Hurry up and Die
From the moment I started the first round of Crawl I could tell something was going to be different. The controller (PS4) roaring the name of the monster I chose was enough to capture my attention and whet my appetite for exciting, well crafted world of constant dying and futile survival that I was about to jump into.
Crawl is a multiplayer game that carries up to four players into the depths of a dungeon in the hope that you will get out alive. From the start, you can add as many human players as you like up to the four player limit. If you want to go alone, AI will fill in the gaps that you want filled. Difficulty is adjustable for the NPC although it was not something I found myself using much, as the game was challenging enough on 'normal'.
As you get started, there is never a minute to slow down. The goal is for you, a human, to go through the dungeon, find the horrifying evil monster and kill it. However, you only get to be the hero as long as you are alive; being killed by other players (who are in the form of ghosts) will let them become human, while you then try to kill them and take their humanity. From the get go, it is an interesting switch of perspectives, as humans must run and dodge attacks, while the foes land as many as they can in hopes their blow will be fatal. Because I opted to play with more characters (be it the computer or friends) my hero would often be fighting multiple foes at once with a variety of attacks. It is exciting to begin to learn what each move set looks like and how to out-maneuver and eventually dispatch your opponents.
When it came to killing the computer, my minor grievance was that they are incredibly fast at everything. They can clear through shops and identify chests or usable things in the environment faster than any people I played with. This means as a ghost, you are unable to reach full potential when the human is controlled by the computer; a small grievance, but it makes battles I engaged in as a ghost less exciting because I could never build up and summon the army of smiles I could when my friends were human.
Another tricky situation the game finds itself in by separating ghost vs. human is that when someone who has been predominately ghost does become human, they may not have the right skills or practice to survive long at all, especially in later levels. This case happens to be the one my friend and fellow gamer found themselves in. They became human but found it frustrating, as they had been a ghost since the start of the round and were now playing catch-up in order to have even remotely usable supplies against powerful monsters. In this frustration, the player wondered why they couldn't just win the game somehow as a ghost, as they found it more fun to just kill people.
Rewards for winning each round are given at the end, even if the monster is killed, meaning no round feels like a waste of time and every match made me wonder what I would be seeing at the end of the road. It is a great system, that would be fun to see upgraded in the future, possible with more monster units or different hero looks. Everything in this game is a great foundation for chaotic dungeon crawling, so building on what is a solid foundation seems natural.
In the end, the game is fast paced and exciting. I won rounds and ended some in draws, but never lost and, more importantly, never felt like I was losing because there are so many moments to succeed. Can't kill the hero as a ghost with slime? Throw a spike trap. Unable to stop a human before a boss battle? You get to control the boss(!). The game makes it hard to crawl out of the dungeon, but along the way, makes every inch you gain challenging and enjoyable.
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