Slasher’s Keep is a visually striking, atmospheric, and detailed first-person dungeon crawler that I hate with the burning passion of a thousand dumpster fires.
Picture those thousand dumpster fires. As soon as one of them starts to go out, a beloved member of my family is coated in gasoline and thrown on for fuel. Imagine the emotional experience I’d be having. That is roughly how I feel about Slasher’s Keep.
Imagine that I had worked the same terrible job at a rundown roadside diner for forty years. I can’t afford to eat lunch, so I subsist on a diet of my own tears sprinkled onto stale chunks of bagels wrestled from aggressive raccoons. Every night when I get home, after a series of painful rabies shots, I use what little remaining energy I have to work on a novel. For forty long, painful years, every ounce of my being has been poured into this novel. At long last, it’s almost complete. I can feel it. This is my masterpiece. I’m finally going to be free. Then someone pisses on it, ties it to my best friends leg, and throws my friend one of the dumpster fires.
Multiply that by a thousand, and that is how I feel about Slasher’s Keep.
There’s also a good chance that you shouldn’t listen to me at all.
First off, Slasher’s Keep is funny. Not genuinely funny in the sense that you’re going to laugh or anything, but funny in that it occasionally messes with your expectations of genre conventions enough to make you smile a little bit. “You know the way RPG’s usually are?” Slasher’s Keep says “What if we did the same thing, but slightly different. That would pretty clever, right?” So instead of finding maces or hammers you sometimes find big chunks of meat or sticks with bananas tied to them. Or, instead of cultist carvings or esoteric incantations on the walls there’s orc porn.
You pick up your bananas-on-a-stick, you look at the orc porn on the walls, and you think, hey, that’s pretty funny. Games usually take themselves a bit more seriously than this, so this is nice. It’s refreshing. Some of the enemies are giant bipedal moles. That’s pretty weird, right? Don’t usually see giant bipedal moles in dungeon crawlers. Slightly amusing for sure. It certainly slightly amused me.
Slasher’s Keep employs a vibrant, colorful cel-shaded look throughout, and it’s nice to look at. Look at the screenshot above. Feel the niceness. Mmm. Nice. There’s an interesting contrast between the attractive visuals and the menacing atmosphere of traversing the dungeons. Sometimes, when you look at things at a certain angle, they go completely 2D, but it’s cool. Slasher’s Keep is goofy. It’s quirky. Look, orc-porn.
Weapons make satisfying thuds when you swing them. The opening music is a raucous, swashbuckling affair. Dungeons are full of creepy, atmospheric ambient sound. It’s basically all very attractive and well done and set up to convince you you’re having a great time. But I’m not having a great time, Slasher’s Keep. I’m having a bad time. And no amount of orc porn can convince me otherwise.
Here’s the gameplay loop in a nutshell, which, if you ask me, is a tremendous waste of something that usually contains a delicious nut, instead of a dull gameplay loop. Here we go:
Move into a room. Hit the things. Collect the things dropped by the things. Hit more things. Find a key. Move up to the next floor. Get utterly annihilated by enemies that have inexplicably become three to four times more powerful than the enemies on the previous floor with no visual cues. Die. Lose 25% of your total experience, including levels. Repeat. Start considering how much damage your head would do to your monitor. Repeat. Seriously consider how much damage your monitor would do your head. Persevere nonetheless. Fall off your chair. Crawl to the corner. Hug your knees to your chest and shake back and forth screaming “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” until you get commited. Breathe a long, well earned sigh of relief. You are finally free, my friend. Congratulations.
Look, here’s my rule with difficulty: I’m willing to master systems based on two conditions:
- The game gives me some clear indication of what steps I have to take to improve as a player.
- The system is interesting and varied enough to warrant mastery
The combat in Slasher’s Keep consists of light attacks, charged attacks, blocks, parries, shooting at things with wands, and swinging your inventory sack. There’s environmental hazards you can use to your advantage, a whole orcish porn studio of varied equipment, quite an astounding number of stats and elemental buffs and all that but – and I say this with all honesty and much consideration – I cannot bring myself to give a shit. The core play loop is so fundamentally unappealing to me that variety is a secondary concern.
First person melee is difficult to get right, and Slasher’s Keep does provide more options than most, but there’s an over-reliance on stats that overrides the skill component. Either you’re a high enough level to take down an enemy, or your not. On the first level, you are, and it’s quite fun. On the second, you’re not, and it’s no longer fun.
That’s it. It’s just not fun. This conclusion may frustrate you. You may be of the opinion I have some sort of responsibility to play until I progress. If so, let me offer the following rebuttal. A response I frittered away many a night concocting. One that will be immortalized in leather bound tomes as worthy of the most discerning of philosopher kings:
Difficulty is only a positive if the journey to mastery is entertaining. The point where I have to eek every possible advantage out of a system, using loopholes and exploits and nonsensical movement patterns to make progress, is the point where the game becomes a waste of my time. Any attractive qualities your game has visually or sonically lose their power to immerse or engage when I am forced to treat my experience as an exercise in manipulating a set of systems in ways that make no sense for my character.
In spite of everything I have just written, there’s still a chance that Slasher’s Keep might be your personal stash of badly drawn orc porn. I can appreciate that the esoteric ruleset might be refreshing for fans of classic CRPG’s. The random level generation often coughs up some interesting scenes. You can eat tiny bugs and rotten salami and sacrifice items to altars for random results. So, there’s some things.
Should You Buy It?
If the concept of Slasher’s Keep interests you, I would recommend at least checking out the Steam page and seeing what updates have been installed. Although I won’t be returning to it, it’s likely only a few minor changes away from being a lot more enjoyable than it currently is. You might be in the market for exactly this type of roguelike with these sorts of difficulty spikes. Some people hate themselves. It’s not my place to judge. The developer has been open and communicative with fans, implementing regular updates and patches, and it’s honestly great to see.
For a single developer, it’s an extremely impressive project. The difficulty may feel cheap, but the attention and care gone into design is clear. On top of this, Slasher’s Keep does have character. Nothing about it feels cynical or half-arsed. It’s just going to require a very specific type of player to get the most out of. If you’re looking for a fun, casual dungeon crawl, or even one that offers a clear route of progression for getting more heavily involved over time, Slasher’s Keep is currently not that game.
Slasher’s Keep obviously has a very specific, niche audience, and a part of me is glad they’re being catered to. But another, much larger part of me is staring into the distance with cold, dead eyes picturing my family members burning on dumpster fires, and that’s generally not the sort of experience I like to pay money for.
A quirky first-person dungeon crawl with some interesting interplay between systems and a wide variety of loot, let down by baffling and frustrating difficulty spikes. Getting parts of my pretend body torn off in fantasy settings is fun. Genuinely wanting to mutilate myself is not.
Available from: Steam