It feels like every second game is a roguelike these days, and Sword of the Necromancer is the latest title to adopt the popular template. Coming hot off the back of the success of Hades, it’s both a great and a tough time to release a roguelike title. More people than ever are turning to the genre, but the likes of Hades and other exceptional titles have set pretty high-standards. So the question is, does Sword of the Necromancer match up to its peers?
Containing an ever-changing selection of dungeons to explore, Sword of the Necromancer tasks players with reviving priestess Koko. Playing as ex-bandit Tama, it’s up to you to power up a mystical sword which gives you the power to revive fallen enemies to fight for you. In order to revive the fallen priestess, you must fight your way through a set of procedurally generated levels and fight the monsters that lie within. It is not the most original concept, but it’s one that fits the game’s core mechanic of reviving and utlising enemies.
You’ll fight your way through each level with an arsenal of randomly dropped weapons that appear throughout the world. There’s a solid mix of ranged and close-quarter weapons, with plenty of variety across each weapon type as well. You can store these weapons in a chest at the end of each floor, should you want to save weapons for a future run. Combat is competent, but never exhilarating. When you consider the competition Sword of the Necromancer has, I was honestly expecting more from combat encounters. Even with a dodge mechanic, it still feels unusually sluggish at points.
The enemy revival concept is a unique one though, allowing you to trade one of your four equipment slots for a revived enemy. It forces players to choose between having means to direct damage in ranged and melee weapons, or an AI-controlled monster which attacks on your behalf. My biggest issue with this system is that most of the enemies you fight are weak, so I don’t want to enlist them if I’ve already got an object in my arsenal, which is far more effective. Sword of the Necromancer does attempt to fix this by introducing a levelling system, meaning the monsters you enlist can level up as you use them. Using a weaker enemy until they level up just seems like the less optimal option when you can fill those slots with other weapons or stat buffs.
Weapons can also be improved back at base, meaning you can go into a fresh run with upgraded weapons. The upgrade system works off collectible items scattered around each level, collect enough of a specific item, and you can upgrade. The weapon and monster upgrade systems are welcome additions, although I feel both could have been fleshed out a little more and given a lot more depth.
Tama and Koko’s stories are told through a number of vignettes between each level. The writing in these moments is pretty great, and the voice actors portray a genuine connection between the two characters. I think the story overall could have been more original, with it feeling a little too similar to Shadow of the Colossus at points, particularly in defeating big monsters in order to revive your travelling companion.
Sword of the Necromancer can be pretty challenging at times, although death doesn’t completely wipe your progress. Tama will keep half of her level progress at the end of a run, meaning you won’t be pushed back to square one at the start of each new run. Having said this, the bosses are pretty difficult and can take a few attempts to learn, so you can expect to die a handful of times before it feels like you are truly making any progress.