Indie Quickie: Sword of the Stars: The Pit

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A dungeon crawl spin-off to the Sword of the Stars 4X strategy series.

Who made it and where can you get it? Our neighbors to the north at Canadian studio Kerberos Productions are the creators of all things Sword of the Stars. The Pit is available for $9.99 at the usual digital download sites like Steam, GOG, GamersGate, etc. A playable demo is available to try before buying.

How much did we play? I have attempted a handful of runs into The Pit on various difficulty settings and currently have an Engineer to floor 6 on easy and a Ranger to floor 11 on normal (out of 30 base-game floors). Also took a shot at the new high level difficulty setting included with the Mind Games DLC, made it past the first floor and thought to myself “well, that wasn’t so tough.” I was then immediately waylaid and annihilated by a gang of enemies as soon as I entered the second floor. Seriously? Seriously!

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? Nada.

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Why should you play it?

    • Sci-Fi Roguelike: The roguelike is a very popular genre with independent developers, but it seems like a lot of them – and there are A LOT of them out there – stay within the RPG comfort zone of high fantasy. The Pit is not fantasy, it is pure sci-fi, and I really love that about this game. It’s a refreshing change to venture into dungeons teeming with drones, bots, and protean blobs rather than the usual skeletons and goblins; to kill hostiles with laser pistols and light sabers instead of swords and bows and arrows; to take on the role of an engineer or marine instead of a mystical wizard or valiant knight; to hack computer terminals and pry open ammo boxes and lockers instead of looting treasure chests. Putting theme aside, this game is a roguelike through and through, offering multiple class options, food and health management, crafting systems, customizable character progression, randomly generated maps and turn-oriented combat paired with the harsh penalties of permadeath and degrading equipment and weapon mods that only reveal their positive or negative effects after being applied. Everything’s a gamble in this galaxy. Another unique touch is how the game limits your field of view, only allowing you to see what’s ahead and in your peripheral vision while obscuring everything else in a black fog of war. For example, when a door is opened you immediately see a small slice of the room through the doorway; however anything that might be lurking in a corner or in the darkness to the side of the door will only be revealed when you go all the way inside. The tension really mounts when a creature hasn’t come into view yet but can be heard creeping about from behind a wall or, even worse, behind you.

    • Fast, Fun, Friendly: I don’t think I’ve ever used all three of those words together to describe a roguelike before, but they most definitely apply to this one. The pace of play eschews the somewhat plodding nature of the genre with a mixture of real-time character movement that seamlessly switches over to the familiar one-square-at-a-time system as soon as enemies appear on the screen. In combat, attacks and other turn actions (reloading guns, using items, etc)–both from you and the enemy–happen very quickly, without any interruptions. The Pit also earns major points for offering an undercurrent of subtle humor, a fluid, sort of cel-shaded visual style, and accessibility to all players without abandoning the unforgiving difficulty that experienced rogues crave. It’s all in the multiple difficulty settings, which range from cakewalk to you’re-gonna-die-a-lot-and-not-always-through-your-own-fault hard. I suppose the only thing that isn’t quite so user-friendly is the interface. Not that it’s poor or anything, it’s just that there are a lot of different menus to sort through and a lot of little things to figure out as far as crafting and setting up hotkeys for swapping weapons and abilities. The tutorial helps, but it still took me my first few runs to feel like I had a relatively comfortable grasp on where everything was and how certain mechanics worked.

    • Playing Mind Games: I don’t know what it’s like to play this game without the Mind Games expansion installed. I’m sure it’s still plenty of space-crawl fun, but having started my dive into The Pit with the DLC, I don’t know if I could go back to the base game without the new content. For only five bucks, Mind Games seems to offer a number of core improvements and a ton of extra value, most notably the introduction of Psionic Powers. Yes, so in addition to robots and laser beams, you’ve got mind control and TK punches and blasts of psionic flame at your disposal, which only increases the sci-fi vibe. One of the two new character classes, the Psion, lets you dig into these powers right away, while the other, the Tarka Ranger, joins the crew as the only playable alien. The other major feature I noticed after hitting floor 10 was the option to bank gear and unused experience points that could then be used for any other new game I started on the same difficulty thereafter. An option to jump all the way down to floor 10 as the starting point also became available. This eases the pain of permadeath just a little bit, for those who choose to take advantage of it.

Parting Thoughts: I know absolutely nothing about the Sword of the Stars universe, but that sure hasn’t stopped me from getting sucked down into the addictive depths of The Pit. Everything one looks for in a roguelike, this game would seem to have. It’s deep with character development options and replay opportunities and can be absolutely punishing in difficulty, yet unlike many of its kin this role-playing crawl into the dungeons of sci-fi is a little bit more approachable for players outside of the hardcore fan base. If you do decide to take the plunge, you might as well go all the way in for the Mind Games add-on. The extra content and features it provides do greatly enhance the core game.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!