Sword of the Stars is an indie science fiction series of strategy games. With this latest installment, The Pit, Kerberos attempts to push into new gameplay territory by creating a dungeon crawler set in the series’ universe. The premise of this game is that your character must fight aliens, traps, and hunger to acquire a cure for a deadly disease — and death is permanent. Does Sword of the Stars: The Pit manage to straddle the line between being challenging and cheap? Read on to find out.
Combat in The Pit is quite fun. It is essentially turn-based, yet it occurs organically in the environment. Everything happens in the main game space; you move a few spaces, stop, then start again while enemies make their moves. Once they are in sight, combat occurs by simply moving the targeting cursor over an enemy and firing. Different weapons do different things; assault rifles can target multiple enemies, shotguns damage everything in a small area, and grenades can vaporize everything in a room. Ammo is relatively plentiful but managing the condition of weapons becomes important in latter levels. The only real complaint about such a battle system is that it can drag out levels because you can’t move while enemies are taking their turns. Consequently, running away is generally not an option which can be frustrating especially when you see your hunger grow. Along with this, the slow pace makes character death that much more demoralizing because it means investing a lot of time to try to get back there.
Interacting with items can have some risks. One such risk being dealing with a Trap Bay. Up until this point, I’d had mixed success with consoles and lockers; sometimes they would jam or break. With this item, I failed it as a result of an invisible dice-roll and was instantly disintegrated. Game over. Now look; I have no problem with rogue-likes, and I have no problem with instant death scenarios. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter however, those two things do NOT belong together. It has absolutely nothing to do with skill and all it really accomplishes is that it makes me not want to play a game that is designed to mess with you like that.
The other infuriating aspect to The Pit has to do with crafting. Your character’s vitality has two measures; health and hunger. The latter depletes constantly which requires you to find food as you progress. It is possible and essential to combine food types in ovens and discover recipes. These recipes are revealed by unlocking consoles and they carry over from game to game. This sounds all good and fine in practice, but the problem with this system (and with crafting in general in this game) is that if you try to combine items and it doesn’t work, both items are destroyed.
This has got to be the single most annoying thing about this entire game; it wants me to experiment with all these items but then punishes me for doing just that. No hints whatsoever are given, beyond decrypted files in hacked consoles which themselves only work a fraction of the time. The developers are on record saying that the hints are intended to carry over to multiple games, and that players are expected to try and fail over and over again until they learn about proper combinations. The developers presume much about their audience’s patience with that kind of dick-move design philosophy.
I really enjoy science fiction games, and there are some cool ideas in Sword of the Stars: The Pit. I like the fact that you have different character types to choose from, as well as the varied and easy-to-understand combat system. It’s such a shame that this really fun core is smothered by such unfairly punishing elements that work in direct opposition to the kind of experience that the game ostensibly expects you to have. Exploration and investigation is rewarded with almost constant failure, which drives me not into the Pit, but back to the surface where other games await.
[+Fun battle system] [+Plenty of challenge] [+Different character types and abilities] [-Cheap deaths aplenty] [-Needlessly frustrating crafting system] [-Slow pace doesn’t lend self to repeated play]