foes with various combinations of melee, range, and heavy attacks with each of these attacks having the option to be charged up. You also have the ability to dodge and block incoming attacks, with perfect blocks and dodges refilling your stamina meter. Managing all of these attacks becomes crucial in trying to save your health bar from dipping to low before you reach the boss. The more health you lose in a run, means the more you need to increase your curse level to heal, which could mean more negative aspects that will affect your health, and so on and so on. You can also lock onto enemies by clicking in the right stick, which helps in some of the more chaotic fights.
The final thing I want to mention is the temple itself, it is loaded with traps and other dangerous environment features that will really throw you for a loop if you are not careful. Spike traps on the floor, statues that will take a swing at you as you pass by, and heads that will spit out flame will all cause you to have a bad time. However, these traps can also hit your enemies too. You will need to learn how to dance around these traps, and lure your enemies into them if you are going to preserve your health and reach the boss.
I personally love the aesthetics of Curse of the Dead Gods. The visuals of the game really remind me of another of my favorite games, Darkest Dungeon. In fact, at times I kept waiting for the voice of the narrator to come in and describe my new curse to me as I was playing. Curse of the Dead Gods gives me old Diablo vibes at times as well, which is never a negative. The look of each temple is based on Mayan culture, but given a darker fantasy spin on it. However, you can definitely see where the influence here is coming from. The name of the bosses, the style of each temple, even the animals that the temples represent, all stem from MesoAmerican culture and belief. While I do not want to get into the deeper conversation of colonialism and the robbing of ancient native temples by Europeans, just be aware that this is present in Curse of the Dead Gods and you should decide if that makes you uncomfortable or not.
This game is good! Really good! Curse of the Dead Gods will scratch that itch for a roguelike game if you haven’t found one you truly like yet. From the dark, MesoAmerican art style, to the inclusion of the curse system, Curse of the Dead Gods has everything I never knew I wanted out of a roguelike game. Of course, it helps that it also makes me feel like I’m playing a game sent in the Darkest Dungeon universe. Curse of the Dead Gods will give you a proper challenge, deep gameplay, but never feel like it’s too overwhelming at all. You are supposed to be weak for your first few runs at the first boss, but keep trying and you will build up enough resources to by some nice upgrades. At first, managing my curse level was difficult, but you have to get better at combat, so you don’t have to take too many curses during your playthrough. Curse of the Dead Gods is available now for $19.99.