Stumbling upon Curse of the Dead Gods, I was drawn to its accursed, dark temples. And as a history nerd, I couldn’t ignore its Mayan aesthetics and wicked art design. I soon discovered that while it borrows similarities from roguelites like Hades and Slay the Spire, its real treasure is its unique mechanics, an array of deadly enemies, and addictive hack-and-slash combat.
One of the biggest differences between Curse of the Dead Gods and other roguelites like Hades is the storytelling element. While Hades incorporates its story into its rinse repeat cycle, Curse of the Dead Gods has no story, choosing instead to focus on its difficult, compelling gameplay.
It’s easy to forgive its lack of a plot because Curse of the Dead Gods offers a refreshing twist to the roguelite genre. Fighting your way through procedural generated rooms, collecting new weapons and powerful upgrades in an isometric viewpoint feels inherently familiar, but with new mechanics Curse of the Dead Gods never feels recycled or worn out.
Curse of the Dead Gods constantly juggles between risk and reward, with many different factors to monitor. Along with a health bar, you also have a stamina meter. Stamina is split into five points. Dodges, powerful finishers, and certain weapon attacks cost a single stamina point to use. Once you’ve exhausted all five points of your stamina, it takes about a second before it refills.
A second feels like a lifetime because enemy encounters are unforgivingly aggressive, forcing you to deeply familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of attacks. But it’s absolutely worth your time to get the hang of it as killing enemies, timing a perfect dodge, and parrying at just the right moment will gain your stamina points back.
Once you’ve mastered the ebb and flow of combat, Curse of the Dead Gods is still full of deep surprises. This is a dark game; both conceptually and literally. Using your torch to light up braziers affects your ability to absorb damage, spot traps, and ultimately prepare for the threats coming your way. If you interact with enemies or traps in the darkness, you’ll take significantly more damage. It took some time for me to learn the nuances of this mechanic, squinting my way through the dark and doing my best to avoid the heavy swing of enemies.
While monitoring your torchlight, health, and stamina, you’ll find that these may be the least of your worries. The biggest mechanic that sets Curse of the Dead Gods apart from other roguelites is its curses. Alongside your health and stamina meter, there’s a corruption meter that fills up every time you enter a new room, take darkness damage from enemies, or buy an item with a blood offering instead of paying with gold.
When the corruption meter fills up, you’ll receive a random curse, ranging from menial effects like gold on the ground disappearing after a short time, to extremely game-altering changes like spike traps triggering automatically and sequentially. One annoying curse made it so all future curses were mysteries. The randomness of curses consistently keeps you on your toes, making every run intense.
Curses aren’t the only feature that makes Curse of the Dead Gods unforgivingly difficult. Many of the decisions you make in this game come down to the rewards and weapon upgrades that are optimal for your run. Every new run you start with gives you a basic set of gear. As you learn to make meaningful decisions with your gold, blood offerings, and some luck hidden in chests, you can end up with a combination of weapons and enhancing relics that result in a satisfying run.
Perhaps you’ll find a ranged bow that gives you just the right amount of distance, letting you fire quick shots. You might have just the right amount of gold to purchase an enhancement that gives you the power upgrade you needed to feel invincible. Although these bonuses are removed when you die, you can earn currencies like Crystal Skulls and Jade Rings to unlock new weapons and blessings that you can permanently swap between, trying different load-outs and playstyles. However, learning the various weapons and blessings that are available is a bit time-consuming, as the menu can feel cluttered, with no clear filter or distinction between certain types of blessings or weapons.
Another minor drawback is the lack of voice acting. While roguelites like Hades went above and beyond when it comes to the quality and quantity of voice acting, Curse of the Dead Gods could’ve benefited from the main character adding some light commentary as he progresses through the temples, or boss encounters with voice acting to help accentuate the mood and tension. Nevertheless, the soundtrack does a great job of complementing the desolate nature of the game with percussive instruments, light flutes, and heavy drums.
What Curse of the Dead Gods lacks in narrative it makes up for in focused, challenging gameplay. Combat is addictive, as the incentive to learn enemy attacks and make meaningful decisions about your upgrades, weapons, and relics are thrilling. Unique mechanics like curses and darkness, bartering your money, or sacrificing your blood to maximize your loadout also ensures that Curse of the Dead Gods keeps every run compelling. Once you’ve found the perfect playstyle or the loadout that gives you invincible, awesome power, getting deep into Curse of the Dead Gods‘ temples is satisfying.
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