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Netherguild Early Access Review – Surprisingly Deep Gameplay

Netherguild is a turn-based tactical roguelite dungeon-crawler by solo developer David Vinokurov. It originally released on Steam early access on March 27 and is currently discounted as part of the Roguelike Celebration 2023, a third-party virtual event that is being held over the weekend of October 21-22. Netherguild is a game that took me by surprise as there’s a lot of depth on offer, and each run presented new and exciting challenges.

The game is set in a procedurally generated world where under the surface of Wesnor lies the kingdom of Gaia who long ago were our greatest allies. The friendship has shattered since the Gaians discovered the heretical secret of immortality. As a result, the path to their world was to be sealed forever, however 500 years later there are rumours of a deadly plague on Wesnor’s outskirts that threatens to destroy our kingdom. The king and his royal council have created The Netherguild and summoned you as their leader to retrieve a cure from our ancient allies.

I was given 75 crowns to recruit a band of merry men and start an expedition into the underworld in search for the cure. There is a tutorial that is well worth utilising that guides the first expedition. I was presented with an overview of the kingdom and must hire recruits from the guild building where a list of four randomly generated characters is available for hire. The tutorial recommends hiring all four, and my party consisted of a knight, an assassin, a scout and a ranger. Hovering the mouse over a recruit gives us heaps of great details such as their stats, proficiencies, a short history of the character and their skill tree. You could spend 10 crowns to re-reroll the characters available if you wish.

Next, I clicked on the market building and the tutorial recommends purchasing a turkey leg to eat and some wood as the only way to heal is to rest and eat at a bonfire. I then set off through the underworld gate to start the expedition. The game’s music is great and felt nostalgic in parts, reminding me of playing similar games back in the 90s/00s. A map pops up and our only destination option at this stage is the Bluestone Mines entrance. Here we can choose which characters to take on the expedition, and the tutorial prompted me to take all four, and to equip one of them with the wood and food.

From here, gameplay is a mix of dungeon crawling, turn-based combat and resource management. I can’t see beyond the room I am currently in, and the map is blank until you explore it, so off you set into the darkness. I came across an enemy unit once I headed into the next room, at which point turn-based combat starts and initiative rolls are performed to determine the combat order. Icons at the bottom centre of the screen indicate what kinds of attacks the current character can use and clicking them will allow you to see their range by moving the mouse around. Interestingly some skills have limited uses before that character needs to rest at a bonfire or return to the overworld.

Sometimes I came across blue creatures which are ones that are neutral and will only attack if you attack them first. They could drop additional loot, but while I was learning I left them lone. There is no RNG in terms of combat, so if you hit with melee or shoot with a bow, it will always hit. However later mobs may be immune or buffed against certain damage types, so it becomes quite strategic in terms of when to use your more powerful spells. Also knowing they have limited uses before needed to rest is an interesting dynamic too. When you do need to rest as your troops are low on health, you need to build a campfire using wood.

Also while exploring, I came across things called oddities which are characters, items or events that have a speech bubble icon and i can interact with outside of combat. These can provide bonuses, hindrences, and give more information based on choices you make, and can have an affect on the world. Depending on which character you use to interact with these oddities, and the characters stats, knowledge and proficiences, there may be additional options to select such as military knowledge. Elevators will take your character down to the next floor, and the lower you go in an expedition, the harder it becomes.

When your characters are beaten up enough that they need to heal, you will need to use wood to create a bonfire. This requires empty space in a room and can’t be placed on objects or walls. Characters need to be standing next to the bonfire and you need to make sure each character is holding a piece of food to use it for health. The bonfire will also reset the counters on character abilities.

You can also try to use a flee option in combat if you think you may lose characters in the current fight. There’s only a 33% of the flee option succeeding, if it successful, characters will drop everything they had in their inventory but will live to fight another day. Alternatively, when you are out of combat, you can use the ‘return to overworld button’. However, I forgot about these options and after a particularly rough fight, all my units were half health or less. I didn’t have any wood to create a bonfire and so risked one more fight. My whole party died and death is permanent, so given there was no one left at the kingdom and I had no crowns to hire more, it was game over.

According to the game’s Steam page, Netherguild will spend about 3-4 years in early access which is understandable given it’s a passion project from solo developer David Vinokurov.The current early access content within Netherguild has several zones to explore and is about 10-15% of the game. It includes the following locations, each with unique enemies, events and loot thanks to procedural generation:

  • The Bluestone Mines
  • Bandit Stronghold (+Bossfight)
  • City of Mist (+Environmental Hazard)

Netherguild is surprisingly detailed and addictive, and I got more enthralled with it the more I played and learned. There has been a lot of thought and effort gone into the game behind the scenes to remove RNG and sees you have meaningful interactions with the environment. Combat is a lot of fun knowing that every swing will hi, it comes down to knowledge of your units and the enemy abilities. Resting at a bonfire becomes strategic and whether you risk one more fight or return to the kingdom to hire new units and start a new run. If you like dungeon crawlers and roguelite games, definitely check out Netherguild.

This review utilised a key provided by Game Taste PR and Netherguild is available now on Steam early access with a 10% discount until October 26.


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