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Robothorium: Sci-fi Dungeon Crawler Early Access Review

Robothorium is a roguelike RPG that is just beginning Early Access. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, where robots have been given an advanced form of AI. Predictably, the outcome is conflict between the newly self-actualized robots and the humans that have long oppressed them. Unpredictably, your role in Robothorium within the ensuing conflict is on the side of the robots, and it is with that role in mind that you have to navigate the world to find a greater peace.

When beginning, players are met with a short breakdown of the story. The grittiness of the story is told through minimally-animated art, the way a marionette show would be, which quickly draws the audience into the story. The artistic style is fresh and unrefined, albeit somewhat juvenile, yet is endearing and captivating. This captivation extends past just the art into the music as well. I think it’s safe to say that the soundtrack is the anchor of this title, being peaceful and melodic, while maintaining a beat that sounds like it belongs in Blade Runner. It’s the type of soundtrack that one could listen to for hours while doing anything on the computer, and fortunately it’s available separately from the game so exactly that can be done.

DUNGEONS

The nuts and bolts of Robothorium are recognizable to anyone who has ever played a procedurally-generated dungeon crawler. There isn't anything spectacular about the dungeons, and once you have seen the backdrops of the first few missions, you have basically seen them all. Battle sequences are initiated by moving into a previously grayed-out dungeon square that contains enemies. Although randomly generated, the enemies always seem to reside in the same pinch points on maps, and are often in the square directly guarding the main objective. This is fine of course, but without any surprise about when you are going to face enemies, there isn’t much strategy behind working through the maps to complete the objective.

Once within a battle sequence, the player must use his band of robots to defeat a variety of enemies that are usually much stronger than each of your characters individually. This difficulty makes it especially important to string together cohesive abilities between each allied robot to eliminate each enemy as quickly as possible. These abilities are varied and interesting, and the robots do a good job sticking to their respective roles without one becoming stronger than the rest. It isn’t an exciting system, and the fact that each robot has only four abilities at their disposal makes it slightly tedious at times. Although members of your team do level up and unlock bonuses to their abilities, the system feels more like a placeholder than anything else, and the limited visibility into further levels of the tree make it hard to specialize.

THE SPOILS

One of the most common elements of roguelikes that keeps fans engaged and breaks potential tedium is loot. There is a lot of loot to be had, but you’ll spend plenty of time hovering over each item in your inventory to determine if the extra 3 damage and 2 critical hit points are better than 10 health and 6 shield. It’s a muddled system, and the complexity is compounded by the fact that there isn’t a clear way to identify why some items work for one robot, but not another. The developer has a key on the lower right-hand corner of the items to help with the equipment system, but it's not intuitive. A color-coding system could make this smoother, while also preventing the need to hover over each item to see the key. Similar small changes, like renaming equipment slots from top/bottom to chassis/chest or propulsion/wheels would make the game feel more polished, with the added effect of quickly seeing which robot could benefit from the new equipment based upon they type they are.

When not trying to figure out which small detail of your item will be better or worse for utilization, there is a mechanic that allows you to break down old items, or use scrap that you have found while on a mission to craft unique armor or weapons. Although interesting in its potential, there isn’t a lot of variation, and a somewhat limited amount of bonus to crafting these items that make it seem kind of worthless. Ultimately, it’s just not really fun to find, make, or equip loot, and that is an important gameplay element at the core of almost any RPG.

STORY

The game has some serious depth of story, and there are five factions the player can align with for varying degrees of bonuses throughout. It’s probably safe to assume that, when fully aligned with certain factions, the game would take another interesting twist, but I am concerned that players will not be interested long enough to get there. This isn’t because the dialogue isn’t interesting — it is — but more because there just doesn’t seem to be enough of a payoff to continue, which is what I think most people play for. If there isn’t a strong feeling of character progression, or an end goal visible, what is the anchor keeping them focused on completion?

5

The Verdict: Fair

If time is spent making the loot more interesting, character customization and leveling more in-depth and rewarding, and the levels are customized with a lot more variation for the procedurally-generated system to work with, then the game will find a broad appeal. Right now, Robothorium does a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. Unfortunately, it only does a few of them particularly well. Early Access could prove to be the perfect move for the developer, but success will rest on how proactive they are at listening to the audience playing, and the continued progression of the game.

Alex Mickle
Written by
June 21, 2018
Published in Strategy

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Alex Mickle is a gamer that traces his roots to JRPG’s on the PS1, but ultimately found his way to PC gaming by spending every afternoon after school playing Counterstrike at a local LAN gaming café. He is a father and husband that splits his gaming time into bursts whenever he can find time, or when ever he makes time. Alex enjoys variance and versatility in his gaming experiences and can be found asleep on the couch with a twitch steam on the television at the end of almost every night.

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