Sword of the Stars: The Pit – MindGames DLC Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Are you a sucker for punishment? Do you fondly remember the days when video games made you bash your virtual head against walls until you finally figured out how to unlock their secrets? If so, you’ve probably already heard of Sword of the Stars: The Pit (SotS), by Kerberos Productions. It’s a single player, rogue-like game that is very basic in theory, but challenging in its playthrough. Recently on Steam, a new DLC pack for $4.99 has been released entitled MindGames, and adds several new features to the game itself. Let’s take a look at what you can expect to find with this new add-on!
For those new to the game, the basic storyline revolves around a planet called Arbuda IV. The colony there has been plagued with a wretched disease that transforms its victims into ghouls. It’s been rumoured there is a cure located in the depths of an alien base, within the Feldspar Mountains. Nobody who has ever ventured there has ever returned, and anything could be awaiting an unprepared adventurer. Do what you can to scour The Pit and discover its dark secrets, or die of starvation, disease, and a flesh wound in the attempt.
You’ll begin your expedition by choosing one of five adventurers: Temba Mbale (Engineer), Travis “Ape” Hudson (Marine), Toshiko Hoshinara (Scout), Wara Jang (Ranger), and Lui Ling (Psion). In MindGames, Wara and Lui are introduced as new playable characters, but the rest of the characters are available with or without the expansion. Each choice has different statistics, which are displayed before you make your decision. For example, if you prefer someone weaker with Technology and deadlier with Melee weapons, the Marine would be a good choice to start with. Each character has a background story and a reason for being at Feldspar Mountains, but once the game actually starts, the story stops and the gameplay begins, which may leave some people feeling like a setup was unnecessary.
Visually, the game is an overhead 2D environment with polished, 16-bit animations that have a slightly realistic feel to them. It resembles many RPGs you’d fondly remember playing from the 90s – that is, if you were old enough to play video games back then! Anything outside of the background and its earthy tones are in very vibrant colours so they stick out, such as bright purple balls of energy, or deep reds in the blood dripping from an enemy’s mouth. This type of graphic makes everything pop, and makes it very easy to differentiate between scenery and animate objects.
While Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane still exist as difficulties in SotS, a new level of ridiculous challenge called Seriously has been added with the MindGames expansion. This difficulty should only be attempted by those who are experienced players, and who truly enjoy dying repeatedly. Keep in mind that when you die in the game, you begin all over again and lose all of your progress, which is what makes losing so aggravating in the game and requires a certain level of patience to continue. There is also a new gameplay mode when you download MindGames, called Infinite. Instead of the regular gameplay, which has an end goal, Infinite has no end whatsoever, and you will explore an endless path of rooms, encountering countless numbers of enemies until you die.
Once you begin the game (in either mode), you’ll be placed on a randomly generated map, and will work your way downward searching for useful items, attacking approaching enemies, and generally trying to survive. In the game, players will suffer from Hunger, and have to watch their Health bar, as well as worrying about repairing Weapons and Armour as they deteriorate. Picking up or making items such as different types of Food or Ammo will be necessary for your survival, and unlocking Doors and containers like a Fridge, or a MedBay requires skills such as Lockpicking to open. As your character levels up, you can assign more points to whatever attribute you prefer, be it Melee, Lockpicking, or any other useful skill you choose. This will help you progress in the game, and if not done with careful consideration, it could be the difference between life and death.
In case you are wondering why the expansion is entitled MindGames, there are multiple new Psionic abilities available to any character (including the Psion). Instead of using fists, knives, guns, or bombs, players will now have the ability to use abilities like Telekinesis to defeat their enemies.
While the game does try to provide players with a plethora of new content, even on Easy the game tends to pigeonhole itself into a very specific type of player. Without prior experience of rogue-like gameplay, some people may find MindGames too difficult to enjoy, as randomization can mean simply surviving without dying of hunger (as an example) is not a possibility in some playthroughs. While some may get lucky and go 20 levels with a proper selection of items, others may find 10 levels with nothing but empty containers where the items should be, creating a very unbalanced gameplay.
As the difficulty increases, so does the need to be tactful and mindful of planning ahead, which again can be thwarted not by lack of skill, but by a randomly decided absence of items. The game tries to compensate with the addition of a type of checkpoint every five levels, which allows characters to store items and XP in case they die. The problem with this method occurs when you die, because your new character starts off at his/her base-level, and is unable to cope with the higher-level foes, despite having higher items and some bonus XP at his/her disposal.
Eight new rooms are also available in the game: Cryogenics Lab, Botanical Lab, Psi Lab, Incubation Room, High Energy Lab, Slave Pen, Library, and Shrine. While the map is randomly generated, these rooms will be scattered throughout SotS when MindGames is purchased, and will give players new opportunities to obtain the items they need. For example, since the Library is a room dedicated to storing data, it would stand to reason that computers would exist there that your character can hack into and decode, giving you more information that will be helpful as you progress through the game. There are also several new monsters added to the dungeons, such as a Skunk Ape, which adds a little more flavour to the game for returning players. In fact, there are several new additions to every aspect of the game, and players can expect brand new Weapons, Armour, Food items, equipment, and more!
Additions to the voice acting with this DLC are welcomed, with cute little pop-culture phrases from the slithery voiced Psion like “wax on, wax off” or “fear is the mind killer” as he reduces his enemies to a pile of goo. The squeals and squishes of foes as they die are still as cartoony as they were the first time, and the music still has that 8-bit, alien boss fight feel to it that you’d see in many 90s space adventures, with bizarre buzzing tones, beeps, and blips accompanying a basic electronica tune.
Rogue-like games are hard to get into, and Sword of the Stars: The Pit – MindGames DLC is not for the easily frustrated, but it will surely give bragging rights to any who can beat it on its higher difficulties. The main game will cost players only $9.99, totalling $14.99 for the entire bundle. For such a small purchase, it comes with a lot of new content, and hours of new gameplay for the explorers at heart!
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