Author’s note: This review is of the Sword of the Stars The Pit experience combined with its recently released DLC entitled Mind Games. The DLC adds new levels, weapons, items, and enemies to the experience as well as a new class of character powers (Psionic Powers).
If there is one thing that I can admit, it is that some games just aren’t for me. While I can respect different genres and styles, I just don’t get enjoyment playing some of them. This applies mostly sports games and die-hard strategy games as these genres that just don’t fit my personal tastes. There are times when I really hate seeing this happen, because the game worlds or characters really draw my interest, but I just can’t bring myself to play them. Thankfully, some companies recognize this and make efforts to diversify their brands, spreading their worlds far beyond their initial, target audience. That is exactly how I would describe the Sword of the Stars series and its recent spin-off The Pit and its Mind Games DLC.
The Pit and The Pit:Mind Games are far from your standard Sword of the Stars experience. This isn’t the traditional RTS that the series is known for but instead a classic, roguelike adventure. Set on the planet of Arbude IV, you are one of the few people that have not been infected by the outbreak of a deadly virus and will be tasked with journeying down into a mysterious area known simply as “the Pit” to find a possible cure. The fun is in the journey because in true rogue fashion, you only get one shot at your quest; once you die, it is back to the starting line for you and your character so you have to make every trek count.
Right from the start, it is easy to see that there is a lot of character in this game, both in the graphics and in the world around you. Presented like a classic 8-bit (maybe a little more) pixelated, top-down adventure, The Pit let’s you choose from one of three character classes: marine, scout, and engineer. The differences between them lie mainly in what you start out with both in terms of equipment and skills. As you earn experience points and level up by making your way further and further in the game, you will be able to customize each class to your own liking. Being more of a “shoot first, ask questions later” type player, I naturally found myself rushing for the marine. While he proved to be a beast in battle pretty early on, I found myself lacking the skills I needed to survive for very long once my clips had been emptied. It becomes apparent very quickly that you will need to make the most of the different skill options provided to you in order to survive; one-trick ponies are as good as dead out hereon this adventure.
As I said, having a big gun is nice, especially when you are facing off against swarms of creatures or robots looking to take you out. It is when you run out of bullets, which will happen very quickly if you are not careful, that it becomes apparent that your other skills are just as vital to your survival as your trigger finger. Hacking, proficiency with medical supplies, and even some good old fashioned “brain power”can go a long way in keeping you alive for another floor or two. Supplies and tools are everywhere, but they take skills to get them and even more skill to use them efficiently. You will want to spend a lot of time enhancing your skills in these areas as well as things like being able to recognize (and dismantle) traps. Scavenging, your most basic skill, is also perhaps your most viable skill as it may be all that you have to depend on when times get really rough and all of your clips are empty. The DLC plays a lot on this fact by adding in a whole new assortment of Psionic Powers to your character’s abilities. The Psionic Powers really allow you to add some variety to your characters and can really mix up the gameplay experience if you choose to put a heavy focus on them in the construction of your character(s).
As with any traditional game of this genre, nearly everything in the world of The Pit is randomly generated. Maps, weapons, items, enemies, you never know what is coming with each game or level. Each time you play the game, or start a new run-through, things are vastly different from your previous experience. This goes a long way in keeping the game fresh and is something that really sets the roguelike genre apart from other types of games. So far, everything that I have explained about the game falls in line with what you would expect in this style of a game. The Pit does these things just as you would expect and it does them well; there is no trying to reinvent the wheel here.
Despite the “simplification” of the game that accompanies the transition from RTS to roguelike, there is still an amazing amount of depth in the experience. The inventory and skill management systems are incredibly deep. You need to manage your supplies and your gear as they will wear over time, becoming less efficient, often becoming more of a detriment than an advantage. You can even mix and combine supplies both with each other and other in-game objects like ovens / stoves and computers to enhance them and craft new objects. Food in particular offers a wide variety of options as you can put together different ingredients to craft many different dishes that help you in various ways. There is a hunger meter that you have to monitor that is as important as your health points, because letting it get too low can have seriously adverse effects on your abilities.
Although it feels like you have direct, real time control over your character considering the pacing at which things move, the game operates under a turn based system. Each action that you take, be it opening an object, firing a weapons, or taking a step consumes what the game calls a “turn”. Your enemies operate under the same manner, however it is important to note that their turns run concurrent with your own. This makes the experience a little more strategic as you can stop and think about your next move without having to worry about being overwhelmed by creatures or an environmental trap.
If there is one area that the game takes a chance and makes an attempt to do something new, it is with the line of sight system that you have on the battlefield. In addition to using the traditional “fog of war” mechanic that limits your vision in unexplored areas, The Pit recognizes that your backside is just as vulnerable. You character has a unique “cone of sight” that limits what you can see in your wake. It makes perfect sense when you think about it and it becomes as important to occasionally turn around and survey the surroundings as it does to move forward into the unknown. Enemies in particular can stalk and sneak up on you without you knowing it, which keeps the action tense nearly all of the time.
Aside from playing it too safe and not doing anything new for the genre, the learning curve of The Pit might turn a few gamers off. While there is a rather well-done tutorial mission early on, a lot of the experience comes from trial and error and you really have no choice but to embrace that fact.You aren’t just going to die, you are going to die A LOT. You are supposed to die and you are supposed to learn from your mistakes and put that knowledge to use when you begin your subsequent runs. The Pit takes the idea of permadeath very seriously; when you die you are dead and your saved game is dead too; don’t think that you can just get around it by saving your progress repeatedly.
If you have never played a rogue-styled adventure before, this is definitely a good place to start. It is an all around great adventure that is content on simply sticking to an established formula and making sure that everything that it does, it does well. The games biggest strength is perhaps also its biggest weakness in that it doesn’t do anything new. The game plays it safe along the way and the result is an incredibly polished and enjoyable adventure, just not a completely original one. Fans of the main series will enjoy seeing the Sword of the Stars universe from a new perspective and other gamers will simply get a superb example of what makes this genre so unique and enjoyable.