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Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review

Dungeoneering Studios aims to recapture the feel of a retro dungeon crawler in Castle Torgeath; but is it a descent into darkness, or a descent into madness?

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review.

Introduction

There is an ever-growing smorgasbord of indie titles released each year; Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness first emerged in January 2016; however, it's still being constantly updated by its developer, Dungeoneering Studios; a three-man development team from North Carolina. Their name is rather fitting, considering this is their only release to date; an action-RPG dungeon crawler. Except that it's not technically a dungeon crawler; it's a castle crawler. Or castle walker. Or…something. Luckily, I'm not paid to invent names of game genres.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness is available on Steam for £5.59.

Story

Castle Torgeath opens with a fully-narrated introduction; a letter from your friend the Archmage, requesting help, followed by an incredibly crucial-to-the-plot monologue from the narrator (who sounds awfully like the Archmage), explaining your brave (or possibly foolhardy) attempt to discover what has happened to an expedition he has sent to investigate the ruins of a mysterious castle. No prizes for guessing what it's called. Yep, it's Hogwarts. Just kidding. There aren't any basilisks in this castle.

And when a group of people disappear exploring a castle, the obvious solution is, of course, to send one further man in on his own, with no prior knowledge or research of the area. You won't be surprised to know it quickly becomes apparent that your visit is a little more eventful than a scenic stroll through a historic landmark. Completely unpredictably, you are caved in (castled in?) and are thus trapped inside. To make matters worse, before you get anywhere near the gift shop, you bump into a manner of creatures who are anything but friendly; from rats to spiders, to rats that inexplicably change into werewolves and more spiders that don't inexplicably change into werewolves. After encountering these lovely animals, you stumble upon members of the reanimated undead family (i.e. skeletons), trolls, and other more fantastic enemies, including some boss fights- if you survive long enough, that is. It all validates the theory that you should always check TripAdvisor before visiting castles with bad reputations.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review. Werewolf wants a hug.

Gameplay

The studio freely admits that their game has been inspired by games like Hexen and Kings Field; from the off, I immediately get a feeling of Baldur's Gate from the introduction- only the voice is somewhat less epic, and you are never once told to gather your party before venturing forth. You are waylaid by enemies and must defend yourself rather often, though.

The action takes place from a first-person perspective; all you ever see of yourself are your sleeves (which you can change the colour of), and your vice-like fists clutching a sword and torch combo or performing the Ketchup Song dance when casting a spell. You even spew ketchup when doing so; it's like Spiderman, only tomato sauce instead of webs. I'm not sure which of those powers is more desirable, to be honest; you never know when you might find yourself eating a burger, only to discover it's too dry.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review. Aserejé ja de je!
You begin with a sword and fireball spell, but more can be found along your journey if ketchup isn't your forte. You also have to keep an eye on your health, mana and hunger level; these don't regenerate, so it is crucial you keep a look out for potions, magical statues, or the food which is always enigmatically fresh across all RPG games; while Castle Torgeath may have a long and bloody history, it seems to have brilliant refrigeration qualities. These items, amongst others, can be found lying around, but also by opening chests, trading with NPCs, or doing a Link and smashing everything in sight.

The NPCs in the game are few and far between, but are fully voiced and have non-linear conversations, as you would expect from RPG games. However, they do have a tendency to stare in the opposite direction when you talk to them; I can only imagine that having been trapped in the castle for a while, they've forgotten how to interact properly with humans. Alternatively, we could secretly be Medusa.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review. I'M NOT LOOKING AT YOU.
You also constantly need to be on your guard, as you may round a corner and be immediately attacked by an enemy, or fall foul of traps just as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition. Constant vigilance is highly recommended; Castle Torgeath certainly offers a challenge, and with no difficulty modes, it's a case of "be good at this game, or you won't finish it." Saving often is highly recommended; I had to restart the whole game (and go to the effort of finding the right RGB combination again for teal sleeves) by falling foul of a spike pit pretty early on. Seriously, who builds these things inside castles?

In all honesty, I found the insane level of concentration required to be good at the game nearly completely ruined the fun for me; while it may be realistic, I wanted to enjoy the story, not get killed by the same enemy seventeen times because I couldn't find any more health potions.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review. Is that blood, or ketchup?

Graphics and Audio

I won't hedge here: the painted art used for the loading screens and such is beautiful. On the other hand, as an indie title aiming to capture the charm of retro RPG games, the actual game's graphics are anything but realistic. At best, it's Morrowind quality. Despite this, though, the level of detail is commendable; contours on statues, creases on clothing, and wear on materials are all present, so the experience isn't completely bland.

However, the castle feels very big and very empty. There are vast amounts of space in the game and some areas with absolutely nothing there; objects and scenery seem to occasionally appear in high density, where elsewhere the only thing present is a candle. In January this year, an update was released which apparently added scenery to all areas in the game. If this is the case, I would hate to see what it was like pre-update. I get that it's supposed to be an eerie and ominous castle, but endless corridors of nothingness quickly get tiresome and dull.

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness Review. Er...hello? Anything there? Scenery? Objects? No, guess it's just me and this candle, then.
For all the complaints I have about graphics, though, the audio is much worse; you have your generic sword clangs and swooshes, animal squeals and tennis grunts when you or your enemies get wounded, which are perfectly acceptable. The ambient music is the big issue; this is a very good indication of just how small a team Dungeoneering Studios is. There is little variation in sound; the main menu has a track, the loading screen has a track, exploring has a track, and combat has a track. These last two quickly get very irritating, as they are all you will hear for the vast majority of the game. On the plus side, though, you know when a giant-arse spider is charging towards you, even if you can't immediately see it.

On the plus side, characters are fully voiced, which I honestly didn't expect. The voice acting isn't anything special, but it's not Two Worlds either. It doesn't add to or detract from the ambience either way; it just exists. Rather like me at parties; it's present, but if it decided to sneak off to the pub instead, it wouldn't be missed.

Conclusion

Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness is a lovingly created dungeon crawler which succeeds in its attempts to create a retro feel, but it is not without its faults. In fact, personally, I'd argue it has more negatives than it does boons. I understand it's an indie game, and I take that into consideration; Dungeoneering Studios has put a lot of time into this game, and they continue to do so; most recently adding partial controller support and (apparently) more scenery. 
Perhaps if they add a few more audio tracks, variations in environment, (it's alright adding more candles, but what about a chandelier or sconce now and then?) and tweak the difficulty to aid rookie or casual gamers, I'll start to like it. For now, however, it's nothing special- I'd prefer to play the retro games that Torgeath takes inspiration from. I'm sure many people will love this game, especially if it gives them a nostalgia trip of hours spent playing its precursors. I, for one, am not one of those people. There's only so many times I can take being mauled to death by a transfigured rodent. Six, to be exact.
PROSCONS
 + Challenging – Too difficult for some
 + Continued development – Limited soundtrack
 – Feels very empty

4.6
Poor

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