I absolutely love Curse of the Dead Gods. Is it just a Hades clone though? Well, it looks and feels similar, but it’s so much more. I might even prefer it….
Curse of the Dead Gods is a roguelike action game. The plot is bare-bones – you’re at a cursed temple, get to the end, kill everything. This is the most immediate difference to Hades which has a cast of characters and lots of dialogue as the plot slowly develops and unwraps.
Into the action then, to begin with, you have not much more than sword and shield, and head into the first room. The action here is very quick – enemies will attack you, and you have your main attack, a special attack (this might be swing sword, then special is charge shield), and can combo them – all use stamina. You can dodge, and parry with the right timing – again, using stamina. But successful completion of these recovers stamina – so positioning and timing are important.
The top-down view gives you a great view of everything that’s going on – thickly, outlined characters move at speed, with incredible sound work (making great use of the audio output on PS5, despite it being a PS4 game) as things crunch and smash. It’s only as you play you start to understand the nuances, such as light and darkness.
You have a torch, which lights up the dark tomb. You can light sconces and other things to spread the light – the benefit here is that you do more damage in the light, and you can see more easily. In the dark, you take more damage, but you can’t hold a sword and a torch at the same time, so time things carefully.
As you complete certain rooms you can get various rewards. New weapons, health, or one of three upgrades – constitution (max health), damage, or luck (for finding items). The strategy comes on completion of each room, where you are shown a pathway up all the way to the boss – it branches, so not everything will be accessible. Maybe you want to increase your underlying stats to make the end battle easier, or maybe you want to try and find better weapons if you’re confident in your dodging. The route you choose at the very start determines the boss and enemies you’ll encounter, so you may favour certain routes and builds. This has a very similar feel to Slay the Spire. Oh, one more wrinkle – each time you go through a door, your curse meter builds.
The curse meter then – it’s horrendous(ly brilliant). Each time you complete a room and journey deeper into the vault, the meter goes up. Certain enemies will increase this as you take damage, and some rooms will have the ability to heal (at the expense of curse) and when the bar is full, you get a curse. After 4 curses, the fifth is a big one…
They vary. Some will negate the impact of your torch, so it’s basically useless but you won’t take extra damage in the dark. One increases gold on the ground, but it disappears quickly. One has you lose gold as you take damage (gold is collected to buy better stuff), one might stop regenerating stamina with perfectly timed dodges (but gives you an increased dodging window). When you max out, well, then it gets real. I approached the boss on one run, after a few challenging rooms I got my health back at the expense of a lot of curse. The final curse? Your health depletes every second and stops at 1HP. Brutal.
As you finish a level, relics collected can be spent to increase weapon choice going into the tombs and earning buffs to help you with future runs (and increasing chances of finding things on your travels, etc). It all plays into the strategy of how you want to play. Weapons make a difference too – some have knock-back functions, some deal more critical strikes, some have good range but at the expense of a loading time (like the pistol).
On the face of it, Curse of the Dead Gods is a really simple game, but with a surprising amount of depth and strategy. Runs can be quite short (especially at first) due to the pace of the game, but it’s perfectly balanced for the ‘quick go’ and ‘one more go’ crowd. The Hades comparisons are just but at the same time, unfair as it does enough to differentiate itself really. I’ve yet to unlock the later tombs, but I’m getting pretty darn good at parrying and dodging now, if only it wasn’t for those darn curses…
Reviewed on PS4