Let’s be honest: if you lost a loved one and there was a way to get them back, you would do it.
I know I certainly would… heck, I’d even try a Pet Semetary… I’ve heard they’re pretty reliable, right? Well, finding out a means to revive a loved one is the theme of Sword of the Necromancer, the newly released roguelite adventure from the team at Grimorio of Games that has just made its way to the Nintendo Switch.
Sword of the Necromancer puts players in the role of Tama, a young adventurer who desperately wants to bring her companion Koko back from the dead. She does this by entering a temple that holds the titular Sword of the Necromancer: a special blade that has the ability to bring the fallen back to life. Seems a good idea, right? Well, it turns out that Tama doesn’t have the power required to use the sword to revive Koko just yet, but has to trudge her way through the perilous temple and defeat all sorts of monsters before she is able to wield it fully. Thus, her adventure begins…
On paper, the narrative of Sword of the Necromancer is pretty simple, but it actually does a lot to try and make the player feel a stronger sense of sympathy for Tama’s plight. As you progress through the temple, static voice-acted narrative segments play out as you learn more about Tama and Koko, what brought them together, and the special bond that they share. By the end, I found myself genuinely caring for the pair and rooting for Tama to succeed, so it shows that they were effective at telling the game’s tale.
The core gameplay loop of Sword of the Necromancer will feel familiar to anyone who has played a dungeon-crawling roguelite before. You work your way through a dungeon, you slay monsters, you collect treasure and new gear to use, you level up, and then you complete the game… unless you die and have to start all over again, albeit with some of your progress carrying over. In Sword of the Necromancer’s case, that means Tama loses half of her experience points and only gets to keep the items that she managed to send back to her inventory box at the main hub; it’s not as punishing as other games in the genre, but there’s still a sense of loss to be felt when you have to sacrifice that mighty item you had just collected on your last run.
What makes Sword of the Necromancer more unique when comparted to its roguelite brethren is the titular sword itself. See, whilst Tama was unsuccessful when trying to revive Koko, she can still use the sword to revive the enemies she defeats in the dungeon and have them battle alongside her against other foes. It’s a neat mechanic that adds a Pokémon-like twist to the dungeon-crawling, whilst the fact that your new companions will use the attacks that they’ve already tried pummelling you with means that you’ll know exactly what strengths and weaknesses they will bring to the fray. You summon them in with a quick button press, and voila, they’ll do their work.
They will disappear when you die though, so try not to get too attached. Of course, they can also be killed by other enemies, so you’ll want to keep a little eye on their health before sending them into overly dangerous situations. More so than not though, they can really help you out when you’re backed up and facing a whole mob of foes, so their inclusion definitely adds a fun and useful twist to the game’s dungeon-crawling.
Whilst the mechanic itself is neat, it could feel inhibited by the game’s restrictive item limit. Tama can only carry four items around at a time (and one of them is the Sword of the Necromancer so you might as well consider it as three), with any potions you collect, additional weapons, or useful defensive gear also taking up those slots. Unfortunately, the monsters you revive take up a slot too, meaning that you’ve got to carefully decide which monsters are worth taking along with you through the dungeon and which have to be left behind because you’ve found a better piece of gear or potion you might need instead. In honesty, it often left me forgetting about monster revival completely, especially since it often proved more beneficial to have better gear for Tama – it meant that Sword of the Necromancer’s most unique feature can be easily ignored just because of the item limit.
The fact that Sword of the Necromancer’s gameplay isn’t all that exciting doesn’t really help either. Don’t get me wrong, it gets all of the basics right and it’s fun to take down enemies, try to interrupt their attacks, and then dash your way to safety when they do manage to unleash deadly spells upon you, whilst I had a lot of fun battling the nasty boss encounters that come at the end of each floor too.
Everything else though? It just felt a little bland. The monsters themselves were simple and rarely posed a threat, the dungeon lacked imaginative environments and there were rarely any differences to be seen between floors, the weapons you use never felt all that imaginative, whilst the easy gameplay meant it won’t take you long to see the game through to its conclusion. We’ve seen plenty of dungeon-crawlers that have really raised the bar over the last few years, but Sword of the Necromancer just feels a little bit basic and like it’s stuck in the mud.
It’s a shame really because there are some really neat ideas on show in the game and it does manage to get all of the basics right – there’s a little twist that follows Tama’s escapade too, giving you an extra incentive to run through the game again. As it stands though, there’s simply not enough going on in Sword of the Necromancer to really recommend it over all the other roguelite/roguelike dungeon crawlers that are available right now.
Sword of the Necromancer has some neat ideas on show in its dungeon-crawling gameplay, but it felt a little bit too basic to offer that much excitement. What doesn’t help is the restricted item limit, which often made it difficult to justify reviving monsters and having them fight beside you… you know, the coolest feature of the game.
It’s certainly not a bad game and I can’t say that I didn’t have fun playing, but I just wish that it did a little bit more. With a bit of extra work I could see Sword of the Necromancer offering a genuinely unique and engaging dungeon-crawling roguelite experience, but as it stands, there are too many better games to play in the genre instead of it.
Developer: Grimorio of Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC