Brut@l is a welcoming return to a time when games provided a euphoric satisfaction for hanging on for that extra second, for putting in that extra effort and for using every ounce of skill to down an onslaught of tricky enemies. Not only does it provide some refreshing takes on the dungeon crawler genre, it offers some fantastic level design and fluid combat, even if it does have a few repetitive moments.
It doesn’t hold your hand, but also doesn’t leave you to fend for yourself. In the procedurally generated levels, you’ll find lots of items, schematics, and items to help you in your quest to reach the 26th dungeon and defeat the Guardian. You start by choosing one of four heroes, each with their own perks and abilities: Ranger, Mage, Warrior, and Amazon.
It’s a re-imagining of the old ASCII dungeon crawlers, using randomly scattered letters to help you build weapons and enchant them – among other things. You can find helmets, gauntlets, and chest plates that’ll provide more protection, and food to help you maintain your health and stamina. There can be times when you go a few levels without getting anything of worth and others where you get some fancy glad rags on and go hell for leather into the breach.
Zombies, trolls, and other monsters are on your tail throughout, and they all attack differently. There are traps and explosives around every corner and making sure you know what everything does and how all of the working parts can affect you is your first priority. Sometimes you’ll reach a level when you have full control, and your newly crafted club or sword does a great job of protecting you, but it’s also possible for two big orc bastards to beat the living shit out of you regardless of what you’re using as a weapon. It can be a real challenge as well as a walk in the park, not always for the better; it’s mismatched variety can sometimes provide a quick path to the next dungeon and take the shine off of all the hard work you’ve done up to that point. It’s not a consistent flaw, but something I noticed on a couple of my playthroughs.
The usual mechanics are here too, like evading, jumping, and blocking. Threading them together with a flurry of strikes can be like watching a scene from Swan Lake. If you try to use too much stamina, you’ll get tired and potentially leave yourself at the mercy of your enemies. Finding food like pizza scattered around the dungeons helps you regain stamina, sometimes being in short supply or in every treasure chest – the beauty of procedural generation.
A really cool feature of Brut@l is the potions; you can make your own or find them scattered around, but each one has a different affect and you don’t know what it is until you drink it. I was surrounded by an assortment of bad guys with no food and a deteriorating health bar. In my inventory sat a sword, a torch (which comes as standard with each hero), and a green potion – I had no other option but to drink it. Instead of dying and returning right back to the first dungeon (yep, permadeath all the way), I inherited a protective shield, meaning I was able to slay all those trying to kill me, providing the option to escape to the next dungeon.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a dungeon architect, you can dabble with the dungeon creator and build some real sinister dungeons. Everything from the types of traps to the size of the rooms can be toyed with, giving you the option to really mess with anyone that attempts to take it on. Local co-op is included, but unlike most co-op games, items that make themselves available can only be used by one person; if a letter appears that you want or a new pair of boots pop up, you and your buddy will have to decide who’s worthy of seizing them.
Brut@l certainly feels different to other dungeon crawler titles, giving you plenty of options to unlock new skills, craft powerful weapons and fight with real style and pomp. It may not have the most balanced of dungeons, but you sometimes get that with procedurally generated video games.
Nice art style
Potions can change everything
Difficulty can vary a bit too much
Can get repetitive