Honesty, we are all getting to the point where hearing about a game in a certain genre isn’t enough to elicit initial excitement. One of those genres is the roguelike, where it seems like a new one sprouts up every other week. However, Blade Assault shows that there’s still something developers can bring up to impress people and pique their interest.
Set in a near-future cyberpunk apocalypse, Blade Assault has you playing the role of Kil, a former soldier of the governing party who’s been imprisoned and is planning his escape. During that escape, he comes face-to-face with one of the commanders and is hurled down from the mighty tower to the slums below. He miraculously survives, and while he is tasked with helping those who saved his life, his focus is revenge.
Right off the bat, Assault deviates from the expected roguelike norms by being a side-scrolling action title instead of a top-down offering. It also deviates by having a very robust combat system that plays out similarly to a Devil May Cry game, where you can use a few buttons to deliver combo slashes, a jumping spin attack and more — depending on whether you’re holding a melee or projectile weapon.
Luckily, each level gives you the chance to augment your weapon with things like higher attack power or augment yourself with more defense, and you can always preview the element you can get when entering a new room. Beyond this, the game falls in line with some of the expected roguelike traits. There are two currency systems at play: one for temporary upgrades and one for more permanent ones. You go through level layouts in a random order, and you only have one life, so death means restarting from the beginning.
Another big element that adds some variety to the gameplay is the addition of several other playable protagonists. Two of them have already been released, with a third planned before the game’s launch. Thus far, it takes some real work to select anyone else aside from Kil, but the effort is worth it, as their weapons make them feel different from the initial protagonist, even though you’re still slashing and shooting at everyone.
One interesting mechanic that I love is the presence of a Risk Level. As you progress and kill enemies, the Risk Level increases, which has the game sending different, stronger enemies when you enter a new room. At major checkpoints, you can pay to have that level decrease, so you can face easier enemies again. It’s a good way for newcomers to have a better chance of getting through a run, but the decrease in enemy difficulty also means a decrease in the amount of loot you gain, so there’s a risk/reward system.
Admittedly, there are a few minor criticisms that can hopefully be addressed before the game development is completed. For one thing, the action can be so frantic that you’ll take a few hits without knowing it because many attacks are obscured by your own attack effects. If it weren’t for the fact that you often get health between stages, this would feel cheap. The other criticism is that the game progression is rather linear. The room layouts and the order in which you traverse them may differ, but the bosses all seem to come in the same order. It works for storyline purposes, but it can be an annoyance for those who crave the randomness of the roguelike genre.
Blade Assault is currently in Steam Early Access with a very active development cycle behind it, and even in its unfinished state, it looks promising. From the different characters and their attacks to the Risk Level system, there’s enough here that even those slightly burning out on the roguelike genre will want to have a look. We’re looking forward to see how it all shapes up when it fully releases later in 2022.