You would not be faulted if you saw It Lurks Below and thought, “Oh, how nifty! Another 2d version of Minecraft in Early Access!” You wouldn’t technically be wrong, either. On the surface, it belongs in the pile of voxel-based survival games that make up a nice chunk of many of our steam libraries. However, its appearance conceals an amazing, creative, and innovating game. This might be the next game to absorb all your free time.
It Lurks Below is made by the creator of Diablo and that DNA and design-sense permeate every corner of the game. It takes the gameplay loop of Diablo (Kill monsters, get loot, kill stronger monsters, get better loot) and focuses it in a much tighter and more casual experience. This brings a level of pacing to the survival genre which typically leans more heavily on open-ended sandbox gameplay.
This game’s roots dig deep into the nerdiest, most hardcore corners of gaming. However, it still manages to deliver that experience in a way that fits a play schedule of short 15-30 minute spurts, or hours of continuous gameplay.
Should you buy it
Yes. If you want more than 10 hours of gameplay, I’d say wait until full release. But if you just want to get in there and start killing demons, the game is ready to cater to you. I didn’t have a single game breaking glitch, nor anything I’d really call an inconvenience. Which is always my first concern when buying early access.
Currently, 5 bosses comprise the entirety of the game. After beating them, you can continue to play by building your homestead, farming for better equipment and weapons, or increasing the difficulty of the game and giving it another whirl. Be warned, You need to be properly leveled and geared up before turning up the difficulty. Fans of Diablo should be very familiar with this experience.
In summary, I don’t think you can go wrong buying this game if you enjoy action RPGs and dungeon crawlers.
What sets this apart from games which look very similar, is that combat takes center stage. Combat mechanics feel incredibly well implemented and smooth but Melee combat is not really present. Instead, you have magic wands which are really laser guns that come with a handful of different effects. You aim by moving the mouse around your custom avatar, which will point the laser at your cursor in a 360 arc around their body. Click to shoot and you’re ready to kill demons.
Weapon effects range from simple bullets that go straight until they hit something to bullets that bounce of walls, giant beams of energy, bullets that freeze enemies, etc. I can imagine more of these will be added as the early access continues. The current amount felt like a good start but a lot more is is needed to stand up to long-term gameplay.
Mana also makes an appearance, acting as ammo for your laser wands. As you level up, you can choose to increase your mana pool or cause your mana to recharge faster. This mechanic effectively works identically to reloading in a shooter.
Right now, weapons only have randomized stats. That said, you do craft your first weapon, so they may expand weapon crafting down the road.
Armor and Loot
Gear is incredibly important as you delve deeper into the 2d depths and find Lovecraftian horrors between you and the loot. You craft armor from ore you find as you dig down. Each piece has a slot for gems that give the armor stats and unique abilities. The unique abilities are very standard action RPG fare, such as increasing your chance to find more items and increasing your health or mana. Again, a great foundation that needs to be expanded with more modifiers.
Overall, it’s a very satisfying system, even in its current state. Gems can be swapped out at ease without destroying them, effectively taking the place of randomized armor you would find a traditional RPG. This gives players a lot more flexibility in choosing what kind of stats you have equipped.
This is not to say I want all games to introduce this type of casual gearing up, but it does add a unique twist to the RPG formula by allowing players to change what stats their armor has without punishing the player by weakening them too much for experimenting.
Character stats make an appearance and have an impact on gameplay as you level up. There are several classes to choose from, though I did not notice a difference between what stats benefit which class. Instead, the classes are varied by the magical items they are given which change how you approach the combat (my bard was given a magical flute which damages every enemy around me).
You have four stats to improve as you level up: Attack power, Vitality, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Attack power makes your guns hit harder. Vitality increases your health pool. Intelligence increases your mana pool. Wisdom decreases the reload time of your laser guns.
Beyond these stats, you have the opportunity to craft various rings which further alter your gameplay in different ways. One ring makes you mine three squares instead of one, another gives you heat vision to see enemies in the dark, and another generates light around you saving torches. The number of rings is already a good selection and I imagine more will come before release.
The enemies in the game are fairly straightforward at first. They stand still while you shoot. I was disappointed as I began my adventure, only to realize the game was holding my hand before completely turning the tables and filling dungeon after dungeon with creative and well thought out enemies. Everything from spooky ninja guys who appear behind you to give a healthy shanking, to exploding giants and squid men with their own lasers who have the pesky habit of blowing up bricks you’re hiding behind.
The bosses are a real treat as well. They felt as well designed as a Zelda boss, forcing me to take into account all the knowledge and skills I had developed and actually think through how to beat them. The game allows you to use the environment and block-building to solve the puzzle of beating its bosses. It’s a fun experience using block-building mechanics to enhance the actual gameplay of combat.
The game shuns a bit of the modern credo of advanced AI and relies heavily on scripted behavior, but it really worked for me. You could tell each enemy was thoughtfully designed and the creator intended to trick you and kill you. It reminds me of playing a classic arcade cabinet like Galaga. The challenge isn’t so much reacting to every possible AI action, but rather discovering their patterns and exploiting them.
Survival is implemented in a casual way that paces the player as they dig deep into the catacombs beneath their newly established village. You have a hunger meter and a rest meter. When hunger reaches zero, you quickly lose health until you die! Your rest meter depleting is a much less dramatic scenario; movement slows until you get to your bed or sleep on the floor. A bed regenerates fatigue and health much faster.
You must build and protect a home and farm. Your farm can either be filled with plants that require tending and replanting after harvest, or with perennials that only need to be planted once and can be harvested again and again, but take much longer to regrow in between. I opted for the second option since I really didn’t feel like working a farm this past week. Even still, as I got more and more hooked on this game, I found myself optimizing my farm and ensuring it fits my playstyle.
As you beat bosses you unlock shops to add to your village. This adds a nice sense of visual progression to the game. As you go deeper underground, your village above ground grows and prospers.
Overall, the survival elements are light enough to not take away from the RPG mechanics but are not tacked on so simply that they can be ignored. The game does offer a creative mode if you do not feel like dealing with survival elements, but I found that they added a level planning and pacing to the game. Instead of simply diving deeper and deeper with little thought for your character’s wellbeing, the survival mechanics force you to take breaks as you rest your character and stock up on food. It’s a very natural process, and I found it a convenient time to sell my extra loot, tend to my farm, and craft new items.
Now, dear readers, please believe me when I say I love sandbox games, despite my heavy critiques of them. Give me a digital pickaxe and I’ll happily bore away at the earth until I reach the core or hell, the latter being more likely in this context. However, I found it a wonderful breath of fresh air to see these mechanics presented in a new light. “It Lurks Below” is a great example of the benefits of putting gameplay rules and goals into the survival genre.
This isn’t an open-ended sandbox, the game world is actually fairly small. But it challenges what a survival game must look like as well developed and thoughtful RPG.
Available from: Steam