There’s a certain amount of courage one needs in order to put their product out for the world to experience. This fact is only amplified given that Neverinth, a game I discovered about a month ago browsing through Steam, is an early access title; it is not a complete journey. While many developers put their games in early access at various points of development, most choose to release it when it’s fairly close to completion, with only some unforeseen bugs and additional polish needed to make it a flawless product. Neverinth is an example of the opposite, where the developers decided to release it early—very early. As one will see in screenshots further on in this article, this game is currently at build 0.0.22. That is early.
If that isn’t enough, first contact with this game is sure to bring those familiar with the “Souls-esque” style of gameplay back to their hardcore preferences. Aside from some differences in the main storyline and the design of the characters one uses throughout the game, Neverinth takes ode to the popular action-adventure in many ways—perhaps too much. One benefit of the developer’s decision to release this so early is that they have more flexibility to incorporate insight from players on what they can do to not only enhance the game, but give Neverinth its own identity. Should they heed it, this could shape up to be a “best of both worlds” situation: one that satisfies the Souls-esque crowd and those looking for something more distinct.
Neverinth is available in Early Access on Steam for your regional pricing.
Neverinth follows the path of roguelike games greatly at this point when it comes to its story. One can boot up the game and be given a quick excerpt of what to expect in the world they’re thrown into and why it occurred. Afterwards, they play through the game and are only given small snippets of context and general story along the way. In this case, the Norse Gods have all been slain, and Yggdrasill uses her last strength to create the Neverinth, where a collection of women step forth to challenge its inner corridors to achieve the title of Valkyrie. The game’s Steam page promises five different characters to choose from and beating the campaign will unlock their “lost memories,” which I have yet to achieve (as I’ll explain later, this game’s pretty difficult).
From a production standpoint, I really enjoyed the beginning portion of the story at hand. One is presented with a drawn interpretation of the events that led to this current state, and the voiceover is surprisingly pleasant. It’s not quite as extravagant as what’s shown in, say, Wulverblade, but for a game that is so early in production, it’s impressive to see them set the foundation for the game in as professional a way as possible. Outside of this, there isn’t much that the game provides in terms of story within the central gameplay (that I could progress through). At this point, however, this isn’t too much of an issue.
When I played this game for the first time, I was taken aback by two things: its lack of polish and its immense visual similarities to Dark Souls. The first thing I did when my character appeared in the darkened starting chamber of the game was simply watch their animation and movement, along with how well I could control it. “Oooh,” I thought to myself, “that’s rough.” One can absolutely tell that Neverinth is early in its development stages, whereas the character’s basic animation stop and start too quickly, providing a lack of polish that had me hesitating my choice to give the game a chance. Movement itself was fairly stiff, and getting used to everything else the game requires you to do felt like a ton of things to handle straight off. As a Souls-esque game, this seemed appropriate.
My first sitting lasted fifteen minutes, and by that point, I was pretty confounded. The game has a steep learning curve on top of some rigid control movements and spotty visual movement. To say it left a bitter taste would be an understatement. And yet, I pressed on, determined to give the game a fair shot and to play its game of trial and error; die and die and die again, only get a little better each proceeding run. Eventually the controls became more instinctive, the weapons felt more familiar, the items and treasures had more of an impact, and the experience I collected aided in the experience of combat and survival. Strange, it’s almost as if that’s what the game intended, and yet I was hesitant.
Two hours in, I have yet to defeat the first boss of the game (I’ve come close!). What’s changed from the first sitting and the latest sitting is that I want to improve and see what the game offers past it. I forgot about the stilted animation, the generic enemy design, and the vagueness of everything past the basic starting tutorial (which consists of many menus). Neverinth has something special: it has that quality where it when it sucks you into the game, you can’t seem to find the exit. This is more than I can say for other games I’ve played, whether for review or otherwise.
As for gameplay specifics, well, see: Dark Souls. Even visually it looks fairly similar, with icons and meters plastered onscreen in similar positions and styles as that of the mentioned title. There’s a healing item called Mead that one can use to restore about half a health bar, and the animation shown when using it is so similar to Dark Souls that I wondered if it was ripped straight from it. The item’s appearance is somewhat similar to the Estus Flask, as well. One can attack with a standard attack and a heavy attack, and basically everything takes away from one’s stamina gauge. Assuming a shield is present, one can guard against enemy attacks, though I personally find myself more comfortable with the gigantic greatsword. Running and, of course, dodging are prevalent parts of the strategy one has at their disposal throughout the game.
Veering away from the incredible amount of similarities, Neverinth has some unique concepts such as the life gauge and character-specific attacks, which gives a sharper focus of strategy that I initially found overwhelming. The life gauge is a process where various maneuvers, whether attacks or dodges, take up a portion of one’s health, but slowly regains as time passes. Think of it like a sub-tank that depletes from overexerting the character’s capabilities, as most requirements of the life gauge require holding down a specific button to make one faster. With the same button used to run, one can activate “EX” maneuvers, which grant faster dodges and attacks. Character-specific attacks are pretty self-explanatory; a certain button will activate an ultimate attack that only specific characters can use, which can change depending on their weapon. Every time I use it, I slip up and take damage from enemies, so that’s either a statement of my inadequacy or the effectiveness of the move.
For all that Neverinth provides, fans of Dark Souls will obviously find themselves at home. Though it is the differences that make this game what it is, and the life gauge system, specifically, makes this an intriguing advancement of the Souls-esque genre, if only slightly. At the same time, there are a few things about the general gameplay that I find too straightforward, such as the effectiveness of various moves over others. The standard attack is, typically, more than enough to cut down general enemies within the labyrinth, and using other moves tend to be more of a desire for variety than necessity. I think providing enemies that require different methods of attack would vary up gameplay to a more satisfying degree, as well as give reason to use more of what one has in their inventory.
Speaking of inventory, the focus on roguelike also provides some differentiation from the title that may have been mentioned more often than the game at hand. Incorporated on top of everything else are achievements, which, similar to that of A Robot Named Fight!, unlock various goodies one can find on future runs to aid in their journey. These items range from attack items, heal items, equipment to go on one’s ears, hand, neck, and all sorts of other things that still seem completely random to me. Part of the difficulty in having everything vague is that, even with close to fifteen runs and over two hours under my belt, I still don’t understand all the mechanics to the game. Things like totems, which one can upgrade in the starting room prior to every run, and the numerous upgrades one can find within the labyrinth provide an ignorant feeling of progress without feeling like it changed anything—not because they don’t, but because I don’t totally understand what I’m equipping.
Each run changes the shape of the labyrinth in various ways, though I feel the changes aren’t all that distinct. After ten-plus runs, I think there’s some need of further distinction among each run, though things tend to change further with more things unlocked per run. Rooms tend to cling to the same structures with each run; encountering the same rooms almost every run no longer surprises the player, giving an air of triviality. Combined with an overall lack of enemy types (I can recall five, four of which look very similar), there’s a lackluster air to combat that could prove repetitive to some (along with the standard attack being so prevalent).
Thus far, I’ve encountered very few bugs throughout my runs. Aside from the general lack of polish in the animation and presentation aspects, I think Neverinth has a nice foundation of functionality that not all early access titles can hold to. When items claim they add some boost to my character, I can see it happen in motion. Some slowdown and lag occurs if too much is equipped at one time, and the camera can occasionally wig out if an enemy hits the player from offscreen, but generally, I had zero issues. Polish absolutely has to be made to fix the little chinks in the armor; otherwise, there isn’t much about Neverinth that comes to mind where performance was an issue.
Graphics & Audio
The developers of Neverinth have promised that the game will be a large one. At only 0.0.22, I can only imagine everything, including the graphics, will be improved as the development goes along. For the moment, the graphical capabilities are somewhat shoddy, including, but not limited to, the static animation cycle of the characters that I continuously bring up. The labyrinth’s dark and decrepit atmosphere is one that has been done a million times before, and nothing about it here changes what one would typically expect from a game like this. Perhaps the only thing about the design of the game that I think works well is the immersive atmosphere, where the isolating effect of the labyrinth gives rise to nervousness, always ensuring the player checks over the shoulder with every corner. This creepy aesthetic also works for the setting of the game, so while it isn’t a revolutionary design, it’s one that’s tried and true, and traditionalists will find nothing to complain of here.
What stands out about Neverinth, if the numerous images didn’t give it away, is the inclusion of anime-esque attributes in the form of playable characters. To give the mock-up artist some credit, the cover image for Neverinth is far and beyond more aesthetically pleasing than how the characters look in-game, though that should be taken more as a compliment to the artist than as an insult to the game. With women dressed in fantasy-themed garbs and sporting unnatural hair colors, it is the closest I have ever seen Dark Souls come to crossing over with something along the lines of Disgaea. While initially somewhat worried over whether it would clash with the game’s overall look, in time I grew used to it all. It doesn’t look great for now, but it’s adequate fare.
Main theme. Neverinth‘s main theme is really nice. A slow, methodical echo of a single female voice that dampens the lonely walls of the central chamber. That is the sole high point of the game’s sound quality, as the rest ranges from tolerable to bland. My main complaint comes in the form of enemy attacks and grunts, which sound like stock sound effects. I imagine most other sounds, such as swords clashing or blows hitting, are stock sound effects. Generally, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but with the already unpolished design of the game, it risks showcasing itself as a work of amateurism. When it comes to the boss fight, there is little complaint on this front. Where it all comes to a head is with the general enemies, which take up a large majority of one’s playtime. Hearing those same groans prior to death over and over can be irritating. At least after I die I can wake up to a nice lullaby.