Article by contributor Morgan Park.
I’ve finally gathered the keys I need to reach the exit. I’m armed with a revolver and dagger to deal with my foes. Descending to the lowest floor of this hellish desert, I notice a serpent guard patrolling the corridors below me. I decide the best course of action is to get the jump on him with my dagger; the creature quickly drops with little effort. Now steps away from the locked door for which I’ve finally found the key, I spy a stone statue displaying some sort of lizard creature. I brush it off as decoration, and continue on to get the hell out of here. Before I can comprehend what is happening, I am dead. That statue did not appreciate me looking away from it and decided to swiftly end my life as punishment. This is Eldritch.
It’s almost ridiculous how much Eldritch feels like it was designed from the ground up for my interests. It checks off nearly box that equals an ideal game for me: stealth action, roguelike elements, Lovecraftian influence, and an emphasis on making the adventure your own. All of these elements meld together in an oh-so-satisfying manner that had me repeatedly insisting I was only going for “one more run.”
At its core, Eldritch is a stealth action game. At the beginning of a new run, you have nothing. This leaves it up to the player to find weapons, magic, and supplies while also searching for the exit leading to the next floor. But one of the greatest parts of Eldritch is that you can tackle its varied worlds any way you want. For a period of time, I decided to try to get through a stage with no weapons – just my fists. This made me much more cautious. I took a moment to stop and learn enemy patterns, and stayed crouched to sneak by them. Many games tout their accommodation for various play styles, but often this leads to one way working better than another, and having no reason to play any other way. This was not the case with Eldritch. I found just as much success bulking up on ammo for my revolver and running through stages as I did sneaking by everything, often killing no one.
Eldritch has a bit of a catch to its combat, though. Killing an enemy allows the player to loot it, but looting an enemy also means a chance that it will respawn somewhere else in the stage. This mechanic made for some tough decisions, as I often mulled over whether it was worth it to possibly loot some desperately needed ammo or take my chances and not worry about it coming back to kill me later.
While Eldritch does have a natural progression through its three worlds, you can access any one of them in any order once you’ve unlocked them. But there is some encouragement to tackle them in order. Since to complete the game you have to collect all three artifacts at the end of each stage without perishing first, it’s in the player’s best interest to visit the easiest world first in order to get a free compass. The compass places an icon on the exit to the stage at all times, which can make all the difference if you find yourself in need of a quick exit. The compass is not entirely necessary of course, but it’s definitely a benefit I always appreciated having.
Every stage in Eldritch is randomly generated, meaning that every new spawn feels like a new place that needs figuring out. There is something especially great about the way Eldritch generates its stages in a sort of block formation that makes for easier navigation with a map, but also generally more interesting layouts. The stage generation also does a great job of seamlessly providing several options to get through places, like having an opening above a locked gate that you could squeeze through if you happen to have the teleportation or block-building power to get up there.
My only real qualm with Eldritch lies in something that stealth games have struggled with and very seldom succeeded in doing: communicating your notoriety status. In Eldritch, there is no real way to know if you’re in danger of being seen by monsters. You can assume you’re safe from sight when hiding behind a block, but only to a certain extent. Once you realize a monster has seen you, it’s too late. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to quickly change position and break the line of sight. Enemy AI will check your last known position, and then move back to their original path.
Eldritch feels like a game after my heart. I’ve never played a stealth action game that has the same replayability, a trait brought out my its roguelike nature. Its eerily interesting world and the creatures that inhabit it evoke a sense of discomfort and eminent threat. Well-designed stages with impressive random generation help to alleviate the frustration of failure. In a time where every genre seems to be getting the “roguelike” treatment, Eldritch has made an excellent case for its fusion with the stealth action genre.