Cabbage. Cabbage has become my life line in this world gone awry.
It’s what keeps my character going. It’s the only thing I have planted around my house. I used to mix carrots into my diet and make a great little stew by combining the two, but carrots are scarce now. Carrots have become a delicacy you could say. Of all the damn things I had to get stuck eating….. it’s cabbage.
At first glance, David Brevik, creator of Diablo, Hellgate: London, Marvel Heroes (basically any addictive action RPG you can remember, he’s been responsible for) and his new creation, It Lurks Below (currently in closed beta), could be dismissed as a Terraria or Starbound clone. While some of the mechanics (scavenging for resources), and especially the graphics may have that same feel, that’s where the similarities end. Brevik has crafted a grueling game (literally, he’s the only one developing It Lurks Below within his new game company, Graybeard Games) where resources aren’t plentiful, and the enemies come at you in droves. For a game with such a “cute” (I use the term cute loosely) exterior, what “lurks below” is something much more sinister. It’s hugely rewarding, but also extremely punishing. This game will test you in the best ways possible.
The game begins with you creating your character (hair, face, body, etc) and the class you want to play as (Rogue, Bard, Wizard or Cleric). At first, you won’t notice anything different between the classes when you start playing, but I’ll get into that later. Once you’ve created your little sprite, you can pick between three different game modes; Normal, which is your standard survival mode. Hardcore, which has perma-death. And finally, there is Creative, which removes your stamina and food gauges, allowing you to go about your game without worrying if your character is hungry or if he/she needs to sleep. After you’ve chosen your mode (I picked Normal), you’re dropped into this apocalyptic world.
When you start, you’ll notice that in the top right hand corner of your screen you’ll be given your first quest, which is to create a “Wand” (it’s a gun), by gathering sticks to assemble it. From there, you’ll get quests to build your base of operations and scavenge for food. What made the game immediately enjoyable for me was how it guides you through with quests and rewards you as you progress. I remember playing Minecraft with my kids for the first time and not having a clue what was needed to be done when I started or how anything worked. Yes, there is a tutorial level for Minecraft, but It Lurks Below implements it immediately as you start, and continues to do so as you venture further. I can remember my first time playing Terraria being less then enjoyable because I found myself wandering around aimlessly and digging into the ground with the hopes of finding something. Here, Brevik has placed dangling carrots (or in my case, cabbage) in front of the player to guide them. Little hints in quests such as “The Beholder is waiting at the bottom of the muddy area” (I’m not sure exactly what it said, but it was essentially that) are vague, but at least I have a bit of guidance in where I need to be headed for my next objective.
As you play, you’ll be gaining experience from defeated enemies, which in turn allows you to level up. You’ll have a choice between putting a point into four different stats each time you level; Attack Power (Damage % increase), Vitality (Health), Intelligence (Mana), and Wisdom (how fast your Wand recharges). My Rogue has all points in Attack Power and Vitality currently, but I’m sure I’ll branch out further as I progress. Every few levels, you’ll gain an Artifact Item, which will allow you to do certain abilities (my Rogue can go invisible and attack for increased critical strike). These can also be found in the world, and can be increased in power by spending gold on them. Bards can play songs with these items to increase stats to give you an edge in battle. While there are only four classes currently available, I hope that Brevik includes more in the future (Knight maybe?). There isn’t any multiplayer mode available right now, but having players play different classes while in groups could be advantageous should something ever be included.
Fighting enemies and scavenging new materials such as copper ore will allow you to gather new, more powerful weapons, and the ability to make better gear. There are different kinds of Wands to find, with better stats and different elements such as ice, fire, lightning, poison, that will give you an edge against the enemy. Right now, there are currently just the Wands to use as weapons. I’m not sure if that will change later, but it could be cool to have swords and shields to battle with. A little variety wouldn’t hurt. The only way to find these new materials is to dig further down into the ground. The best example I can use is the original Diablo. You have your base above ground and make your way further below, getting stronger as you progress. It’s an addictive loop, especially with the Recall ability (you can build a Homestone that allows you to teleport back to your base and then back to wherever you were adventuring) that keeps you constantly engaged and in the thick of things.
The one flaw (which isn’t really a flaw, it’s just me complaining) I will point out, is how grueling the game can be in some parts. I love a good challenge, but sometimes It Lurks Below can be extremely unforgiving. Like I mentioned before, food is scarce. Like Terraria, NPC’s will come to you once you’ve made certain buildings, but you need resources to do that. I haven’t even made my first building yet to get an NPC in It Lurks Below because I can’t find 10 pieces of wheat. I currently have 2 bushes of wheat on my Rogue and I’m on Day 21 in game, I literally can’t find any. I assume they’ll pop up later (I’m counting on it) but this NPC I could have that can give me seeds to make food (I COULD STOP EATING CABBAGE), I literally can’t find the proper resources to even get them. I love the uncertainty, and the struggle makes the game compelling, but I need some damn wheat. I guess that’s what Creative mode is for, but I ain’t gonna whimp out yet. I’ve got that steady cabbage diet.
As far as music goes, there is only one simple track that plays every so often that is haunting, yet beautiful. It’s the perfect compliment to the world you’re now living in. During one of my sessions, the enemies made a surface attack. I fortified myself on top of my base. As the horde of beasts came forward, my Rogue blasting his Wand at them, sleep and hunger at 10%, the melancholic track began to play in the background at this very moment. It was a moment that solidified how dire the situation really is. You never feel like you’re in control. You’re alone in this cruel world, with survival as your top priority. Needless to say, it gave me some major Dark Souls vibes.
It Lurks Below is oozing with potential. It’s currently in closed beta right now, with a release date of sometime later this year. While it’s already an addictive game in its current form, if some type of multiplayer could be implemented later, with new classes introduced down the road (badass Knight, just sayin’), and a little bit of an increase in food/supply drops (seriously, where’s all the wheat man), It Lurks Below has the potential to be something truly great. Keep this one on your radar. – NVJ