What happens when Castlevania meets Soulslike? Neopopcorn tries their hand on it!
Release date: 26 Sep, 2019
A test of patience and skill
3000th is another take on the Metroidvania genre transferring some Souls ideas into it. According to the developer it’s already boasting with around 300 areas, more than 150 types of enemies and more than 130 different items to interact with. The latter I presume, are destructible props. The campaign is supposed to be complete too. But why Early Access?
Their mission statement: “This game was developed with maximum action and exploration as the goal.” And that’s why it’s in Early Access to take opinions into account and polish it to the best it can be for an estimated two months.
So how is it right now? Read further to find out.
Playtime disclaimer: As much as I tried to finish the game, I only managed to go as far as about 30%+ of the map.
Keep in mind that I do have a few Metroidvanias under the belt like Castlevania SoTN, Castlevania AoS, Castlevania PoR, Metroid Fusion, JackQuest, etc. On the other hand, while I did play some Souls-like games (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Ni-Oh) I have never managed to finish one. So make of it what you will.
You wake up in an unknown place with all your memories gone. The first inhabitant you meet is a wisp of a remnant remaining in a Skeleton mentioning a dark flash…
With nothing more than a mask and your weapon in hand, you move ahead to find out the truth of this unknown world. Unfortunately, the only thing you meet are humans turned into monsters due to their negative feelings like resentment and despair. How did this happen? Who did this? This and more are questions you’re hoping to find your answers to.
From what I’ve seen there’s not much story to see. There are no cutscenes in all of my playtime and the only story-related things I was able to catch are like one or two talks with a specific NPC who delivers some information on the current circumstances.
Bosses often leave behind their weapons and offer a little bit of seemingly inconsequential lore about them in the item description. I’m not sure if they have something to do with the grand scheme of things but as of right now it’s a nice extra touch.
The impressions are based around the Xbox One Controller defaults. The first notable thing is the fact that you will be using the left stick to move your character while the D-Pad is responsible for quick item use you can up to 4 to your liking. Attacking (X), Jumping (A) is what you expect them to be. You only have one attack in the air, though there’s an upgrade to two attacks later. On the ground, you have 2 or 3 attacks depending on the kind of weapon you have in hand. The Jumps can be controlled mid-air giving you enough control to react to specific situations.
Also yes, there’s a map available for you with the push of the Left Trigger at any time. It shows you everything you have explored and comes with a percentage on the top right to show your progress.
Now onto some 3000th Duel specific mechanics.
First of all, there are three different weapons types. While you may get different ones with different stats, there are no other differences except that and their looks. Your fight style consists of Blade, Broadsword, and Lance. The Blade is fast and covers a wide area. Broadswords are slower but are more vicious and can inflict special stuns.
Lances have the longest reach but doesn’t cover the area above your head due to the stab motion and has three attacks instead of two on the ground. The third attack often comes with a special stun depending on the enemy.
It’s important to keep this in mind because…
Charge Attacks (Hold X and release after some time)
It differs depending on which weapon you have equipped. The Blade does spin like the Tazmanian Devil, the Broadsword unleashes a fast heavy blow that pushes the enemy away, the Lance releases a slow multi-hitting attack. Each come with their own pros and cons. With future upgrades you can even have a chance to inflict debuffs on your enemies.
On a personal note, I haven’t been able to find a use for the Blades charge attack. The Lances are perfect for stationary enemies, while the Broadswords can put a stop on whatever they are doing.
It’s also important to note that all of them have long recoveries. This means that it takes some time before you can move again and therefore are extremely vulnerable to enemy attacks, except if you use…
The Dash (RT)
One of your most important moves when it comes to boss fights and moving fast. It’s the only thing that depletes your Stamina Bar. This move can be used at any point as long as you’re on the ground and soon after you can even upgrade it with a short period of invincibility. Hence, you can cancel anything that otherwise takes a lot of time to finish.
Occult Magic (B)
Castlevania Fans know of this as the special items and in this case, you can decide on the magic of your choice depending on what you have in your Inventory. Here comes the twist, the resource is extremely limited. You can’t recover it unless you go to a save point or use rare randomly dropped items. Which means you have to make big choices on when you want to utilize it.
Mortal Blow (Y)
Theoretically, your strong attack that depletes your Special Gauge. I said theoretically because it feels like it doesn’t do that much more damage than your run-of-the-mill attack BUT it can be upgraded and stuns your opponent with a spin animation. At a later point, you will find upgrades to increase the attack count but it comes with a caveat, your special gauge needs to be big enough to supply each subsequent hit.
Slide (Down + A)
Your fastest move that doesn’t require resources though it takes a long time before you recover from it. To counteract this issue you can cancel the move with an attack or dash. This move is great for moving past traps or re-positioning after a dodge so you can sneak in your attack against a boss.
Before I forget it, touching the enemy does damage you so you better not slide into them.
Let’s put everything together in context…
I’ve already mentioned that this is a Metroidvania with some elements of the Souls Series. You explore the map, find upgrades, platforming, dodge traps and fight your way through. Sounds Metroidvania enough!
Now onto the unique stuff. There’s a Skill Tree that you will unlock gradually by finding separate upgrades and using either Skill Points you find or from Level Ups. The before mentioned Dash invincibility is something you unlock with points, while bigger ones like the Mortal Blow follow up is found. And while we are talking about level up it’s time to talk about…
The Souls Elements
The Level up System
Is based around defeating enemies and getting currency for leveling up at special statues that are different from the save statues. As you can already guess, the moment you die, you also lose all of your money and you will have to go back to the place of your demise and hit an orb to get it back.
So how does the level up work? You have 4 different stats to upgrade. Health, Damage, Special Gauge or Stamina. The choice is a heavy one.
Save Spots and Violet Scripture
This is exactly what you expect it to be. Though there’s neither teleportation nor level up to be had here. The only thing it does is saving your game and refill your Violet Scripture, just like everybody’s favorite Estus Flask.
And there you have it, this is the overview of the system. As to how it works in a live environment…
The level design is working well and puts you in all kinds of uncomfortable and challenging situations. Environmental hazards are awaiting you on top of enemies such as spikes and falling items. Fortunately, spikes aren’t immediately fatal so you do have the chance to survive and sometimes even try to brute force your way through it. One thing is for sure, you will use jumping, sliding and dashing a lot to overcome everything that’s thrown at you. There are some interesting instances of the game showing you, not yet reachable, upgrades making you eager to finally get that darn thing.
Enemies come in all kinds of forms such as basic grunts that run up to you for an attack, ranged enemies, flying enemies, etc. There’s some variety there. What’s especially noteworthy is the fact that they can take a lot of damage, this isn’t the case in the beginning but the further you go the more they can take and it won’t get easier. Every time you get to the next area the difficulty spikes by giving you tougher, stronger and new enemies. Normal grunts aren’t an issue but the bigger ones are a thing to look out for because they can a lot of damage and don’t flinch when you hit them with normal attacks.
Even flying enemies are no slouch if you’re expecting to defeat them in one or two hits you’re going to be disappointed. I had times where they took as much as 6-7 hits. If you take into account that your aerial attacks are limited to two (you’ll have the upgrade already) aerial attacks per jump you can take a guess on how annoying it can be. While Mortal Blow and Occult Magic can offer some relief, they aren’t something you can use freely.
These are just normal monsters, then there are the big bosses.
They are foreshadowed by a purple aura flowing out of the passage to the next screen, to make sure you know there’s something difficult. Usually, there are shortcuts close by that leads you to a save point, so losing against bosses isn’t that big of a deal. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are BIG. What makes them different from other enemy encounters is the fact that for one you see a life bar and are visually unique. Beware! Once they lose a certain amount of life, they will start to use buffed patterns, adding some extra difficulty midway.
As you might already have guessed, these fights are a matter of pattern recognition and reactions. There’s no doubt that it’s possible to defeat them without getting hit once if you master them with consistency. In fact, they aren’t even that difficult once you have the muscle memory down.
I found them one of the more enjoyable parts of the game.
The promise of maximum exploration seems fulfilled to me. There’s a huge map and loads of areas to uncover. Moreover, there are a few teleportation stations distributed across the map for quick travel.
When it comes to maximum action, however, it depends on what they mean. If it’s about being a lot of gameplay with no filler then it’s true.
If it’s about the fighting mechanics then I’d have to scratch my head because there’s not much variety to it. Having the weapons tucked away within the menu also makes it a chore to change weapons, especially when you see situations where you’d prefer one weapon over another. E.g. the Lance is terrible against flying enemies because it only hits in front of you but works well against grounded enemies due to the range. When you have it equipped and see an airborne enemy you’ll have to switch to one of the sword weapons as a solution which in turn requires you to change weapons on the menu.
This, the limited resources and the fact that difficulty spikes are diminishing the feeling of progress did take a toll on me. The unlocked skills aren’t feeling really substantial. A second hit in the air, circumstantial charge attacks, a second mortal blow do nothing to change the overall gameplay situation. Instead, those are just more of a convenience factor.
Granted, I haven’t finished it but this is how my hours felt like.
I’m taking the guess that the developer is trying to offer a challenging experience, but I’m not feeling it. That doesn’t mean you should feel like this too, which is why I’m giving you the details.
Graphics and Sound
On a more positive note, the graphics look ok with heavily stylized visuals reminding me of Warcraft. The backgrounds and levels are giving out some good atmosphere to accompany your journey.
The claim about the 150 types of enemies is most likely true, but keep in mind that you will find variations of the same enemies, which is something normal.
On the bright side, the game has low requirements so it should run on a lot of machines.
The music is also doing a good job of making you feel the atmosphere in tandem with the visuals. Though the reuse of music can stick out like a sore thumb without context because I’m not sure if those two dungeons are related to each other. But yeah, otherwise I have no objections. It’s background music that does its job.
So where does this all mean? Ultimately, the difficulty/damage spongy enemies and the lack of a compelling story have managed to make me capitulate in frustration for now. As this is an Early Access and the developers themselves have mentioned that they are still working on balancing, there’s a good chance that things might be changing or not depending on the intent. It’s important to note that they’ve already toned done down the difficulty in the recent patches, so there is some work being done.
Considering there are no technical issues and the sensible price I’m giving it a Save for Later as it is solid in what it does and maybe it’s just something not for me as of now.