Draft of Darkness is a survival horror meets roguelike deck builder developed and published by Crawly Games. The game embodies atmospheric horror, and it is jam-packed with gameplay mechanics for you to learn as you fight your way to the end of the Hell the game throws you into.
I was unsure of how I would feel about combining roguelike mechanics with the resource management found within the survival horror genre but Draft of Darkness did a good job of alleviating those worries rather quickly. By combining these two distinct genres, I believe the developers over at Crawly Games created a unique experience that hasn’t yet been capitalized on by many other games in the market.
The story is fed to you through similar ways explored in many other roguelikes. You slowly learn more about the world you find yourself in as you progress through the game and interact with various objects and people, with the plot being full of mystery as you explore the dark hallways of each area. Draft of Darkness is consistently throwing strange encounters at you whether it’s malfunctioning robots or unconscious humans with supplies you have the option to steal which makes morality is a key narrative device. Despite your ability to take what you want, there may be unforeseen consequences to your actions.
While there isn’t a whole lot of meat to the actual story for you to dig into, every character interaction is well written and perfectly nails the creepy tone that Draft of Darkness is going for. I do wish that there was a bit more revealed with regards to your main character, or the place you find yourself in. It is nice how you go about unlocking new characters as finding certain items, or having certain events occur can unlock new protagonists for you to use. These moments provide a little more context to the world you find yourself in, and each time you use a new character, the run begins with a short cutscene giving them a little bit of background. The mystery is definitely well-executed, but it would be nice to have more of a narrative connection to the game.
Draft of Darkness’ gameplay is centred around a deckbuilding experience. You start with a deck of ten cards, that you can customize by purchasing booster packs in-between runs. As you progress through each run, you can add new cards to your hand, and remove other’s to better fit the strategy you are going for. There are also a number of RPG elements mixed in as levelling up allows you to spend skill points to increase different stats, and you’re also able to change your weapons and armour for those you find with better stats or benefits as well.
When it comes to the actual combat, it is very reminiscent of Slay the Spire. You have your deck of cards, you draw a hand each turn and have a set amount of energy you can spend to use specific cards. Some are attacks, some are buffs/debuffs, and so on. Draft of Darkness does add its own unique mechanics to the gameplay loop such as resource management. If you’re using firearms you have to keep track of how many bullets you have, or if you use a flashlight you’ll have to watch your batteries. These resources also do not refresh in-between fights. You have to scavenge for supplies or be fortunate enough to earn them as a combat reward. There is also a conservation mechanic which weakens your available cards but makes them cost less energy. This allows you to finish off enemies without wasting resources, or continue fighting if you’re out of ammo. The way turns work in the game is similar to the active time battle mechanics of Final Fantasy VII. Your party has a bar below their energy gauge, and once it fills up you or your enemies are able to attack. The rate at which your meter fills is affected by your speed stat, meaning the higher your speed, the more turns you are able to get in.
Overall, the gameplay loop is satisfying enough. Especially if you manage to find other people who join your party. If you aren’t a fan of roguelikes, Draft of Darkness is unlikely to do anything to change your mind but, if you’re looking for a good roguelike experience with some depth to the combat then Draft of Darkness is a solid choice. The way it mashes up classic survival horror tone and resource management with roguelike deck building is certainly a feat in itself. Unfortunately, that means it takes many hit or miss genres for a lot of people and combines them into one package. This doesn’t detract from the merit of the game itself, which is a good experience that blends these genres together well but it is worth noting for those on the edge about getting Draft of Darkness.
Art & Graphics
Draft of Darkness uses a faded pixel style to paint the sombre world it embodies. The art reminds me of the many mid-1990s horror titles that were coming out. Not super frightening in comparison to the offerings we have today, but it also doesn’t need to be. The horror genre is about more than being scary for the audience, it is about properly conveying the sense of horror that the characters themselves are experiencing. In this way, Draft of Darkness is a shining example of how to nail a horrifying atmosphere. The monster designs are top-notch with the game showcasing a plethora of unique mutated monsters throughout the different levels available, many of which are placed in specific event triggers where the wrong decision by you, can lead to a world of trouble.
Graphically Draft of Darkness is also a success. The title isn’t very demanding, so hitting a nice 60FPS is easy. There isn’t a 4k mode yet, but it is able to hit 1080p without trouble. What takes the game a step further is the varying effects you can equip in the settings menu. From colour bleed, scan lines, noise strips, to pixelization with everything coming together to allow you to create more of an ideal atmosphere catered to your own tastes. I always find it extremely interesting when developers included options like these. It isn’t something that is often heavily demanded, so it instead serves as a cool, personal touch by the developers.
Audio & Music
The slow, pounding beat of melancholy encases Draft of Darkness in a never-ending feeling of stress. While the music sometimes picks up the pace during combat, you are almost always met with the thick sense of horror provided by the composer. More variety in the tone for music would be helpful for maintaining player engagement and while the music is well-composed, many of the pieces tend to blend into one another, creating a rather monotonous experience at times.
The audio design also functions as intended by the developers. The sickening sounds of the various creatures help drive home the aforementioned tone and atmosphere of the game. In a survival horror title especially, audio design is absolutely crucial. Having a sound that doesn’t fit in with your established tone can be jarring for players, even if only slightly. Thankfully, I believe that Draft of Darkness does a good job of avoiding this. The audio design also helps to break up the soundtrack during more intensive fights.
There aren’t many options available for those who may need more assistance during their runs of Draft of Darkness. However, I do appreciate the work that the developers have done so far in regards to this topic. They have a toggle for disabling flashing screen effects for example and as someone who is prone to getting seizures or sensory overload due to flashing effects, this was something I was attracted to right away. There is also the option to show a custom cursor instead of the system cursor. This cursor is much larger than the default system cursor and makes it so that some people are less likely to lose track of the mouse.
I feel that the developers have a lot more work to do to help make this game more accessible to other people. Sometimes the text on cards turns green or red and enabling a colour blind mode would allow more people to play through the title. On top of that, being able to increase the text size on cards, or bolden the text more would be extremely useful as well.
Overall, any fans of survival horror, roguelikes, or deck builders should take a peek at what Draft of Darkness has to offer. The inspiration it draws from Resident Evil is apparent from the moment you begin playing and even with it having a different form of combat the gameplay is full of depth and replayability. Along with this, the art, audio, and music all combine to create a unique horror experience.
Draft of Darkness is currently available on Steam in early access. The Early Access is looking to add a lot of new content not previously found within the demos/betas including multiple new heroes to unlock, new companions to find, entirely new areas for you to explore, all backed up with over 50 new events you can trigger during levels and eight more weapon types for you to use. Of course, the story is also being branched out further, with the official Part 2 announced as well. All of these additions are not currently available in the Early Access launch but will be updated to include them throughout the Early Access period. A wonderful way for the developers to show their gratification for the support they have received thus far.
We were provided with a game code for Draft of Darkness for review purposes, but this does not affect the authenticity of the praise or criticism the game received.
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Reviewed on: PC
Developer: Crawly Games
Publisher: Crawly Games