Genre: Strategy, Roguelite
Developer: Simon Boxer,
Publisher: Humble Games
Release date: 15 Oct, 2020
Despite a strong first impression, Ring of Pain managed to annoy me the more I played it. Despite an interesting concept and mechanics, the game has issues with feedback to the player, especially in the progression department that just leaves a sour taste after dying repeatedly over situations that you can’t help but feel out of your control – despite being tied to the RNG bound to the roguelite genre, Ring of Pain overdoes this and ends up being a careful recommendation also due to balance issues and odd design decisions that don’t favor a fair sense of victory or defeat – something that the roguelite genre is known for.
Let’s dive deeper into the Ring of Pain, then.
Where Am I?
Your run starts with a ring (heh) of cards – enemies, stat buffs (permanent for the run), potions (to regain health) and items (to gear up for your run). You can shift left or right through them or interact with them – interacting with potions will drink them and buffs/gear will be collected upon clicking on their card.
Enemies are, however, a bit more complicated as they have stats – just like you: from defense to attack (and armor piercing) and speed (which determines who attacks first when you interact with them).
Wait – you may ask – can I shift past an enemy card?
Yes you may! Based on your stats, there’s a percentage to successfully stealth past any enemy in the game (unless those that block your path – more on that later); in the starting game mode (you can change after you’ve beaten the game) you get a base 20% chance to successfully stealth past the enemies, if you fail you’ll be spotted and attacked (but you’ll still shift past that enemy).
Each run consists of a multitude of levels that perform a circle (or a ring hehe) – the final encounter loop back to the start and you face the boss. While this may sound linear – it isn’t as you can choose which type of room/level you want the next one to be: when inside a level, multiple cards are presented as I mentioned and usually between 1 and 3 of them are exit portal cards – some of these portals have a symbol that determines what kind of level the next one will be. There are a plethora of different levels – while some work as ambushes that through lots of enemies at you for a nice reward at the end, others may consist of more typical roguelite sacrifice rooms where sacrificing stats, health or even max health will render better luck, there are even rooms more gimmicky such as one filled with tombstone cards – interacting with them will provide you with a decent amount of souls at the cost of poisoning you for damage.
Ah, yes – souls. Souls will work as your currency and can be obtained by special environment interactions such as the tombstones I mentioned above or, more traditionally, through the endless murdering of the funky, creepy enemies that plague each level of your run (unless you’re in a shop or gift room, of course). Souls can be mainly used in 3 ways – currency for stores, which present you with 3 cards: either 2 gear items or 2 buffs and always a potion for a much needed health refill. The second way is by spending them on gear chests during levels – each chest has a specific amount that dictates the quality of the item – 20, 40, 75, 140 will respectively yield common, rare, epic and legendary gear.
With this, you can already tell how the game loop works: you spawn in the level and try to either kill or stealth past enemies, pick up gear and buffs, collect souls, heal repeatedly (it’s pretty much impossible to not take damage in any level of the run) and progress – interact with a few characters that speak vaguely in rhymes to inform you about… nothing – the story and lore are all told through small rhymes of dialogue you have with characters – while you can choose what to ask them, in following runs it may happen your dialogue options are all options you ALREADY PICKED which I’m not entirely sure if a bug or just a poor design decision as each run should feel different from the previous and if your only way to provide lore is through dialogue, it should be different every time I come across it and not frequently repeat itself – or remove it entirely if I spent all interactions. A room with gear is just far more interesting than received a two sentence rhyme I hardly care about. The story and lore are just not interesting or encouraging to care about, sadly.
Not only does this increase the repetition factor of the game but also the levels themselves are very samey after a while – the exact same enemies appear at around the exact same stages of progression in the game – to add insult to injury, the difficulty scale seems to be hidden and thus, is not clear which levels increase with difficulty. It’s not obvious if it increases depending on the level type you pick in the portals or if it scales automatically per level. Even in the early-mid game in some runs I was already facing enemies that would deal over half my max health as damage and since combat is designed for you to take hits, you’ll notice that the RNG of your gear will pretty much determine whether your run is ending soon (as soon as 30 seconds sometimes) or you have a chance at reaching the end.
In order to not take damage you need both speed and high damage in order to not only attack first but also kill in one shot unless the enemy will attack back when attacked. If you can’t damage enough, you better pray you have solid defense stats in order to take as little damage as possible otherwise you’ll have a hard time as your health is usually low – I was having a hard time having runs with my max health above 25 – you’ll find enemies that will deal upwards of 8 – 15 damage in a stage where I feel you literally CANNOT have enough health to tank 2 hits from that enemy while keeping the remaining stats remotely competitive for the stage you’re in. Some enemies also try to corner you by moving in your direction and forcing you either attack them or stealthing past them (which I also feel you CANNOT raise enough to move past these enemies without dying in one shot).
The game after a while become annoying to play due to the small things you will slowly notice more and more as you play – enemies that corner you and force you to take damage unless you have a broken stealth success percentagem. Even worse, you don’t have a wait/skip turn button that I’m aware of and I died in a fantastic run due to having super high damage and being forced to attack an enemy with reflect-attack enabled; I couldn’t skip or wait for his reflect to disable or let him attack me or change stance or anything – a terrible design decision to not let a player weigh the combat decisions – due to the linear aspect of the levels (either attack and take damage from enemies or try to stealth and fail and take damage anyway) and the combat that actively forces you to take damage and deal with enemies you can’t always manage (ranged enemies exist and I still haven’t found a single way to dispatch them without “chasing them” and attacking.
The game feels cheap and way too RNG dependent in order to be truly “fun” for extensive amounts of time. You’re constantly depending on the room being accessible for your stats and gear and praying your starting gear is remotely decent because if you lack one of the attack, defense and speed stats – you’re pretty much screwed since you take constant damage with low speed and defense and low attack makes fights take absolute AGES. There is no optimal strategy except praying for decent gear and hoarding as much as possible to bump your stats as much as possible. There is no permanent progression like most recent roguelite games so you start a run with the exact same stats and odds. There are no characters or stats to modify but the ones you get on the starting level of the run, as if runs weren’t repetitive enough after a while just tanking a bunch of damage you can’t help but feel that is unfair since you’re not skillfully dodging, attacking and defending – you’re picking gear up and praying you don’t get trashed around by Floor 6.
There is some strategy bound to the gameplay loop of Ring of Pain but I feel like I am beating a dead horse here telling you that the game feels poorly balanced and forces you into situations you should be able to control – something games like Hades, Binding of Isaac and (a much better comparison) Slay the Spire have designed/balanced much better.
Having a very well handcrafted 2D design to it all, Ring of Pain is beautifully eerie and creepy every time you play it or simply boot the game and hear its haunting menu theme. Visually the game is simple due to its concept and execution – enemies are all eerie and well designed and the item variety is pretty great and they all have a very fitting look to them which allows you to easily identify them and consequently, their usefulness for your character build in that run. The art style of the game is really good and is also complemented by a really solid UI that is clear from the very first run you start.
Audio goes beyond the great menu theme and also deserves praise for its great sound effects and horror-like ambient music playing during your run. Despite the presence of dialogue, no voice acting is present which I feel improves the atmosphere further – nothing but the creepy atmosphere that haunts both your eyes and your ears.
Despite a technical success, Ring of Pain has too many issues for the given price. The lack of content is apparent very early on, runs are repetitive and the balance is hurt by really odd design decisions. At the price of 19,99€, Ring of Pain is not worth purchasing unless of a deep discount (50% or more). Not only can’t it stand on its own but it can’t remotely compete with games of the genre – the uniqueness tied to its card turn-based style gameplay isn’t enough to make it stand out in a crowd of games with far more content, variety, mechanics and better overall game design. This should’ve been an Early Access title for a smaller price and some community feedback – as it stands, I’d say to wait for a sale or try the FREE DEMO in the Steam store page before making your decision.