Our Darker Purpose Title Screen (Featured Image)

Our Darker Purpose Review: Difficulty Done Wrong

Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: 1/29/2014

 

I have not beaten Our Darker Purpose. I can’t beat Our Darker Purpose. And yet I do not want to beat Our Darker Purpose. Our Darker Purpose is a roguelike (or roguelikelike, roguelite, or procedural death labyrinth depending on which name you prefer) and it is unrelentingly hard. Some elements of the difficulty aren’t intentional, but others are, and both sorely damage the overall experience. Out of my 20-plus hours spent with the game, at least 19 of those hours were spent in the game’s first chapter, a section that takes about half an hour to get through provided you survive it. Out of a total of four chapters, I have yet to beat the boss of the second chapter. I have become grossly familiar with the first half of this game, and the more familiar I become the more I dislike it. Our Darker Purpose insists on its difficulty, knowingly forcing its players to play through the game dozens of times to unlock permanent upgrades and make progress. But the longer you play, the more problems appear and the worse they get.

The core gameplay of Our Darker Purpose works reasonably well. It’s essentially a slower version of The Binding of Isaac, but with the an added dodge move. Since your base move speed is slower the game is based around effectively balancing dodging and shooting as you make your way through a series of randomly generated levels. The first few hours are actually quite enjoyable as you discover new enemies, bosses, rooms, items, and perks, and learn about your character, Cordy, and the creepy and magical Edgewood Home for Lost Children that she lives in. Unfortunately, this grace period doesn’t last long. Each playthrough makes the repeated elements stand out more, the mood ever exhausting, and the rough enemy designs more frustrating. Yet, as evidenced by its upgrade system, Our Darker Purpose wants you to try, and fail, a lot.

Our Darker Purpose Green Fire

Almost everything in Edgewood is alive and everything wants to kill you.

The first problem that becomes noticeable is how frequently the same rooms and items appear, especially on the first levels since they’re the ones inevitably played the most. Though levels are randomly generated, they’re put together from a set of pre-built rooms. It doesn’t take long before you can enter a room and instantly know which enemies are in there, where they are, and the strategy you used to take them out the last six times. Finding items loses its luster once you find yourself picking up the same ones over and over. At the start of the game finding new items with unique abilities is exciting, but the grind of the game destroys that too.

The game’s art, writing, and tone all work really well at first. The art looks like a mix between Don’t Starve and something that Tim Burton might dream up. Most of the rooms are dark and destroyed, filled with strange creatures and feral students that want to kill you. The writing is quite morbid, most of it about how the children at Edgewood are abused by the administrators, but it’s also darkly comic in its surreality. It all adds up to a sort of inviting melancholy. It’s depressingly funny, or maybe funnily depressing. Yet, it all begins to wear on the player after hours of play. Binding of Isaac‘s insane, raucous charm invites the player to join in on its madness, but Our Darker Purpose‘s comical melancholy just becomes exhausting.

The game is filled with Shakespeare references and the story seems to be going to interesting places, but the difficulty

The game is filled with references to Shakespeare and the story hints at some really interesting concepts, but the length and difficulty go far and away above what the story requires.

Enemies too begin to show their flaws the more times they’re encountered. Most rooms feature at least one enemy type that either chases after Cordy or shoots a projectile that follows her around. Because of this the strategy for most rooms devolves into running in wide circles. Some enemies are just downright poorly designed. One angry student lets out a chalk cloud that follows Cordy around. When it hits, the controls become reversed: left goes right, right goes left, and so on. What this usually means is that dodging the rest of the enemies and projectiles in the room becomes a pain, and you’re likely to run right back into the cloud once the controls switch back to normal starting the cycle over again. Another enemy teleports after every attack, but he attacks so frequently that the amount of time he’s actually vulnerable to attack is frustratingly little. An invulnerable, haunted set of clothes doesn’t do any damage, but it pins Cordy to one spot for a small amount of time, interrupting the flow and movement of combat. Enemies that screw up the way combat naturally works instead of testing you’re skills in combat are frustrating to fight, not fun. In a game like this every bit of health matters, and these irritating enemies only serve to increase frustration.

Running in circles from guys chasing you is like 75% of all the rooms.

Running in circles from guys chasing you is like 75% of all the rooms.

It’s only because Our Darker Purpose wants the player to repeatedly play through it that these problems become more apparent and more frustrating. If the game didn’t cling so steadfastly to its length and difficulty, perhaps the experience would be more enjoyable, albeit shorter. It’s clear that the developers knew Our Darker Purpose was tremendously difficult because a permanent upgrade system gives perks that don’t go away when you die. Yet this too is designed to force the player to grind through playthrough after playthrough in order to have enough currency to buy anything. Repetition is even forced on you after victories. The first time you beat any of the chapters the game resets forcing you to start from the beginning before you can get back to where you were and begin making progress again.

Our Darker Purpose wants to be like its forefather, The Binding of Isaac, but longer and more difficult. But instead of making their game difficult, yet rewarding, and encouraging players to try again and again, Avidly Wild Games has made Our Darker Purpose difficult and withholding forcing players to make attempt after attempt. With each new playthrough, another problem is revealed, another good element wears out its welcome, and another small design error becomes a big nuisance. Yet these problems wouldn’t be so aggravating if Our Darker Purpose didn’t force players to grind through the game over and over again in order to make progress. Our Darker Purpose wants to be hard. It is, but for the wrong reasons.

A review copy of the game was provided by Avidly Wild Games.



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