The thrill of any roguelike comes from the mystery of not knowing what comes next. Even after hours of play and hundreds of cleared rooms, some combinations still surprise the dedicated player. Curse of the Dead Gods, a dungeon-crawling roguelite from Passtech Games and Focus Home Interactive, captures this feeling even in its earliest runs. Danger hides in every shadowed corner, and combat encourages careful blocking in place of overt aggression. It’s a whole new spin on a well-worn genre that took good advantage of its year in Early Access.
Players begin their attempted tomb raiding by stumbling into a sealed temple. The statues and walls all look to be some otherworldly adaption of Aztec mythology, only the gods are seemingly very much alive and crafting endless ways to punish this new trespasser. The entire game centers around sacrifice, with players having to carve a path forward at the cost of their sanity. Each new room is pitch black and only visible via a torch or destructible pyres. The light reveals a safe area of surprisingly colorful temple surroundings that gives players a chance against the harpies, soldiers, and temple guards that stalk the halls. Attacks that strike in the dark deal significantly more damage, so there’s always a reason to stick to any illuminated corner.
Combat in Curse of the Dead Gods has a lot of variety. Weapons include swords, throwing knives, war hammers, whips, and more. Each different blade and bludgeon feels unique, and there are variants of each that provide distinct bonuses and upgraded damage. One particularly potent tool of destruction is a set of knives that deals random elemental damage with each combo, letting players whittle down health while staying out of the reach of enemy blades. Players get a pair of weapons at the start of each run to start but eventually gain more choices as they progress. The combat relies on stringing together combos between them and dodging out of the way to stay alive.
Even with a pile of upgraded weapons and perks from collectible relics, the player character never feels overpowered. Each successfully cleared room is a hard-earned victory, but it never gets too frustrating either. Dead Gods strikes a great balance in its challenge, inspiring the old “one more run” mentality with ease. The developers help that along by always providing rewards for the player’s time investment. Whether it be a new power-up or curse or just a few bits of boss currency to secure a new permanent upgrade back in the hub, players are almost never running in place without something to work towards.
Speaking of curses, they provide both the game’s title and its signature mechanic. Opening every door inside the temple corrupts the player character just a little bit. Players can also acquire more powerful artifacts and powers by sacrificing their blood and hastening the corruption. At certain levels, corruption provides a curse that makes a run more challenging. These can range from removing attack indicators to making the graphics black and white to simply locking out item slots in the game’s inventory. The original Early Access release of the game suffered due to these curses being wildly unbalanced, but the launch version has ensured that early curses keep the game playable.
In fact, the entire Curse of the Dead Gods experience at launch has a wonderful difficulty ramp only matched by the best in the genre. Combat is smooth and always challenging, but victory is never out of reach. Rooms get more complicated as players move on, but they’re welcome obstacles rather than brick walls that kill a run dead. Add in a stylish presentation and a unique theme and it’s hard to find much to complain about with this final release. Passtech Games has carved out a new space in roguelikes that should appeal to fans of The Binding of Isaac and Darkest Dungeon alike.
Curse of the Dead Gods is now available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox copy for the purposes of this review, and the game was reviewed on an Xbox Series X.