I wanted to enjoy Crimson Keep. I really did. A permadeath, dungeon crawler? It sounded right up my alley. From the trailers and promo material I was expecting this to be the RPG hack-n-slash counterpart to Tower Of Guns – a thrill ride from start to finish, that is constantly throwing new and innovative challenges at you. Sadly, though, Crimson Keep does very little to keep things fresh and engaging.
Okay, so usually I can be fairly lenient when it comes to how a game looks. Generally speaking, I’m much more interested in how a game feels and how it develops its world and sense of style – graphics can boost this and help a game create its own individuality. Take a look at well beloved classics like Super Mario 64 or the early Spyro titles – at the time, the graphics were impressive and unseen of, but they haven’t exactly aged well. Lucky for them, the core gameplay and world you inhabit are superb and are fun to go back.
Crimson Keep does not have this going for it. Firstly, the graphics, while at first seem interesting and unique, become repetitive and generally hard to look at. This is in no way helped by the fact that you can very obviously see borders between rooms – small gaps between each room which allow you to gaze into the fiery void – and that you’ll end up looking at the same environments time and time again.
In a similar vein, it’s repetitive art style and gameplay makes it very easy to exploit. In older cartoons and animated shows, a tell-tale sign that something was about to happen, or move was that it would have a slight bold border to it, indicating it was more than just the background – Crimson Keep has a similar problem. You instantly know which things you need to interact with or can fight due to this bold border, which isn’t helped by the repetitive level design and layout.
It’s not just the levels that are near-identical and repetitive, the enemies to fall victim to this. If you were expecting a wide range of unique and engaging enemies, you’ve come to the wrong game. I explored two of the biomes featured in the game and found very little variation in the undead walking around the dank caves. You’ll find most of your time fighting off identical trolls, or skeletons with slightly different cosmetics, but little else.
Dark Cloud remains to this day, one of my favourite dungeon-crawler, RPGs and while it too had repetitive enemies, it made up for this by its challenging and innovative gameplay – it gave you more than just delving into a repetitive dungeons as you had its unique city-building section and a simple, yet engaging story. In terms of gameplay, Crimson Keep’s core gameplay forms a kind of loop: Jump down the rabbit hole and into a dungeon, fight twenty identical trolls (maybe level up once or twice) and – oh wait, you died because you got stuck in a rock, or your ability decided to go through an enemy instead of hitting them.
My main criticism of Crimson Keep is its repetitiveness – something that is to be expected from a permadeath. But, it wouldn’t be that bad if it just had more to offer. Spelunky, for example, is repetitive by nature, but manages to keep up the fresh experiences with its varied enemies, challenging puzzles and rewards. Crimson Keep just doesn’t have the same spark, and it’s a shame, because I do love a good dungeon crawler.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*