Although it’s only just moving into early access, Relic Hunters Legend has been around in one form or another for while. In fact, it’s hitting Steam’s early access program in a state that already feels pretty feature-complete. There are loads of modes, characters, and a full campaign that can be played solo or with others.
Relic Hunters Legend is the story of Seven, a mysterious teenager who is transported through time and space one day during a boring science lesson. Immediately meeting a talking, jetpack-wearing donkey named Ace, Seven finds themselves joining up with the Relic Hunters, space-faring, bounty-hunting ass-kickers rebelling against the evil Duke Ducan and his empire of ducks and amphibians.
Right away this is giving strong Bucky O’Hare vibes – in fact, there’s a lot about Relic Hunters Legend that puts me in mind of more recent Saturday morning action toons like Teen Titans GO and The Last Kids on Earth. The humour is non-stop to the point of slight irritation, but it’s also heartfelt throughout, which makes up for a lot.
Tossed to and fro across time and space, Seven must help the other Relic Hunters uncover their pasts and face their futures. While Seven is the protagonist, you’ll take control of all the other Relic Hunters throughout the deliberately disjointed campaign. Due to the way the story unfolds, you could be in control of one Hunter and leave them stranded in a Ducan bank vault somewhere until you play the next stage of their story, only to see them free and acting normal in the next stage of someone else’s. As I said, it feels disjointed and, even if that’s by design, makes it all pretty difficult to follow.
The story unfolds using the in-game animations and dialogue choices, with some elements fully voiced, others not voiced at all, and some that land somewhere in between, where characters will repeat the same few soundbites over and over again as the conversation demands. Of course, this is still an early access game despite the polish elsewhere, so we can excuse a lot of that.
Each Relic Hunter plays just differently enough to justify them being different characters rather than different loadouts for Seven. Ace, as mentioned, has a jetpack which means he can get above the fight, leader Pinky is melee-focused, and legendary Hunter Jimmy comes straight in during the early access phase at the level cap of 30 with everything unlocked.
The game is primarily a looter-shooter, and you’ll be hoovering up tons of loot as you play, from enemy kills to chests and secrets. A gear score determines your overall effectiveness and ability to take on certain missions on the expansive Galaxy Map. Hunters share the same pool of loot and equipment stash, which keeps everyone geared to the same level, but they have individual skill trees.
For example, rock guitarist Raff has skills that focus on increasing her attack speed and defence based on the tempo of whatever she’s listening to. The skill trees are reminiscent of Borderlands, as you must spend a certain amount of points in one level to advance to the next across three separate trees. You’ll unlock specific skills along the way that are mapped to different keys, with an ultimate ability after you reach a specific level.
Gameplay is mostly shooting as you plough through each mission destroying anything that moves. When played with others certain skills synergise, but it’s nothing incredibly in-depth. Any combination of Hunters is viable – hell, you can play the majority of missions alone if you want to. Some story missions will require the use of a specific Hunter, though, in order to tell their tale.
The shooting never feels less than excellent, though. You can change the style from twin-stick to a more straightforward auto-aim affair, and both feel really good when you’re in the thick of it. While the difficulty ramps up steadily, it never felt insurmountable, as you have plenty of skills to call on and a rechargeable health refill that you can swap out for various effects and buffs instead of a straight heal. Weapons can be upgraded or fused together to create new items, so there’s never a time when you won’t progress in some way just by playing the game.
That said, there are times when the simple cartoony art style is a pain. Occasionally the screen can become so busy it’s hard to work out what’s going on – especially when you’re playing with three others. Also, it’s all 2D sprites in 3D isometric environments, so good luck identifying when something is a hole you can fall in or a dark patch of floor.
Even in early access, Relic Hunters Legend has the campaign and seven other fully playable modes for repeatable missions you’ll just play for the loot and the laughs. Payload missions see you escorting a target through an enemy-controlled area, while skirmish just require you to kill everything in a stage. Delve missions are straight-up dungeon crawls through themed environments, usually with a boss at the end.
There’s so much to do here and it’s so much fun to play even alone that the early access build feels like a complete game already. There are a few bugs, though; one or two side missions simply don’t progress, and I found more than one story mission that just wouldn’t let me open it until I’d tried a few times – unless I hadn’t unlocked a condition the game hadn’t told me about.
As more loot, modes, characters, and mission areas are added through early access, Relic Hunters Legend will only go from strength to strength. It’s rare to find a game that feels as much fun solo as it does with a group, but this does just that. The grind for loot, character levels, and Rebel Ranks that unlock account-wide gear upgrades is hugely addictive and always feels rewarding. The cutesy style and never-ending torrent of quips might not be for everyone, but it’s hard to argue against jumping and giving Relic Hunters Legend a look as it moves through early access.
Relic Hunters Legend enters Steam early access on 25th September 2023.