Crawl: Reviving Local Multiplayer
What's the worst part of playing video games?
An unavoidable part of any game; where's the fun in winning if you can't lose? Well, Powerhoof has solved this seemingly impossible problem.
While you're not playing as The Hero, slaying monsters and buying better gear, you play as a ghost unable to interact with the protagonist directly. Instead, you can activate runes to summon monsters, that you control, to defeat him. When you do defeat him, you resurrect as The Hero, taking his place in the quest to defeat the monster standing between you and freedom.
While it's notoriously hard to balance asymmetrical multiplayer (where people on opposing sides have different abilities, stats, etc) Powerhoof has found a delicate balance - between power levels and difficulty, as well as involvement. Instead of the protagonist taking the spotlight, what's most rewarding is the variety and unexpectedness of the enemies.
To begin, players choose a three letter name and a deity to worship. Which deity you worship will determine which three enemies you'll get to be as and what abilities you'll have. As you damage The Hero, you'll gain points, called Wrath, which you can spend to evolve your monsters. Each enemy has its own branching evolution tree, leading to a wide assortment of possibilities - all getting more powerful as you progress. At first, the monsters are fairly weak and will struggle to kill The Hero. Since up to three people can be controlling enemies at a time, with even more on screen, it would be an impossible task to complete if the enemies weren't weak. Over time, the items the hero gets balances the power of the monsters, as well as lets you form a playstyle around your items. Even after your monster dies, you can inhabit a trap or object to further damage your opponent. Still if there's not enough runes, traps, or objects on screen, you can collect dust which will allow you to spawn a slime to give you the edge you need to win.
Meanwhile, The Hero gains gold and experience for killing monsters. Gold allows him to buy items such as different weapons (from greatswords, to clubs, to crossbows), magic (such as a tornado that bounces around the room or sludge that constantly damages enemies), artifacts (gives you 15% more wrath, quicker attacks while standing on blood, etc.) and potions (which generally increase one stat and decrease another). Gain enough experience and, as you expect, you'll level up. When you reach level 10, you'll be able to use the portal to challenge the boss (and yes, the enemies get to control it too). Careful though, three failed attempts will permanently destroy the portal, preventing anyone from escaping the dungeon. If you're the last person to challenge the boss and lose, your character is permanently deleted.
These systems allow both The Hero and the monsters to become more powerful without either side becoming unstoppable, while the three try limit for the boss encourages people to only try when they're prepared, preventing the game from ending prematurely. Paired with the amount of things to do, there's rarely enough downtime to get bored or lose focus of what's going on, let alone not enjoy the game. Even moreso, it's actually fun when you're not technically winning, as becoming an ultra powerful enemy has its own perks. There's almost no situation in the game where I'm ever upset with how I'm doing - from anywhere to first or last place.
The only flaw I can see is cherry picking kills. It's somewhat easy to hide when The Hero approaches death, just to steal a kill to regenerate yourself. While it can be great to stab your friends in the back and see them fume with anger, it's not so fun for the person who did all the work. I'd also prefer an option for all content to be unlocked at start so you can just jump into it the fullest experience (and there may be a way to do so - the game is full of Easter eggs and secrets I've yet to discover), but on the other hand it gives the game a high level of replayability. Despite this, you won't feel like you're missing much without unlocking anything; there's already a high level of variability built in. Unlocking more just further adds to this, preventing the game from getting stale.
There's still so much I haven't touched upon - statues that allow you to spawn as secret or high level monsters, being able to make an offering on The Hero's corpse to be teleported to the shop, cursed weapons, or taunting a deity to give yourself a handicap to help furth balance the game. Crawl is well worth your time and a truly shining example of perfectly executing both local multiplayer and a new type of game.
If all that hasn't convinced you yet, Crawl has Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam, and for due reason. Even if you're not the type to have friends over to play PC games with, the AI for the bots are pretty formidable on hard (and easy enough on easy) for you to still have a great time playing this unique dungeon crawler. The game edited Early Access today, so grab it sometime this week while it's on sale! (Even at full price, it's worth every dollar!)