Review Context: I enjoy playing roguelike games and I’ve played plenty of good ones in the past.
Date of Playthrough: May 2022
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off a review copy provided for free.
Loot River, developed by straka studio, is a game I first set my eyes on in 2021 that immediately hit my wishlist of games to play. Loot River is a roguelike RPG with the level design featuring platforms that move like a Tetris-like slide puzzle to get to the next platform with enemies. This isometric experience with pixel visuals is not the eye candy other games are, but it has the unique gameplay mechanic of moving your character with one analog joystick and the platform you’re standing on with the other analog. The roguelike experience of dying, learning from your mistakes, then starting from the beginning and getting better at the game is not new, as many games include that experience. The key is to strike the balance between making the game challenging, but also making it just enjoyable enough for the player to keep playing again from the beginning. Does this roguelike RPG experience find that sweet spot?
For the purpose of this review and having limited time, I played around with the difficulty settings at various points in order to test out differences to try to see more content faster. Loot River at its core is an RPG clearly inspired by the incredible challenging Souls’ series. Playing as one character, you start in a town with few NPCs, but you unlock more as you play more and meet NPCs in the levels. Your character starts with even stats of Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, and Vitality. After each level up a player can add one stat point of their choosing, not to mention items can be found that increase certain stats. The concept of building your character from scratch with your own stat point distribution is what drew me to the game in the first place. I don’t know of other games with this stat specific roguelike mechanic, so I was really looking forward to this. Different NPCs in town have different purposes, where you can spend Knowledge points gained from enemies to unlock new items that you can either start with, find each during your run, or buy in the middle of your run using gold from NPCs within the levels. You can unlock new weapons, spells, and armor, plus there is one NPC where you can equip modifiers that you find that can change your experience.
There are so many ingredients in Loot River that make sense for this experience. The best and most unique part of playing Loot River is the combat mechanic of charging an attack while on a platform, then sliding the platform over to attack an enemy on the other platform. While that mechanic in itself is unique, unfortunately it starts to feel tedious and gimmicky the more you play. Eventually you get really tired of slide attacking with platforms and want to smash enemies more directly. As part of your combat moveset you can light attack, charge attack, dodge, parry, use the D-Pad to use potions or other items, and use spells that are randomly attached to weapons. Unfortunately, the isometric presentation of the game makes it difficult to judge enemy attacks, also making it hard to parry.
Given the name “Loot River,” I was expecting a bit more of a “loot” experience. After playing for ten hours and unlocking many modifiers to the game I started to notice there wasn’t much new loot being unlocked. New weapons and armor need to be unlocked using Knowledge points, but unfortunately Knowledge is accumulated so slowly the game feels like an absolute grind to make progress just to expand the item pool. Forget about actually beating the combat content itself. One of the more interesting mechanics in the game is a NPC that you can invest some of your starting health potions and when you come back the NPC gives you back double the amount. This is allows you some risk assessment going into each level to get a huge benefit. I’m still not sure if this potion NPC is good or bad for the experience. The goal of me playing around with the difficulty settings was to unlock more items in the drop pool to see if that makes it a better experience on a higher difficulty. Even on the Easy Mode the Knowledge points are gained incredibly slowly, only affecting enemy damage. Forget that.
Playing a game like this with such little weapon variety due to the unlocking being at a snails pace brings down the fun of the game. Admittedly, I didn’t get far in the game because the game felt like it required a lot of grind to get the best item pool to go farther. Precious time I didn’t want to put myself through with aggravation. It also didn’t help that the enemy variety didn’t change enough. The bosses I did encounter were interesting, especially one that utilized the platform movement to try to kill it.
Loot River feels like a game that is conflicted with itself. That sweet spot of what makes a good and fun roguelike game isn’t currently present. If the game allowed loot gaining to be quicker, but have the combat be the major challenging element this game concept would work much better. A better game design would scrap the Knowledge system of unlocking of weapons and just randomly drop weapons and use gold as the currency to unlock instead. Loot River would have greatly benefited from releasing through Steam Early Access, but that doesn’t mean the game can’t be overhauled and patched moving forward to create a better experience. The ingredients are there, but the recipe needs to be changed.
Similar Games Liked:
Rogue Legacy (PC)
The Binding of Isaac (PC)