Pylon: Rogue Review
A good roguelike creates a constant sense of urgency, risk and, importantly, player improvement. Pylon: Rogue, unfortunately, does not. Quantum Squid Interactive’s latest game was released with the exciting prospect of being an action-oriented roguelike game that ties in RPG character progression and combat, yet its delivery of these characteristics is obscured by a gameplay loop that just isn’t fun. At no point during its time in the jungle or desert did I feel the same tingle of excitement exhibited in playing Binding of Isaac, Spelunky or other genre heavyweights.
In Pylon, you are tasked with battling your way through a procedurally generated jungle or a desert map as one of four hero characters, each representing a different play style and, in turn, difficulty level. On each map, four levels must be completed to unlock the boss room. Individual levels are made up of randomly arranged rooms, with an increasing number of enemies in each as you progress further. The animations and visuals of the game are decent, with night time desert areas having some great lighting effects to complement the fizz and flash of combat. Gameplay is king, however, and that is where everything falls a bit flat.
Pylon: Rogue never fully delivers on its promise of marrying RPG and roguelike mechanics, skirting round the edge of what was initially an interesting premise. The core appeal centres on the challenge of the traditional roguelike mechanic, permadeath. Unfortunately, this is the only method of attachment for the player, and sans character, exciting combat or unique items this appeal wears thin, fast.
The game leans hard into a ‘difficulty for difficulty’s sake’ trope, reinforced with constant reminders on loading screens that it is a tough game. Going out of its way to present a challenge to the player using a scale that increases only with the number of enemies in a wave, feels arbitrary, increasing the challenge by boosting the numbers of enemies faced instead of offering unique mechanical challenges. The player is introduced to most of the area-specific opponents early on and only minor variants crop up as you progress through the maps, eliminating any chance of being surprised by a new combat element or learning curve.
In one playthrough the procedural engine generated a series of gargantuan rooms, filled with what felt like hundreds of opponents. Taking nearly an hour to empty a single room of enemies that refused to surprise me with their attacks or abilities was not fun. It became a grind of overwhelmingly dull proportions, at a time in which I was already familiar with the i-frames (specific points of a character’s animation in which they are rendered invulnerable to enemy attacks) available to me in my defensive animations, rendering me nearly invincible with the Ranger character. Not taking damage from the enemies became second nature, but the unrelenting dodge, defend, then shoot pattern was not an enjoyable or exciting part of an already lengthy playthrough.
Combat feels unintuitive at first and, despite improving with practice, never quite encourages a state of flow. A clumsy combo system holds the experience back, with repeated clicks either not registering the attack you intended or taking too long to execute, leaving you vulnerable. Determining when you are about to be struck is a game of chance in a crowd, and not one which you will win often. This frustration is compounded by an overabundance of unavoidable attacks levelled at you when engaging in close quarters, taking away elements of risk/reward and replacing them with pure punishment. Unkind algorithms in the procedural generation means there are seldom health pickups when you need them, ensuring close quarters combat will see you taking damage that you simply cannot recover in any meaningful way until the end of a whole level. It is at this point (if you manage to make it out) you’ll have to spend all your gems (the in-game upgrade currency) on health recovery, rather than stat or ability enhancing items.
Not that these items offer interesting player choices. For the most part additional equipment and weaponry, picked up or purchased, will only offer stat increases. As you attempt run after run, slightly more interesting items will unlock, offering the possibility that they will drop during gameplay. Despite the promise of lightning clouds and magic trees to aid in the clearing of rooms, they rarely amount to anything more than additional attacks done to enemies outside of your control. This removes the possibility of interesting playstyle-driven choices for the player, choices that are so key to central RPG mechanics. There is no need to weigh up items against each other as they either don’t offer any interesting gameplay perks, or stack in a way that offers no down-side.
Lore and player exposition also doesn’t seem apparent, despite the developer’s attempt at an RPG experience. There is little context for any of the character’s actions outside of short text boxes in the character selection menu, and the general video game notion that something attacking you must be dealt with. As a player I had no clue as to the role I was playing in this world, other than extinguishing hordes of monsters. It’s a real shame, as some of the humour offers well executed, tongue in cheek reflections on the fantasy worlds the game is clearly inspired by. When the items aren’t interesting, and the enemies become monotonous, there is no real motivation to push forward. Even the maps begin to lose their character early on. Several runs through each of the two environment types often saw rooms repeated, despite the best efforts of the procedural generation system, leading to further disengagement from a game I so wanted to enjoy.
Pylon: Rogue does not land enough punches to be forgiven for its misses. Its limited RPG systems do not marry well with the central rogue-like mechanics, leaving the experience feeling messy at the best of times and boring at the worst. Uninteresting item rewards for a player’s perseverance are not worth the hit and run slog through waves of iterative enemies and recycled environments, and while the difficulty may provide a new challenge for veterans and genre enthusiasts, the appeal wears fast. Without a genuine connection to the world or characters, you could be forgiven for leaving this game behind and scratching that roguelike itch elsewhere.