I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed my short time with Infernax, an old school 2D hack ‘n’ slash from Berzerk Studio. It manages to be taxing but not needlessly punishing, although you can choose that yourself the first time you die.
See, outwardly, Infernax looks like it’s going to be another hardcore roguelike ready to ram its pixelated needles of hatred through your eyes. And indeed, you can opt for that path if you’re the sort of person who enjoys slamming their fingertips in drawers.
Infernax: hardcore or casual?
The Hardcore respawn option removes your collected currency and sends you back to the last shrine you prayed at. The Casual option starts you closer to your last position and allows you to keep your coins and XP. Honestly, I still died, and still felt the challenge. Just not the rage.
It reminded me of when games were just hard, not forcibly punishing just because it works when FromSoft do it. The ghouls and zombies and demons who come at you in Infernax can still be a handful, but learning their attacks and how to deal with them is where the fun lies.
You play a Duke returning from the Crusades to find that evil has infested your homeland. Taking up your sword and shield, you set out to liberate the towns and settlements under your care from the darkness. It’s a pretty simple set-up, but one that does occasionally stick its tongue in its cheek.
When you’re dead, you’re dead
For example, your death animations are pretty brutal. Usually shown in black silhouette on a blood-red backdrop, the beasts that get the better of you rarely stop at just one swing. When you’re dead in Infernax, you know you’re dead. Luckily, though, this is a game, and so death is all part of the experience. You need to earn XP to upgrade your innate abilities (Power, Health, and Magic), and gather coin to buy new armour and weapons.
There’s a visual change when you upgrade your armour, which is nice as pixel art games don’t always do that. The short early access demo I played doesn’t showcase an awful lot, unfortunately. However, I did get to play around with a healing spell, which takes up two bars of your 4 magic bars. This can be increased, though what kind of spells you’ll be slinging around remains to be seen.
Infernax: a Metroidvania at heart
Combat is a simple case of moving forward and attacking, or ducking and attacking. If you stand still, you’ll block most incoming attacks with your shield, though larger enemies can damage you through that. While this is a Metroidvania at heart, there are also side quests you can undertake. As an example, we took a job to clear out a violent skeleton that was haunting the grave of one villager’s father. The fight was tough, but not insurmountable, and we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts.
The boss fights in the demo are fairly straightforward. Usually they require a bit of quick dodging and jumping, followed by spamming attack as quickly as possible when an opening presents itself. There’s nothing particularly nuanced about them, no multiple phases or surprises so far.
Early on I happened upon a villager about to succumb to the evil. I was offered the choice to slay him or pray for him. I opted for the latter, thinking I might be able to save him, but he turned into a huge boss instead. While the immediate result was obvious, it remains to be seen whether such choices will have far-reaching consequences.
Still, this is a very early version of what the finished game will be and it was enough to get my attention. The combat and exploration is fun, there’s scope for moral or narrative tangents, and the humour is likeable. I’m looking forward to getting hold of the final game and seeing just how deep these systems go.
Infernax is coming to PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on February 14, 2022.