The games in the Sword of the Stars series are known as space strategy simulators of epic proportions filled with complex yet satisfying gameplay of the 4X variety; think Civilization but in space. So of course when you hear that Kerberos Productions is going to go the indie route and self publish a spin-off title to the series, The Pit would probably be one of the last game types you would expect — a roguelike semi-turn based RPG. Brutally hard, complex, and yet simple at the same time, The Pit is the type of title despite being indie that will bring in and introduce the hardcore masochist gamers to a series they might not have touched before.
Roguelike is a term some people might not be familiar with despite it making a strong showing in recent years with some hit indie titles. It comes from mimicking qualities and concepts of an old RPG called Rogue and typically means that when you die, you suffer permanent death and that death was programmed to come swiftly. Any saves related to that playthrough are deleted after death. Roguelike also means that there is a lot of randomization in the layout of the levels which The Pit has with each floor and its contents being randomly generated.
The plot of The Pit features a miniscule piece of the Sword of the Stars universe in that it takes place entirely on a single planet. Arbuda IV is a retirement home like planet for soldiers but in the end there is no peace for them. A plague with no cure has turned the population into ghouls. Rumor has that a possible cure is located in a very deep pit (hence the title — The Pit). Gameplay revolves around heroes going into the pit and attempting to reach the bottom for the cure to save their fellow soldiers from their ghoulish fate. The players battle robots and mutated monsters along with environmental traps and even their own hunger.
The controls take a bit of time to get used to in The Pit. You move freely in the game with the WSAD keys until you come in sight of an enemy and everything turns into 1 action turns. All actions eat up turns like eating, reloading, moving a single block. To attack a square, you left click while hitting space bar will interact with the current square you are on. Another key must be hit if you want to pick up items off the ground. After years of actions being context sensitive in most modern games, it is really difficult to get used to having 3 different buttons for 3 different ways of interacting. I frequently started attacking lockers and goo piles when I really wanted to loot them because the intuitive design would have been to have left click be multipurpose. The controls are still extremely functional though as long as you can break that mindset.
Players are given a choice between 3 classes to delve into the abyss with — the Marine, Scout, and Engineer. Each of the classes have distinct start up gear and skills that allow you take different approaches to conquering the pit but when all is said and done the character you end up with is based on how you level them up during the descent. There are a lot of skills to level up including things like electronics, mechanical, lock pick, and weapon skills that make the trip much easier.
Each trip down into the pit is beholden to the randomness. There is just a ton of loot on the way down and it is up to you to find the needles in the haystack in order to survive. It’s possible to find piles and piles of ammunition for a gun you never find. Items can be crafted together to form new items and every new combination teaches you a recipe that is linked to the overall game rather than that particular save. It’s this recipe system that possibly makes further pit dives just a little bit easier.
One of the most interesting features of the game is a fog of war type system where anything outside of the player’s field of vision is darkened making it super easy for monsters to sneak up on you and they will sneak up on you. This plays into the core difficulty of the title as you can just walk into a room not being able to see inside and all of a sudden be swamped by 6 enemies. There are four difficulty levels with easy being what most people would consider a normal difficulty. Medium, Hard, and Insane ratchet up the difficulty quickly in a very brutal don’t drop the soap fashion. The length of time to get to the bottom of the pit mixed with that raw brutality put a damper on the oh just one more run fun that the game tries to create.
The Pit is an interesting spin-off not only because of the drastic difference of genre from the main stay Sword of the Stars games but because it is an entire new direction for the developer Kerberos. It is the type of game where you don’t mind losing because half the fun is just to see how far you can get. With both simple yet complex gameplay and brutal difficulty, the real joy of this game is the sense of accomplishment when you finally reach the bottom of the pit.