Necropolis Review – PS4

Like an overzealous schoolteacher that furiously punishes every little mistake or transgression, Dark Souls can be undeniably intimidating to those not interned in its mercy-free approach to fallibility. Refreshingly then, I can proclaim third-person dungeon crawler Necropolis as some sort of saviour in this regard. Neatly stripping out the scalp-tearing difficulty that rightly or wrongly defines FROM Software’s magnum opus, Necropolis instead replaces it with humour and accessibility in spades.

Dark Souls rookies need apply

From the beginning, the similarities that exist between Necropolis and Dark Souls are obvious. Combat brings with it a certain degree of familiarity; the seemingly slow and laboured contests of melee supremacy soon revealing the need for precise strikes, well-timed evasive rolls and sure footing in order for victory to be assured. Quite unlike Dark Souls though, Necropolis’ attempts at acclimating the player to the nuances of its combat encounters are thankfully gentle early on, with enemies proving manageable as they appear both few in number and low in health.

As with FROM Software’s now iconic series, the combat itself remains no less appreciable; the feeling of vanquishing a group of vicious skeletons after a lengthy and testing melee arguably manifests itself as satisfaction incarnate. Simply not content to mimic Dark Souls’ combat mechanics, Necropolis makes a couple of adjustments to that well-tested formula of its own; the most significant of these being how the stamina system works.

Simply put, stamina plays a massive role in Necropolis, as light attacks, strong attacks, sprints and evasions all serve to sap the meter down to its zero sum. So far so Dark Souls then, but where Necropolis emphatically separates itself is in the manner in which it penalises players who play fast and loose with the system. Continuing to hammer away at foes, or evasion roll beyond what your stamina bar can accommodate, results in a permanent reduction to the stamina total; the only way to replenish it being a hearty snack either looted from the level or crafted by yourself.

Speaking of crafting, Necropolis’ mechanics in this regard are effortless. You simply pick up ingredients and components from chests and fallen foes before scrolling down your list of recipes and fashioning whatever you have the necessary bits and pieces for with a single button press. It’s easy to use and robustly expansive, with additional crafting recipes available through both looting and purchase from vendors (the magical chicken in a chest proving to be a particular favourite – I jest not).

Another area in which Necropolis excels is the variety of monstrous denizens that it thrusts the player up against. Skeletons, undead vikings, spiders, hellhounds and much, much more besides all battle the player; their strengths and weaknesses serving to weave a unique tapestry of martial challenge that must be overcome; the satisfaction of doing so often proving to be equal to the task at hand. Elsewhere, Necropolis embraces all aspects of the roguelike game design playbook with true vigour. Level designs are randomised, creating a fresh experience each time while death results in the erasure of your character’s progress during that session (though the game may still be saved and returned to at a later time).


Whilst permadeath does find you with unerring commonality, each new playthrough reveals you to be more capable, if not in terms of skill then in the Tokens of Favour which can be used to unlock better quality loot from special chests, or, can be stored up to purchase the much more expensive codex compendiums; special manuals that provide permanent buffs which endure through death. Because of that, rather than demoralising, each separation from your mortal coil feels like a cornucopia of fresh opportunity, as the desire to reach a new level, unlock a new codex, or simply just play better than you did previously, all act as an compelling cocktail that precisely engineer your inevitable return to the Necropolis.

One of the eternally frustrating things with permadeath in other games is that while you tend to not mind being on the wrong end of a hard-fought contest against a group of enemies, accidentally tumbling off into the abyss can prove to be an enraging experience. It is with considerable relief then that developer Harebrained Schemes have utterly alleviated this possibility; since falling tremendous distances cannot kill your character and so your blood pressure (and possibly your DualShock 4 controller) can now rest easy.

In a similar fashion to the Souls games (though minus the ingenious note-leaving and signposting), Necropolis leverages a familiar form of online co-op. Here, up to four players can easily drop-in and drop-out of games in progress, teaming up to vanquish hordes of enemies while dividing the spoils between them. Although having this feature is assuredly a boon, let it not cloud the perception that Necropolis is any less enjoyable without extra folks; since a lone player will still find much to enjoy across their many playthroughs of the game.

Underpinning Necropolis’ well-honed dungeon crawler design sensibilities is the visual style and the comic tone that is cornerstone of its identity. In the case of the former, Necropolis employs a flat-shaded look that simultaneous elicits comparisons with a bygone era, whilst also being generously stuffed full of character and an almost whimsical sort of charm.


When it comes to comedy, Necropolis finds itself generously endowed. Serving to separate its dungeon crawling shenanigans from that of its po-faced inspiration, Necropolis employs an immensely witty and chucklesome brand of comedy, one which by taking in all manner of pop-culture references and satire, evokes giggles and laughter on frequent occasion; the opening speech that heralds each new attempt proving to be especially amusing indeed.

More variety is needed

Where Necropolis falters though, is in the variety stakes. With just two melee focused character classes to choose from, it’s fair to say that the Harebrained Schemes developed title invariably suffers from a lack of variety in its visceral pursuits; the range of tactical options appearing sadly limited as a result.

Taken as a whole, Necropolis’ overall offering is also one that rarely avails itself of troublingly little variety too. Though substantial fun can be found in the depths of its randomised realms, as you’re hacking away at foes and looting with aplomb, that is literally all you do. There is no grand narrative here, no change in broad objective and certainly no significant lore to speak of. So while Necropolis is an undeniably entertaining prospect, it is not one that proves itself capable of leaving an indelible mark on the memory of those who venture into its domain. Set your expectations accordingly.

In Summary

Despite its obvious inspiration, Necropolis neither seeks parity with Dark Souls, nor does it aspire to become some sort of stepping stone to those games. Though limited in scope, its combat, opportunities for loot and consistent nod and wink to the audience prove more than enough to keep players in thrall to its range of easily appreciable merits. Praise the sun indeed.



The Final Word

After the relentless grimdark of FROM Software's stellar Souls and Bloodborne offerings, Necropolis feels like a breath of fresh (fetid, really) air. Hellbent on not taking itself too seriously and offering solid roguelike, dungeon crawler mechanics underpinned by a finely tuned combat system, Necropolis is not a game you want to be sleeping on.