Pylon: Rogue. A casual roguelike for hardcore roguelike players.
This is a guest post by our new staff writer: JDehler
Short and PUNishing.
You must be the sort who loves a good roguelike. Otherwise you’d not be here. You’d have clicked on another article… read most of it and maybe even left a comment. But you clicked here. You chose to read this particular write up. Are you looking at Pylon: Rogue for yourself? Perhaps a gift? The better question is: Who is Pylon: Rogue for? If you, or the person you are shopping for, loved aspects of The Binding of Isaac, Baldur’s Gate and (to a lesser extent) Don’t Starve and Gauntlet Legends then you, or they, are in for a treat. Pylon:Rogue is a challenging and irreverent hack-and-slash served in bite-sized portions and rewards those who come back for more.
Feel the BEAT.
Let’s start with one of the game’s weaknesses. This is not a glaring weakness. It can be overcome without dev intervention. As far as I can tell this is the only thing you’ll encounter during gameplay that may affect your enjoyment. It’s completely elective. You can turn off BGM at any time from the Escape Menu, Audio Tab, Music Slider. Just run it down to zero and queue up a good playlist. PC gaming at its finest. You can also drop sound effects the same way but they are integral to the game more so than even BGM. That said the sounds and music in game feel like your typical asset store fare. Not bad but nothing particularly striking. I’m not going to Amazon or Steam to look for the OST. I’m not certain that the dev hadn’t purposely chosen music from a known artist specifically for this game to give it a spectacular soundtrack. I’m almost certain they didn’t. Electing to use something more generic was wise as the time it takes to find a killer soundtrack could be well spent on other parts of the game. Too many indies agonize over finding ‘the right sound’ so much that some parts of the process get neglected. The music is varied and sound effects are crisp. They work and they work well. When a character lets out a shout or a grunt it actually matches their appearance and (for the most part) their biography. Striking an enemy produces some audio feedback as well. Not the most satisfying audio setup out there but certainly above the average.
Fixed camera? More like: ‘A camera that doesn’t need fixing’!
One thing that has annoyed me personally is a roguelike’s naughty penchant for fixed views and repetitive maps. Overhead, Three-Quarters, whatever else they’ve tried for viewing angles never grabs me as conducive to the experience. In this game you have a camera that freely pans around. You can actually see BEHIND things. The game does suffer from a map assembly system that uses pre-constructed map layouts. At times it feels like the engine played a quick game of Tetris and pooped out a map. While this doesn’t affect gameplay you might end up with a mild sense of deja vu. Part of the engine also changes how obscuring objects render, allowing you to see through them via a checkerboard texture that appears to be post process. During combat you might forget you can move the camera and mentally lock yourself to a Three Quarters view of the battle. Try to break yourself of that habit. Combat survival improved dramatically for me once I got over that mental hurdle. When good game design shows up sometimes we’re so indoctrinated in BAD game design that we forget that this game provides us with a better way. I suppose that’s the zen of decent camera angles.. Moving on!
What’s in a game?
A rogue by any other name would smell just as sweet. The game’s base engine appears to be Unity. In fact I can confirm it uses Unity. Based on this I’d love to see more roguelike devs get access to the Pylon source and USE IT. There would be an overnight improvement to so many existing Unity roguelikes. I even did a quick check of the asset store to see if there was a similar project for sale in the “Complete Projects” section and nothing comes even close. There would be no competing product. With parallel development we might see inclusions and additions that Quantum Squid could use to give this game that sparkle polish it deserves. Better music and sounds. More map variety. Couch and online multiplayer would not go amiss. As a point I believe Multi-platform multiplayer would be especially epic. This game would go from a hardcore’s casual dungeon crawl to party game. Even considering my own issues with graphical setting in this game the Unity engine plays quite nicely with portable hardware. In theory all you would need to play is any device with an HTML5 WebGL capable browser and BAM. Local multi-platform multiplayer. At that point the game would be WELL worth the 15 dollar price point. The game is not absolutely flawless. There’s a list of fiddly bits being worked on by the devs with a list available on the Steam forum. But aside from a few bugs… the game is rock solid as-is.
Having your cake and eating it too.
The characters in Pylon: Rogue do not level up. There’s no experience points system. As you gather riches you are able to purchase upgraded equipment from the shop. You can’t buy the highest tier equipment right away either. The shop that deals in equipables has its own progression which bars you from buying OP equips after a few rounds of looting and scooting. The game unlocks badges for you as you play and meet certain requirements. The interface that catalogs all available badges also tell you how to earn them. It’s like an achievement system that actually enhances the gameplay. The trick being that you’ll need to unlock the badge and either find it on the map or buy it from the store. Buyer beware! Certain badges are best used by specific characters and do little to aid the others. The game happily spits out tips and tricks on loading screen between map loads. Intentionally jumping between the Mario Bro.’s 3 style overworld and the ‘always accessible’ shop can net you a fair amount of useful tidbits. The intermediate characters are especially challenging to master as they do not gather as much loot in early game and can be quite a bit flimsier than the (questionably) venerable Looticus Maximus. The badges mitigate this but you need to unlock as many as possible with Looticus and then proceed later with the characters that require moderated skill.
Where the rubber meets the road.
The issues I’ve seen and experienced for myself are few and easy to catalog. I tend to amp all graphical settings on new game to their max. When you spend money on a prebuilt machine instead of assembling it from parts you expect everything to work and you can max things out right away. This is a game where I recommend you do not try this. It initially ran worse than Fallout 4 on an i3 with no dedicated GPU. We all know that kid who plays League of Legends on a laptop almost as old as they are. Yeah. That bad. Rolling the game back to defaults with a few tweaks had me back in my PC Master Race happy place. I blame some unoptimized assets for most of the performance bottleneck. This along with Unity’s known goofy loading system, which tries to stream assets, made for a fun time in framerater land. The visual fidelity between the default and over kill GPU settings was near indiscernible. Beyond bugs that are known and being worked on the next large issue I see is the game difficulty. This is no Dark Souls. The game is unforgiving, certainly. However the learning curve is about as easy as beating an egg. Once you have the core mechanics down you just naturally git gud.
A quick note on late game or “Who is this game not for?”
No matter the class or starting point I never made it very far. It feels like no matter how far I dial down the ‘game journalist difficulty’ knob I could never make it passed more than a few stages. The unlocked items I got did spur me on but they don’t apply when found. First you have to find them. THEN clear the stage and buy them. Keep in mind you can only have so many enabled at a time. That would be around 12 if I’m correct. You can leave the game and resume as long as you clear the stage you’re on. Those who enjoy a good RPG-themed ‘bounce around the murder fields’ but don’t like being nailed down to several hours of grinding should find a lot to love about how Pylon: Rogue. The take-away should be this: Pylon: Rogue is not forgiving and someone who takes it too seriously will not enjoy themselves. The game retails for 14.99 and scores a 6/7 from this reviewer. Even a small discount during a sale would just make this a sweeter purchase for that roguelike lover.