Most of my issues with Roguelikes stems from the permadeath aspects of the genre. There is a severe lack of progression with these titles because of the permanence of death. There is no possibility for a lasting story, and you are forced to replay modified versions of the same level to even get a chance to progress forward. Crawl is different though, and relies more on its co-op mechanics than its Rogue-like gameplay.
So in the sea of Roguelike titles coming out, what makes Crawl so special? In short, the way this game does co-op. It is safe to say that adding friends to anything makes things more fun, but employing it the way Crawl does is truly special. There is only one living player at a time, and the game focuses largely on him. He goes from room to room, collects gold, and fights monsters which are controlled by the other players. One to three of the players play as ghosts who can summon various creatures at certain locations and attack the living player. The ghost who is responsible for killing the living hero steals his body and continues the adventure.
Because players keep stealing each other’s body, it never actually ends, and in one half hour run, you can get to experience the final boss. This is both good, and bad. A lot of the replay value of Roguelikes comes from the desire to get to the end. Well in Crawl, you get to the end easily, but you want to play again because of the random nature of the game. I am not talking about procedurally generated world where different mobs attack you in a different scenery each time. The real fun comes from the ways the players interact with each other.
You are placed in this uneasy alliance as ghosts where you must work with them, until the hero player gets close to death. Then it becomes a mad dash to see who can kill him first. There is also a superb way of balancing out the way ghosts operate. Perhaps you are not particularly good, or you are just really unlucky, and you can never seem to kill the hero. The more time you spend in ghost mode, the more you can upgrade your monsters and stand a better chance against the hero.
Ghosts don’t just control monsters though, they also can possess various traps, and even the final boss. If you get a full party of three ghosts, the final boss comes completely under your control, so it actually turns into a full on 3 vs 1 showdown.
As awesome as the co-op can be, there are some fairly large issues. If you don’t fill your party with players or bots then you better be prepared for a pretty boring game. Each of the four players has a purpose and when one is missing, you feel like something in the game is severely lacking. Suddenly the monsters pose less of a threat, and the boss becomes extremely easy.
One more terrible oversight on the part of this game is lack of online co-op. if you want you and three friends to play this game together, you are going to have to cram around your computer screen. The fact that local co-op is an option is spectacular, the fact that it is the only option feels misguided.
Without co-op, this game would feel like just another dungeon crawler, where you level up by fighting hordes of monsters, and buy, and upgrade your gear. Crawl is overly simple when it comes to its mechanics, and it could almost be faulted for that, but having such a wonderful co-op makes you forget the lack of content.
This may just be me, but the 8-bit art style is no longer interesting or unique. Sure it was neat when I initially saw it, but now it feels like an easy and lazy way to design the visuals for a game. The same goes for the soundtrack, which while competent, is forgettable.
I love Crawl. It may not be perfect, and have some questionable omissions, but this title is truly fantastic. The most important part to any game is its foundation, and Crawl’s is exceptionally strong.