REVIEW: Crimson Keep

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

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Crimson Keep | Featured
Title Crimson Keep
Developer Team Crimson
Publisher Merge Games
Release Date November 29th, 2018
Genre Role-Playing, Action, Adventure
Platform Steam, Switch
Age Rating T for Teen
Official Website

Gather ‘round everyone and I shall tell you a tale. Not so long ago, some budding young game developers united to form Team Crimson and create a rogue-like dungeon crawler called Crimson Keep. The goal: create an RPG which condenses the grind of MMO leveling into the average run time of a movie, all while randomizing virtually every aspect to max out replayability. The result: things went horribly, horribly wrong.

The once bustling village of Larkstead is beseiged by an evil being named Maya. After killing the queen and driving the king mad, the village descends into chaos before descending into the earth. You, the nameless protagonist, must dive into the dark, deadly dungeon depths and rid the castle of Maya and her underlings. If you’re looking for extra lore, the best you’ll get is a skeleton named Durwin, who mopes around the tutorial area and says the same line of random dialogue over and over when prompted. He doesn’t add anything insightful, just minor observations like how magic is normal here or how he should be dead. After a while his button prompt broke and he wouldn’t say anything. This would be a harbinger of things to come.

Crimson Keep | Maya's Army

Maya, what Tim Burton film did you get these guys from?

Each playthrough involves choosing a class and fighting through a few levels and their bosses. There are three to choose from: berserker, witch and drifter. The only differences between each class are starting equipment and the abilities they gain as they level up. Berserkers start with an axe and tend to favor melee attacks, though most abilities I gained were ranged attacks that more or less functioned like magic. Witches start with a wand and favor spells. Said wand only has twenty-five charges so this class ends up using melee weapons quickly. Drifters start with no equipment, have less health and do not level up or gain any abilities. I can only assume this last class is supposed to be hard mode. Either way, the game has no traditional stats (e.g. strength, wisdom, etc.) to differentiate each class. Everyone needs mana to use abilities, which only regenerates by killing enemies. If a berserker or drifter finds a magic wand, they can use it as effectively as the witch. The berserker and witch start with the same hit points. The berserker, witch and drifter all move at the same speed, deal similar damage with the same weapons, and take similar damage from the same enemies. The incentive to not play as the witch, which can damage several enemies with one special attack, is pretty low.

Regardless of class, every character progresses in two ways. The first is finding equipment which either adds hit points or gives a random minor buff, such as increased ability damage. Every item drop, from food to weapons to armor to charms, is random. Whether dropped by an enemy or found in a treasure chest, every item is random. There are supposed to be items in crates and barrels too, but the only time I found something in one was during the tutorial. This results in often not finding any equipment or healing items and dying quickly, or finding several useless items throughout Crimson Keep. I would frequently get arrows, but no bows or crossbows. I would find two necklaces granting the same minor buffs, but no armor. One time I beat a boss to get a shield, went into the next room, and found a treasure chest which had the exact same shield in it. Some randomization can be fun, but completely randomizing loot drops makes the game not just excessively difficult for the wrong reasons, but far, far more frustrating to play. Expect to frequently give up on playthroughs because of bad loot drops.

Crimson Keep | Crossbow Skeleton

I doubted whether crossbows were in the game at all until I saw this screenshot.

The only reprieves from this are the bruised apple everyone starts with and the minor healing potion the berserker starts with, both of which get used quickly because most enemies can kill you in four or five hits. By the way, enemy spawns are also random, both in type and location. I lost count of how many times I was jumped seconds into a level by anywhere from one to six enemies. Some of them spotted me through walls from a football field away, and some of them were oblivious to my presence until I was within spitting distance. One time I started a level in a too-narrow-to-dodge-anything hallway with an exploding enemy ten feet away and died in mere seconds. Did I mention this game has permadeath, so you have to completely start over every time you die? It’s as if Crimson Keep is trying to be a rogue-like, but only heard about the dying and randomization parts and made that the whole game.

The second way to progress is the aforementioned abilities and perks. Leveling up grants one new ability from a list in the character’s profile. These can be either special attacks or permanent status effects, though these aren’t well thought out at all, in part because some of them are random. For one, many of the attacks are simply projectiles with a few different status effects tied to them. There are crosshairs at the middle of the screen, but ranged attacks and abilities usually fly off to the side or below where they’re aiming. As for the randomization, at level three for the witch my choices included better healing from all sources by 10 percent, base wand damage up 10 percent, and better healing from all sources by 15 percent. Wait, what?

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About Scott Ramage

Scott Ramage wears many hats. From podcasts to football games to let's plays to pro wrestling matches, he has dabbled in several fields while pursuing a Japanese degree to go with his English degree. One of the few constants for him is that he's been a fan of video games since first playing Pole Position on the Atari 2600.


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