Climb the tower, fighting your way through each floor, collecting loot and avoiding certain death from impossible monsters. No, it’s not Dark Souls, but close enough. It’s Eternal Step.
Genre(s): Action RPG | Roguelike
Developer Once More with Gusto
Publisher: Green Man Loaded
Release Date: October 2015
Played Main campaign
Purchase At: Steam
This game is about fighting, looting and fighting some more. There is no explanation for why your character is in the tower, no story or characterisation. You’re simply there to fight your way through. It’s not even that the story is in the environment, there for you to pick up, or from items ala Dark Souls. There aren’t even minor cutscenes when you fight bosses.
But let’s get to the meat of the game: the fighting. This is challenging game, where staying still means death. At the start you’ll fight simple enemies, like green blobs with spikes, but even then, if you let them surround you, you’ll die fairly quickly. By the time you clear the first boss though, the difficulty will spike tremendously and you’ll have to fight faster and stronger enemies, ones that barely give you an opening to attack. One of the issues I ran into during the first boss and with the enemies beyond it was the sluggishness in control response, especially facing the opposite direction after an attack or a roll, something you need to do to properly counterattack during the very small windows of opportunity you get in this game. For example, the first boss uses some wide swipes that leave it open for a couple of seconds, which you can waste just trying to get your character to face the proper direction for the attack.
But when you can take your time to set up your attacks, even while avoiding tons of enemies, Eternal Step is hectic and brilliant and much like other games of its style, you’ll die often enough to learn to navigate through the crowds of enemies. I love that you can simply run away from monsters, without having to roll for it. It makes avoiding large crowds and enemy lines of fire or area attacks (which you can see painted on the floor before they trigger) an easier job and I’m thankful for it.
Boss fights are, as you’d expect, much harder than regular enemies but the fights drag on too much. Part of this is because bosses don’t have health bars in Eternal Step, so you never know how well you’re doing against them. The only sign is when the bosses change phases. In general, boss phases keep the same mechanics but make them extremely difficult. The seasonal boss, Jack-O’-Lantern, has minions throwing fireballs. On his second phase, the fireballs cover most of the screen, so that avoiding the high damage and still attack becomes really difficult. This boss in particular got on my nerves because the phase changes sent you to a dark maze where you need to reach the boss’ core within a time limit. If you don’t the boss resets.
To support the combat and the challenge through the tower are the skill and loot systems. Enemies you fight sometimes have enchantments on them triggering harmful or beneficial effects for you. One of them is a level up, boosting your character stats and giving you a new skill badge. These badges boost some of your key attributes by a given amount such as attack by 10% per level or the distance and invincibility frames of your dodge (my go-to skill). While levelling up by killing the monsters with the boosting effect is a bit weird, that you can reset the skills at any time before a run makes up for it and adds some nice strategic value. If the enemies you’re fighting don’t force you to roll very often, you can just boost your attack or defense, or even health or the number of potions you can carry.
Eternal Step’s loot comes in cards. Enemies and chests drop these cards but you won’t know what they are until you’ve crossed the door at the end of the level, and that only happens when you’ve defeated all enemies. If you die, you can find your body when you return and you get a loot card from it. At the end of the stage, for each loot card, you can equip or discard it, or in the case of weapons with special skills, you can store them or give your current weapon one of the skills on the loot cards. During my runs I always favoured swords or knives, without much range but fast speed and low stamina consumption. With the issues I found between dodging, facing and counterattacking, slow weapons were tortuous to use.
Before every run, you can select your gear based on your stored cards. You can even dismantle them to create other weapons. If you’ve stored a high-level item, you can then create it. This applies to your weapons, shield, armour and even monster cards.
Visuals are hand-drawn and while the character and monster designs look a bit rough, the environments are pretty good. The rooms before the boss fights are my favourite, as is the pumpkin design on the floors when you unleash the Jack-O’-Lantern.
The music is outstanding. The main theme begins with a somber tune that matches the grimness of the game, but it builds up to powerful piece with beautiful melodies. In fact, the one thing that I remember more than dying to enemies, was the music I heard while playing.
Eternal Step is a frustrating game, but it’s the kind of frustrating experience you want to come back to, to prove that you can conquer it. And given enough time, you’ll get there. I did.
4/5 – Exceptional!