Crimson Keep: review

  • Format: Switch (reviewed), PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Merge Games
  • Developer: Ian Atherton and Ben Rog-Wilhelm
  • Players: 1
  • Site:

Crimson Keep is a first person rogue-like on both Switch and PC. It’s unwieldy, unpolished, and terrible to play. It’s not so bad it’s good, it’s just thoroughly unfun. It’s a difficult game too, but that comes from its own lack of intuitiveness, awkward combat, and enemy AI that’s unpredictable in a way that sometimes sees them absentmindedly wander around before suddenly remembering they’re supposed to be murderising you.

The premise is one that we’d have liked to work; a multi-level dungeon crawler rogue-like where you fight through enemies, level up, gain weapons and abilities, and face off against bosses before earning your freedom. Yeah, that old chestnut.

After picking your character from the choice of Berserker, Witch, or “The Drifter”, you’re thrown – or more accurately, dropped – down a hole into the tutorial. We say tutorial, it’s a few signposts that give you the bare minimum on how to control your character. It doesn’t mention what hunger or faith are, but they’re in the inventory/character screen and therefore probably important. It also never mentions your ability to dodge, which seems to be pretty integral to survival.

Once you do get to do some proper non-tutorial monster killing, there’s a fairly varied set of enemies, each with their own attack patterns and presumably some form of artificial intelligence. For reasons unknown, enemies occasionally will just wander about while you attack them. Sometimes this includes walking at and into you for a few seconds, or turning their back on you like a petulant partner after an argument. It’s perplexing but somehow makes fights more tense, as fighting something that doesn’t notice you, then suddenly notices you a whole lot, really keeps you on edge. It doesn’t happen all the time, but certainly often enough that it’s an issue.

Combat is frustrating for other reasons too. Attacking will slow you to a halt but most enemies require you to attack, then dodge or else you’ll be hit when they attack back. Dodge being mapped to the B button isn’t great in this respect, as your thumb has wandered away from the right stick, making dodging around a single enemy difficult, let alone multiple enemies. Attacks also feel “off”; sometimes attacks that seem like they should have hit miss, and sometimes you hit multiple enemies with one strike that barely seemed to be on target. It makes for a frustrating brawl, especially when you’re being mobbed by large numbers.

The UI is cumbersome; whether it be the tool-tips or the inventory management, it really makes you faff about and do all the work. Tool-tips for abilities mention keyboard and mouse controls rather than joy-con buttons on Switch which, incidentally, can’t be remapped. Weapon special attacks don’t have tool-tips though, so what they might do, we have no idea. When you’re close to death the screen fills with a red mist which obscures everything substantially. The equipped skills and quick inventory slots also take up a sizable portion of the screen (alongside the experience bar and health bars), which is less than ideal.

Inventory management forces you to pick up each item within the inventory screen and move it over to your slot of choice, which on PC is presumably a breeze. On the Switch however it’s slow, and essentially prevents you from switching weapons if you’re anywhere near enemies. Changing ranged weapons that are close to, or have, run out of power or ammo is therefore quite difficult in most situations.

We might be more forgiving if we could get further into the game. It’s only partially a matter of our “skill” that of the number of times we should have fought the first boss, we’ve only managed to load into the level about a quarter of the times we’ve theoretically “made it”. Time and time again we get stuck loading the level indefinitely. We’ve even made it past this boss only to get stuck indefinitely loading the next level. The diarrhea icing on this fetid cake is that it automatically saves progress at the loading screen, so you have to start a new game just to be suffer through the experience again.

It’s a shame that there are so many issues because this is exactly the sort of game that would work fantastically on the Switch. Instead, in its current state it’s unappealing to play, and in our experience practically unplayable.

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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