ScourgeBringer is a hack-and-slash rogue-lite, freshly out of Early Access, developed by Flying Oak Games and published by Dear Villagers. As Khyra, the deadliest warrior of her clan, you must enter the ScourgeBringer, a mystifying floating tower that appeared suddenly one day, bringing with it death and destruction. Explore the tower’s shifting insides and try to find out how to save your people, as well as what happened to those who entered the structure before you.
Story – End the Scourge
The game’s premise is straightforward, if unsettling one: one day, with no prior warning, an enormous floating tower appeared in the sky, raining down chaos and devastation. Dubbed the ScourgeBringer, it became a symbol of the horrors of the new world. The remaining humans tried to figure out how to fight it, or even what they’d done to call the wrath of the tower upon them, but to no avail. Now, in the far future, you must guide Khyra, a powerful warrior, through the innards of the terrifying vessel to do what others could not: face the Ordeal, change the Judgement, and end the Scourge once and for all.
It’s simple, but it does invite curiosity: what is the ScourgeBringer? Where did it come from? Why is it here? In classic roguelike fashion, you can find story breadcrumbs along the way in the form of discarded data disks with records of previous expeditions into the tower and the like, but little hints and suggestions can be seen everywhere. A strange old man at your home base talks to you in confusing riddles and fragments, but you can feel there’s something important behind his words. The fact that the boss of each area is known as a ‘Judge’ suggests that, yes, the tower was called to Earth to deliver judgment on some terrible sin. The recurring thematic importance of blood and trees throughout the game – you can receive ‘blood blessings’ in each area which provide various temporary upgrades, and you expand the game’s literal talent tree by providing it with blood – brings to mind the possibility of a new world growing from the bloodstained ashes of the old.
These tantalising glimpses of the broader story will no doubt keep lore-hounds hooked through the many, many deaths that shall befall them, but if the story isn’t your thing, that’s fine too. The beauty of having many of those details hidden away is that if you’d rather get stuck into the action and keep the story on the back burner, you absolutely can. No lengthy cutscenes here, folks: if you want to get back to demon-murdering quickly, you can hop right in. Speaking of which…
Gameplay – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
The gameplay in ScourgeBringer is fast and furious. You move from room to room, clearing out waves of enemies as you go, seeking first a mini-boss (or Guardian) and subsequently the boss (or Judge) of the area, in a mix of hack-and-slash and bullet-hell gameplay. Khyra has a reasonably small moveset: she can slash, she can dash, she can perform a heavier attack that stuns most enemies temporarily, and she can have her little droid friend shoot its gun. It doesn’t seem like much to work with, but combined with a double jump and the ability to run up walls; it encourages you to keep moving and mix and match attacks on the fly to take down enemies quickly.
The combat can get very frantic, but there’s a wonderful lightness to the controls that will see you leaping around from demon to demon and barely touching the floor until all your foes are dead. The shooting mechanic provides a nice little gameplay mini-loop: you’re limited by your ammo supply, which is replenished by attacking enemies, so if you want to use it more, you need to get up close and personal with them rather than hanging back and trying to take them out from a distance. That said, I found I used the gun more as a last resort to get myself out of a sticky situation than as a more common addition to my combat arsenal. Occasionally, though, I’d find an upgrade for it that would encourage me to use it more, which provided a nice little bit of variety.
The key to any fight in ScourgeBringer is, undoubtedly, mobility. Khyra is a nimble little thing, able to double jump and do a mid-air dash reminiscent of Celeste to reach almost any corner of the room with few issues. She’s also capable of running straight up walls, though sadly, this didn’t really see as much use as I’d like as I played – vertical walls that are long enough to make compelling use of the mechanic are few and far between, and most of the time it was quicker and more efficient to dash where I needed to go, especially as it incorporates an attack into it as well. It’s a shame because some of the moments where I felt the most powerful and badass were when I incorporated all of these traversal mechanics into my movement, not just a few of them.
One thing that you’ll find out very quickly once you start the game is that it is difficult, right off the bat. You have a short tutorial section to teach you the basic moves, and then you’re off the races and on your own. Even the first enemies you encounter do not pull their punches, and later on, in the game, you’ll have environmental hazards to take into account as well. Part of it comes from the fact that you have very few frames of invincibility when dashing around the place: even when you gain the ability to deflect enemy bullets with your stun attack, it’s not uncommon to deflect two of them and get hit by the final one which was just outside of your range, with no way of getting out of the way in time. As a result, you’re immensely agile and manoeuvrable, but one misstep can have severe consequences. It’s a sharp difficulty curve, and there were certainly moments where I found myself verging on frustration.
The game does have ways of mitigating this, though. You’ll die a lot, especially at the beginning, but it’s very quick and easy to get straight back into the bloodbath. Speaking of blood: blood blessings, which provide passive bonuses for that run, can be found in each area along with a couple of shopkeepers who can give you upgrades or restorative items. On top of that, the talent tree at your home base opens things up quite quickly – within the first few hours of the game, I’d unlocked about half of the tree, which gave me a few abilities and bonuses, which helped immensely.
On top of that, there is a small but very effective array of accessibility options available to the player, which can be tweaked at any time. Some directly impact the difficulty of the game: there’s an option to provide more HP drops, and others that can reduce the speed either of the whole game or just the movement of enemy bullets, something that will no doubt appeal to those who have reduced reaction speeds or want a slightly less hectic experience with the game. There are also options to switch from a default button-mashing attack mode to one where you can hold the button to change the text font from a retro pixelated style to a more readable high-definition one and to turn off the flashing red background that occurs when you’re low on health. It’s not pages and pages of options, but it’s really nice to see such a small but useful collection of options that will really make a difference for players with different levels of mobility, photosensitivity, reaction speed and the like.
Graphics and Audio – Pixel Perfection
There’s no way around it: ScourgeBringer looks absolutely gorgeous. Even when the combat is at its most fast-paced, you can still find yourself appreciating the detail of the beautiful pixel art. Khyra is beautifully animated as she sprints around the arena, and every enemy is somehow full of personality and expression despite being only a handful of pixels. Each area looks and feels distinct, the designs of the Guardians and Judges are creative and informative, and even the pixel artistry of the opening screens looks brilliant.
Special mention must also be made of Joonas Turner, the game’s composer. Carrying on from his sterling work on games such as Nuclear Throne and Downwell, Turner’s soundtrack to the game is great. There’s a perfect atmospheric feel with enough energy to keep you excited when exploring, and it transitions seamlessly into the powerful thrashings of rock and metal once a fight breaks out. It really elevated the whole experience for me and brought the whole aesthetic of the game together beautifully.
ScourgeBringer was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Future Friends Games.