In general, I really despise permadeath in games and stay away from games where I am forced to play with this feature. With my playtime being limited due to my job and other stuff I also want to do in my free time, it just seems so frustrating having to start all over again because I made one single mistake. There is no way I would ever play a game with permadeath. And while I love action RPGs, I never even considered playing in “hardcore” mode which usually means permadeath for your character. Having to run all over the zones again? No way!
And yet here I am: in “Sunken“. Sunken is made by a very small developer team consisting of only two people. Now, to be honest, “permadeath” isn’t 100 % permanent here. Yes, your character dies and you have to start at the beginning again. Your levels, your items together with your inventory and your learned recipes are gone upon death. But when you die, you get to keep your unlocked abilities, so there is some sort of progression, after all.
This of course means that your character will be stronger than before. You get a wider choice of abilities or upgrades to your already known abilities. Since there is no character customization at all, you won’t really feel like you just lost your character. But you cannot customize the look of your character, so he (yes, you can only play with a male character) always looks exactly the same. So it actually feels a bit like “respawning”. But since you lost all your possessions, it comes with a hefty price! So it’s in between permadeath and death-then-respawn as you know from MMOs. Since there are no options to change the look of your character, this also means that I am not that attached to my character and don’t really care when he dies. On the other hand, from a storytelling aspect, this isn’t good either. I would like to feel more connected to my character. I would at least hope that there would be some sort of customization later on like choosing a hair style or hair colour (granted he ever does get hair).
In order to learn new abilities, you will have to unlock them first. It’s a multiple-steps process: You first need to drop the recipe book for an ability. You can learn that recipe by right-clicking the recipe book. Then you need to find a crafting station (an anvil). So far – and really, I didn’t get far when it comes to the maps – I found them right before the entrance to the next level. You need to get there first, obviously, then you can craft the recipe when you’ve also got the materials for it. The recipe then disappears from your list of known recipes. Use the item you crafted to unlock the ability permanently. Once unlocked, the next dropped recipe book for the same ability will give you the unlock for the higher tier of that ability. But if you die before you reach the end of the level, then that recipe book and all learned recipes are lost. Only the crafted and unlocked ability itself counts.
The game also has a story which unfolds not via quests but through books which you can find on the different floors of the maps. Those books aren’t drops. They are quite big books standing around. Yes, this means you have to read a lot… or wait for the voice-over to read it to you. I usually read much faster myself, though. There is also background music which has an eerie tone to it and fits quite nicely to the whole atmosphere and the graphics. But over time, I imagine the music could get a bit boring, unless it changes when you get to different maps in the game… did I already mention I didn’t get far yet? ;)
If you are like me and lack the skills needed to orientate yourself, then you will feel just as lost as I did. In the beginning there was a point where I did not even notice that I had run back towards the beginning of the level instead of progressing further to the next one. There are no maps or minimaps here, no compass for orientation either. When you die, you start at the very beginning of level 1 again, though. So sooner or later, you will most certainly recognize at least level 1. :p Also, when you log back into the game, you start at the beginning of a map with respawned mobs. Come to think of it, this is actually quite nice. For one, it lets you grind some more experience (although I am not certain whether mobs scale with your level) and maybe you even find a nice recipe book. And if you ever do get lost, that’s how you find the beginning again. :p Each level is identical, meaning that level 1 will always look the same. But the mobs you encounter will be random. Some structures can be destroyed, but so far, I did not find any use for it other than that it looks nice.
I am not sure yet whether all mobs drop aggro after a while and how that works. Some did not follow me all the way back to the entrance of the level while others did chase me until there. It may also be that “special” mobs (with names or elite mobs) chase you all the way down the hall while normal mobs won’t. Thankfully, my regeneration rate was high enough to survive the battle that followed. But yeah, here’s a warning: If you get low on health and don’t have health potions anymore, you may have to run and hope your health bar regenerates in the meantime.
Last but not least, at the end of a level, you will encounter a boss. This is on an extra map, so you can’t run away or hide. The first boss was no problem while the second one caused my first death in this game. I had run out of healing potions before I had learned the mechanics of the boss. To be honest, I am still not 100 % sure I understood them. But I’m willing to give it another try… once I actually get to the end of level 2, that is. Yes, you may laugh now. Loud and long. I am a n00b. :p
But as you may be able to infer here, I actually quite enjoy this game so far! The regular price is $9.99€ and it’s in Steam Early Access. The price was certainly cheap enough for me to risk getting another early access game and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Sometimes, it feels a bit fiddly, though. I once accidentally dropped a stack of materials on the ground instead of putting them into the crafting window (it lands on the floor as a loot bag, so no harm done!). And I quite often misclick when trying to pick up loot bags. Other than that, it seemed to run smoothly.