Sword of the Stars: The Pit Review

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Kerberos Productions
Release Date:2013-02-22
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Top-Down
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Canadian developer Kerberos Productions made a name for themselves nearly a decade ago with the release of their Sword of the Stars 4x strategy game, a title met with generally positive reception. After following it up with a sequel, which unfortunately launched with quite a bit of bugs and other issues, Kerberos have decided to take their Sword of the Stars universe in a very different direction, with The Pit, a fan-funded roguelike title which blends punishing old-school gameplay with a more modern interface and presentation.

As the roguelike genre has seen quite a bit of activity in recent years, The Pit goes to some lengths to distinguish itself with its sci-fi theme, inclusion of ranged combat, and lighthearted tone. While not a perfect game by any means, it certainly features the brutally difficult, "one more try" gameplay roguelikes are known for, but makes things accessible enough so that you don't need to be experienced with the genre to enjoy it.

Minimalist Story & Premise

The Pit, like most roguelikes, has a dead-simple story. A deadly plague has caused chaos and death across your world, and the last hope for a cure lies in a forgotten alien facility deep within the Feldspar Mountains. As a lone marine, scout or engineer, it's your job to quest down into the depths and find the salvation of your people. Naturally, this means trekking through 30-odd floors of the randomly generated maze-like facility, starting out in the caverns above it and progressing down through quarters, medical bays, research labs, weapons development departments, and more, with things becoming increasingly dangerous the deeper you go.

Aside from the intro movie, the most storytelling you'll ever get is in the form of computer terminal messages you can decipher - some of them providing in-game benefits along with backstory. The Pit makes no apologies for its simplistic theme, but given the focus is squarely on the game mechanics, that's not such a bad thing. Admittedly, I haven't played any other Sword of the Stars games, so some of the references went over my head, but I suspect there are plenty of little in-jokes here and there that fans of the series will notice and appreciate.

Character System & Gameplay

The Pit gives you three character classes: Marine, Scout and Engineer, which roughly equate to fighter, rogue and mage archetypes were this a fantasy title. Each class starts out with different attribute and skill distributions, and they also have unique starting equipment. Ergo, the Marine is brawnier than the others, but also dumber, has combat-focused skills, and starts out with an assault rifle and several grenades; the Engineer is the polar opposite, carrying minimal weaponry to start, but making up for it with more computer hacking tools, repair devices, and a skill distribution favoring brains and working with technology; the Scout sits somewhere in between and could be described as a sharpshooter with survival training.

The Pit doesn't have the most extensive list of attributes and skills compared to some other games in its genre, but it has more than enough to get the job done. The three core attributes are Might, Brains and Finesse - Might affects your hit points, food consumption, resistance to poison, inventory carrying capacity, etc.; Brains affects most non-combat skills, makes you more resistant to mental status effects such as confusion, etc.; and Finesse deals with coordination-based skills (weapon accuracy, trap detection and disarming) as well as countering status effects like blindness. When you level up, you're able to distribute points to increase these, but you won't get so many points that you'll be able to make up for your character's weaknesses entirely, and you may stunt your growth if you try to do so.