Usually, I try to avoid writing about early access games. Especially when they are still in development. Because, you never know if my article and review is still going to be relevant down the line. But, this time I’m making an exception. A while ago, I got a press key for ‘We who are about to die’ from the solo developer of this game. The solo developer is actually a fellow Belgian and created this project out of passion. So, as a Belgian hobbyist blogger I feel I have to write an article about his game. Although, I got a press key to review this game you don’t have to worry. When I go into the arena to battle this game, you as the crowd will get my 100% honest opinion on this game. Now that the countdown is starting, and I’m readying myself to enter the arena… I hope you as the audience for this article tell your opinion/thoughts on this game and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below. So, let’s go and start the match!
Editorial note: the review version of this game is the first publically released version after the beta versions of this game. (Early Access v0.1)
A story discussion
In this game you play as a starting Roman gladiator who is trying to raise through the ranks. In general, there isn’t really a story in this game. This game more focuses on the gameplay and it’s mechanics. Depending on what you enjoy in games, this can be a positive or a negative. Personally, I’d have like a bit more world building with a small intro or something. There are several mechanics like the four hosts who remain a bit “faceless” because they don’t have a backstory at all in the game. Now, the backstory of your own fighter is created on your battles. That works a bit like Rogue Legacy, where you can create bonus traits on your previous runs.
At the other hand, I can understand that there is no real story in this game since now the game is more open and anything can happen. We can create the story and lore ourselves, which gives the game a more sandbox-y feel. This can help with immersion into the game. Now, because certain mechanics in this game… I think it would be hard to create a story of any kind for this game and the characters.
Maybe the only thing that I’d love to see in the future in the game is a bit more historical backstory in the game. What I mean by that is that, this game uses the terms like Aspirant. But, what is an aspirant? Some history lessons would be a nice touch to this game.
So, what do you actually do in this game? The idea of this game is that you play through various battles to build up your fame and budget. With the fame and budget you can acquire various things like new gear or bonus buffs. But, a stronger character doesn’t mean a guaranteed victory. In one of my runs, I did a 5 vs 1 match and my team of 5 was beaten by that one dude since he used a strong morning star that was tricky to block.
This game is somewhat unpredictable, because there is a lot of randomness involved, you have to decide if using your hard-earned cash and fame is worth it to heal or get better gear or better save it for another roll. But do you risk waiting? Since, you might not survive the next battle and the money passed on to your next character is only a fraction of it.
Let’s please the crowd
Trying to describe the genre of this game is one of the harder things to do. Part of the core gameplay is a fighting game. In the arena, you have to fight and win the battle. Depending on your performance, you may have multipliers for your gold and fame. But, if you please the crowd by making nice hits and not hitting your teammates, the crowd throws additional weapons and gear that might win you the match. I’ll talk more about the fighting mechanics later in the article.
This game is also a strategy RPG. Since, you have to strategically uses your resources to improve the gear and stats of your character. Also, the more you use a certain weapon, the more damage you do with it. So, you have to take that into account since you won’t be using the same weapon and gear throughout your run. Using your gear efficiently is key to survival in this game. I lost one run because I forgot to repair my shield and I got cornered with my enemies, and I was unable to get a shield that the crowd threw onto the battlefield.
Earlier in this article, I already talked about the randomness in this game. So, this game is also part roguelike. Due to the rougelike elements in this game… the game becomes a huge balancing act. This game isn’t the easiest out there, but it’s forgiving in a way. It’s easy to get back into the action with a new character and to build him up. But, since the new character has different stats and perks, the gameplay is new and fresh.
If I had to place this game in a certain genre, I’d say that it’s a sort of action simulation game about gladiatorial combat. Since trying to put it in a better category would be a nightmare.
Now, let’s circle back to the combat system. This combat system isn’t your typical combat system. The best way to explain part of the combat system is the following: image that the main controls of the fighting system is the Wii remote. This game doesn’t have mention controls but the idea behind it isn’t too far off. To swing your weapon, you have to left-click and swipe your mouse into the direction you want to hit. The strength of your swipe also influences the strength of the attack. Also, when you right-click to defend, the location of your shield or weapon depends on how you swing your mouse.
There are a lot of different layers to the movement and combat that make the combat feel janky and unpolished, but it’s the entire idea behind this game. Since, you can interrupt and attack and decide to throw your weapon or shield to the enemy instead. The combat system might need some more iterations for it to feel perfect, but it’s a unique system. It may put some people off playing this game, but I find that it adds to the charm of this game. Since now the game is a bit more newcomer friendly towards people who don’t play a lot of fighting games. You don’t have to remember a lot of combos for strong attacks, you need to learn how these directional attacks work and how to use them in your favor.
This brings me onto the point of the controls of this game. The starting tutorial explains the mechanics you can use in this game quite well. The only tutorial that can use some better wording is the tutorial on how throwing weapons work. It took me a while before I was able to get throwing weapons to work consistently. Now, it’s a bit funny how the wording in the Aspirant Trainer is better than the actual tutorial. This Aspirant Trainer is a great way to quickly check your abilities in the pause menu, when you are unsure how a certain mechanic works. A very minor UI complaint is that when you click the “?” mark outside of battle, is that clicking on it again doesn’t close the explainations. You have to “approve” it on an empty part of the screen.
A great piece of advice, stay in the tutorial area as long as you need to. Get used to all the mechanics and little quirks of this game, since unless you reset your whole character and everything, you are unable to return there. And trying to learn the mechanics on the battlefield is anything but a good idea.
The current gameplay loop is as follows. You start first on the battle preparation screen where you can decide to heal, get new armor, bribe enemies… Here you make the most difficult choices since a few bad mistakes might cost you your character. When you are finished preparing your character, you choose a battle to praticipate in and fight. This can be a 1vs1, 1 vs many and many vs many.
Overall, fights are short. Most fights are done in 5 to 7 minutes. Currently, there are only 12 out of the 14 planned arena’s in the game but every arena feels unique and has it’s own additional challenges and quirks. Like one has wooden panels you can hide behind and another has a central elevated stage. Depending on your preformance in that battle, you get fame and coins for winning the battle. Loosing the battle, will mean you have to start over with a new character but you can pass a few things on, especially money.
Your goal is to buy your freedom from being an aspirant. Basically, an aspirant is a prisonner in acient Rome that’s fighting for his freedom. These goals is extremely steep and aren’t easy to achieve. Don’t expect to get it with the first few characters unless you are very good in these type of games. The difficulty in this game is a bit unforgiving. But, it has that “just one more run” mentality written over it. That “I’m going to get it this time” phrase is one I said often. And then, I’m out of glory to re-roll the fights I can enter and I get fights I know I can’t win… And then I win one by the skin of my teeth.
I’m quite curious what the other gameplay types and modes are going to be. Those who you can see on the roadmap of this game.
This game is the excellent game for one or two quick rounds and can is even fun for longer play sessions. The balance of between being not repetitive and repetitive is small but currently the game is balacing on it just fine. Especially, since you have to fight with different weapons and a unique battle system that is so much fun once it clicks.
For seven years?!
This game has been under development for seven years. Most of it is done by Jordy Lakiere, and it’s really impressive. For example, the amount of detail in the visuals is mind-blowing. The game looks wonderful and runs extremely well. In the options’ menu, you can set your max frame rate to 60FPS or 120FPS, and let me tell you that this game runs extremely smooth. My gaming desktop is getting rather old, but I didn’t have any big frame drops or lag in this game.
The effects and animations used in this game are also superb. There are a lot of weapons & shield combinations, and they all have unique animations. Something I really like is how the game slows down when you are going to make a strong hit or about to kill an enemy. Sometimes the blood animations might be a bit overboard, but then again… It feels quite rewarding when you kill that one annoying enemy with that big shield that’s blocking all your attacks since the start of the match.
The only minor complaint I have about the visual presentation is that in team battles, it’s a bit unclear sometimes who is on your team and who isn’t. This issue is mostly present in nighttime arenas where visibility is lower or when the other fighters aren’t wearing a lot of armor. Due to your teammates following you, I sometimes mistook my allies for enemies. And that negatively impacts your rewards. But on the other hand, it can be a balancing thing.
In terms of audiovisual presentation, the game is also pretty good. The music is a joy to listen too but the sound effects and sound design really adds to the atmosphere. There are a few things I’d improve on. First, I’d change the sound effect when you don’t have enough gold to purchase an item to a more “error-y” sound effect. It’s a bit “basic” and didn’t communicate the message always. Maybe add a little visual animation as well instead of only a message in the left corner.
Secondly, I think the sound effects of the weapons breaking and/or throwing should be polished up. Quite often when I was playing a character with a spear, I didn’t realize I have thrown my weapon. I feel that those sound effects get a bit too lost into the gameplay and doesn’t communicate with the player enough when you are unarmed.
And finally, I feel like the pause menu should have music as well. Since, it’s quiet, and I find that a bit boring. It could also be a great sound test when you are in the options’ menu.
Something I really like is how this game has an in-game menu to report bugs. It’s easy to use and helps the developer to quickly gather bug reports and things that the players don’t like.
Speaking of which, here are a few things I’d change and/or improve:
- You can only see the week you are on, on the battle select screen. Why not show it over the whole screen?
- The music doesn’t “follow up” with each other. Sometimes there is a silence gap when one track fades out and another one fades in.
- What is “mouse X” and “mouse Y” in the keybind menu? Is that moving up and down / moving left & right? And how would you rebind that?
- Make it easier to compare stats of armor. Since, sometimes I had to write things down or take a quick screenshot.
- Buying an item is only possibly when you click on the icon. It also only shows the stats when you hover over it. Why not the whole box?
- Why not have items of different status like Legendary have a special color around the icon box? It’d be easy to swap things around from your storage to your character.
- During the game, I’d change the option in the pause menu of “Save & Quit” to “Save & Quit to main menu”. Since, that’s what happens. You don’t quit the game.
Most of those are polishing suggestions. Now, the roadmap promises more gamemodes and more things that can happen… which is all fine and amazing to look forward too. But I hope to developer doesn’t forget that sometimes it’s not about the amount of content but about the quality of the content. That’s what I sometimes forget when writing as well. I sometimes forget to make sure I still enjoy writing and write good and informative articles instead of trying to push out one a week to have more articles.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time while playing this game. I took me a battle or two to “get used” to the game but then the game hooked me. If you enjoy action simulation games or just want to try something different… This game is excellent. The game is also still in development, so more content is going to come in the future. The game is also fairly priced at 22€ here in Belgium and with the amount of polish and content there is already here, it’s a steal. The developer is also very open in his communication. I mean, look at this massive thread about the received feedback and what he is going to do with it moving forward. So, the fact he is talking about addressing a lot of the current feedback in the first patch(es), is amazing.
I think I may revisit this game on my blog after a while, when there are more patches out to see how the game evolved. Since, this is a game to keep your eye on. I’m so glad that Jordy reached out to me to try his game since it’s a real indie gem and I can’t wait to see what he is going to do next with it.
And with that said, I have said everything I wanted to say about this game for now. This amazing gem of a passion project game that’s worth your time if you enjoy action fighting games with unique mechanics. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.