[Review] Sword of the Stars: The Pit – To Boldly Troll…

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pit header

Sword of the Stars is an indie science fiction series of strategy games. With this latest installment, The Pit, Kerberos attempts to push into new gameplay territory by creating a dungeon crawler set in the series’ universe. The premise of this game is that your character must fight aliens, traps, and hunger to acquire a cure for a deadly disease — and death is permanent. Does Sword of the Stars: The Pit manage to straddle the line between being challenging and cheap? Read on to find out.

pit level

Combat in The Pit is quite fun. It is essentially turn-based, yet it occurs organically in the environment. Everything happens in the main game space; you move a few spaces, stop, then start again while enemies make their moves. Once they are in sight, combat occurs by simply moving the targeting cursor over an enemy and firing. Different weapons do different things; assault rifles can target multiple enemies, shotguns damage everything in a small area, and grenades can vaporize everything in a room. Ammo is relatively plentiful but managing the condition of weapons becomes important in latter levels. The only real complaint about such a battle system is that it can drag out levels because you can’t move while enemies are taking their turns. Consequently, running away is generally not an option which can be frustrating especially when you see your hunger grow. Along with this, the slow pace makes character death that much more demoralizing because it means investing a lot of time to try to get back there.

Interacting with items can have some risks. One such risk being dealing with a Trap Bay. Up until this point, I’d had mixed success with consoles and lockers; sometimes they would jam or break. With this item, I failed it as a result of an invisible dice-roll and was instantly disintegrated. Game over. Now look; I have no problem with rogue-likes, and I have no problem with instant death scenarios. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter however, those two things do NOT belong together. It has absolutely nothing to do with skill and all it really accomplishes is that it makes me not want to play a game that is designed to mess with you like that.

pit items

The other infuriating aspect to The Pit has to do with crafting. Your character’s vitality has two measures; health and hunger. The latter depletes constantly which requires you to find food as you progress. It is possible and essential to combine food types in ovens and discover recipes. These recipes are revealed by unlocking consoles and they carry over from game to game. This sounds all good and fine in practice, but the problem with this system (and with crafting in general in this game) is that if you try to combine items and it doesn’t work, both items are destroyed.

This has got to be the single most annoying thing about this entire game; it wants me to experiment with all these items but then punishes me for doing just that. No hints whatsoever are given, beyond decrypted files in hacked consoles which themselves only work a fraction of the time. The developers are on record saying that the hints are intended to carry over to multiple games, and that players are expected to try and fail over and over again until they learn about proper combinations. The developers presume much about their audience’s patience with that kind of dick-move design philosophy.

pit fight

I really enjoy science fiction games, and there are some cool ideas in Sword of the Stars: The Pit. I like the fact that you have different character types to choose from, as well as the varied and easy-to-understand combat system. It’s such a shame that this really fun core is smothered by such unfairly punishing elements that work in direct opposition to the kind of experience that the game ostensibly expects you to have. Exploration and investigation is rewarded with almost constant failure, which drives me not into the Pit, but back to the surface where other games await.

FINAL BREAKDOWN

[+Fun battle system] [+Plenty of challenge] [+Different character types and abilities] [-Cheap deaths aplenty] [-Needlessly frustrating crafting system] [-Slow pace doesn't lend self to repeated play]

lacking

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About Author

(Senior Writer)

Born in 1844, I bring a lot of gaming experience to the table. In my day-job, I work for a public library which carries, amongst other formats, video games. I'm very interested in observing and documenting the growing pains this industry is experiencing as it is dragged kicking and screaming towards something resembling maturity. Join me!

  • http://twitter.com/Terrakus Robert Gill

    Kinda sad when reviewers are posting reviews from the Alpha build of the game not the released version. The game is a ton of fun and the released version is far more polished and enjoyable experience than the Alpha. At least a reviewer could give the real game an honest shot before panning it in their spare time as opposed to posting what amounts to knee jerk reactions to the Alpha build.

  • Matt Taylor

    It seems that the reviewer is not terribly familiar with roguelike games. The core feature of the genre is learning from game to game, and trying to make it one level further. And death…

    The core features of this genre are death, and learning from what happens to cause your new deaths. And loot.

    Among the core features of the genre are death, learning from death, and loot. If everything is present and easily found in the first playthrough, then you’ve got a miserably shallow RPG. There are very few things in the game that are “unfair” deaths, and even those are an important part of the genre. For those who are frustrated with the crafting, I suggest heading to the dev forums at kerberos-productions.com and checking the spoiler sections for recipes. This game has a lot of promise, but you have to be willing to play a roguelike to enjoy a roguelike.

    And as the first commenter pointed out, these screenshots are obviously not from the release version of the game that I’m playing… And there’s quite a bit more in the release version than the early alpha/beta stages that were sent out for the early press coverage.

    Bottom line: Are you someone who enjoys roguelikes? Someone who’s willing to die over and over again, seeking that miracle path to survival? Then this game is for you.

    If you’re not sure, play the demo, and give easy mode a try. However, don’t stay there for long. The true fun comes when you’re fighting for your life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.salisbury.75 Scott Salisbury

    This game tries to at least sometimes give you consequences for messing up that make sense given the circumstances (part of the genre convention for rogue-likes, if you don’t like that genre, don’t let your bias cloud the review). If you choose to start screwing around with a lethal trap (probably a Disintegration Bay, from what you said), then you should expect to have a decent chance of dying or suffering severe injury if your character doesn’t have the skill to repurpose the trap correctly. If you choose to try to combine several objects into a new object through a process that really wouldn’t be fully reversible (eg. cooking things together, messing with the components on a lab station, etc.) and your character makes a mistake while putting the things together or tries something that doesn’t produce a working product, you shouldn’t expect your now-messed-up-together components to magically spring apart into their original forms.