Reviewed On: PC
The roguelike genre has become laughable in recent years. It has seen a resurgence of popularity, which is wonderful, but now every game and its cousin seems to be getting sold as a roguelike despite having very little to classify itself as such. The Weaponographist does advertise itself as a rogue-like, though it seems to perhaps the slightly longer designation of “high-speed, top-down dungeon-crawling arena combat game.” Try saying that three times fast when you’re drunk.
As legendary demon hunter Doug McGrave you stumble upon an old woman pleading you to help her village which is under threat from some demons in the neighboring hellhole, but since she isn’t offering any money and Doug is a dick he outright refuses to give them his aid, laughing in her face. In revenge the old woman reveals herself to be a witch and curses McGrave so that any riches he touches simply vanish, and to become weaker whenever he isn’t fighting monsters. The “village” you’ve been tasked with saving from the forces of evil actually amounts to a few buildings and a total of five people whose sole existence strangely seems to revolve around upgrading your gear and abilities. It’s the village you return to upon your inevitable death, and it’s also where you can spend the demon goop you gathered up in order to upgrade the damage you do with weapons and spells, your health, speed and more. Oddly enough the evil dungeon’s entrance is right next to the village. Who plans this stuff?
The witch’s curse has a slightly unfortunate side-effect; every weapon you pick up will slowly disintegrate, and thus the core gameplay mechanic of the Weaponographist is that are constantly snatching up implements of death from the floor with which to do battle. Exactly what the witch was thinking here is something of a mystery; why would you want your potential savior’s weapons to break constantly? Surely that just makes it more likely that he’ll be killed. It’s an interesting idea, for sure, and for the first while grabbing whatever falls to hand is amusing, but it quickly loses its appeal. To the developer’s credit there’s quite a variety of weapons to pick up, ranging from tommy guns to spears to whips and even spells that can be activated like rings of fire and magical tubas, but nothing truly alters the way you play except in rather small ways. Furthermore the idea is shot in the foot by the inclusion of upgrades that slow down the rate at which a weapon deteriorates. If its such a core mechanic, why let me partially negate its effect on the gameplay?
Speaking of the gameplay when you delve into then dungeon combat is simplistic, the entire thing viewed from a top-down perspective. Using a controller the X button launches an attack toward the left, while the B button attacks left, A does down and Y strikes upwards, while the left stick simply moves you around in an oddly floaty and imprecise manner. You move around a tiny rectangle and batter every enemy into submission, grabbing weapons as you go. You’ll battle knights with swords, elves with bows, mafia men with machine guns, squid with guns, imps with spears, and tuba players. Yup, tuba players. Those bastards. The gameplay loop is pretty simple, then; you hack away at the enemy until everything dies, grabbing goop as you go for upgrades later on and finding the occasional checkpoint which lets you jump straight back to where you were upon death. And death will come because the sheer amount of fighting you to ensures you’ll slip up enough for the enemy to wear you down, sending you back to town to spend your goop to get a bit better to get further into the dungeons, perhaps this time making it to one of the boss battles which separates levels.
There’s an interesting mechanic where building a combo by killing enemies makes you even stronger, and losing that meter drops you back down to a scrawny weakling. It encourages you to always be attacking, to always be a little bit quicker, which isn’t actually very difficult because arena’s are tiny and usually crammed with enemies. However, it does have flaws; for one enemies sometimes don’t spawn quickly and thus you may find your meter running down not because of a fault of your own, but because of the game’s spawn system. . It’s not enough to hide the fact that the game is pretty boring, either, at least for a while. Early depths only have you battling a few enemies at any given time, and so death comes usually not from the challenge but from simply getting tired of the tedium and going onto autopilot mode. Once things heat up the game does become better. The differences aren’t huge but each weapon you grab will have a slightly faster attack rate, or lower damage, or more reach that must be adjusted for, while different enemies also need to be compensated for, like the lion dressed as a lion tamer who’ll take a mighty leap across the environment when you come near, or the charging knights. Yet even when the combat is in full swing The Weaponographist is just…meh. I can see the appeal of it, and it’s certainly fun in short blasts , but after a mere 15-minutes I would find myself tiring of the game. There is something to be said of simple and elegant design, but there just isn’t enough to keep my attention for any length of time, and even those 15-minutes felt simple and repetitive. You hammer away at the buttons, mindlessly adjusting for the different enemies. It’s fun in a way, but mindless fun.
Back at the ranch, or village to be accurate, you can spend the goop collected from the corpses of your fallen adversaries to purchase a small collection of upgrades. Arguably the most important are the weapon upgrades which bump up the damage you can do with each discovered weapon. At another shop you can increase the damage of spells, which are less numerous than standard weapons, and at another you can purchase increases to health, slow down the rate at which the combo meter deletes and make your weapons more durable. That leaves two vendors to visit: one unleashes chests on legs into the arena that when opened give you various things, like some extra health, and the last one is Doug McGrave’s personal lackey who keeps track of various stats. Toward the beginning of the game it’s incredibly easy to simply buy every upgrade on the market which suggests some balancing issues, but as the game goes on and prices skyrocket you’ll then find yourself having to spend a lot of time simply farming the enemies to get some improvements. Yup, definately some balancing problems, there.
Graphically the game is pleasing, at least for a few minutes. The cartoon style looks lovely as do the bright colors, but you quickly note the weak animations and the fact the arenas are downright bloody boring to look at. Each one is a rectangle with nothing in it, bar the admittedly decent looking enemies and maybe a rock. The audio effects are incredibly poor with one of weakest sounding chainsaws to ever grace a game, which isn’t to speak of the whip which snaps with all the crack of an elderly lady’s knees when she tries to stand up a bit too quickly. And the bows? Definitely don’t sound like bows. It’s all backed up by music that is initially sort of nice but repeats so often that I began to develop a deep hatred of it. The presentation just doesn’t do the job, I’m afraid. Yes, it is an indie game and therefore we shouldn’t expect pristine presentation and incredible levels of detail, but that doesn’t really excuse how…meh it is. Arenas could be far more visually interesting, and could also contain interactive elements to help make the combat more interesting, especially considering there’s no combo systems or anything else at work.
I also found the floaty movement to be irritating in a game that should be all about quick precision. Coupled with the fact that grabbing weapons while moving quickly can be a bit hit or miss and you’ve got a game that never controls as well as it should. There were a lot of times I’d miss attacks because the controls left me slightly ahead or behind of an enemy.
A lot more could have been done with the premise of the game, too. We got a lovely, charming intro that’s actually quite funny and some wonderful enemy designs that genuinely brought a smile to my face. An octopus wielding guns makes a good first impression, as does running around with a wyvern head that breathes fire. But the game doesn’t keep the momentum going. The funny enemy designs are only funny for the first couple of times you see them, and after the intro the “story” vanishes into thin air, taking the humour with it.
A fun little title that should be enjoyed in short, sharp blasts, because it doesn’t have enough to hold you for any longer than that. I know, I know, that sounds harsh, and it’s even worse when you consider that the developers are a friendly bunch who seem happy to chat away on the Steam forums, but the Weaponographist just can’t hold my attention, especially not with such a wonderful variety of far stronger rogue-like games on the market. There’s nothing new here, and none of the standard mechanics are even done all that well. Not only that but it’s really a rogue-ExtraLite, with very little that classifies it as belonging to the genre. Mildly fun but ultimately entirely underwhelming.