Its always a strange feeling diving into a series that has already established itself, especially if you had no knowledge of it beforehand. Sword of the Stars was a series of two space RTS games that somewhat mirror the likes of Homeworld or Sins of a Solar Empire. The Pit, a crowdfunded offshoot of the original series, is a sci-fi roguelike set in the same universe. While I don’t really know much about the SOTS universe, it is interesting to play a game that already comes packaged with a rich backstory in which to surround itself.
In The Pit, you control one of the last living humans, sent to a mysterious cave that is said to house an alien test facility that may hold the cure to the plague that is killing off everyone. Once you’ve picked your character – a choice between the combat-oriented Marine, the skill-oriented Engineer, or the middle-range Scout – you’re dropped into a dark cave with nothing but your starting gear and some well-wishes. There is a pretty helpful tutorial mode, but I think The Pit does a great job of conveying a dreadful sense of loneliness.
Much like other roguelikes, death in The Pit is permanent, and the only things that carry over between games are any recipies or item combinations you may have stumbled across, as well as your own personal knowledge of the game mechanics. This is one of the feelings I most enjoy about roguelikes. While your character levels up and obtains new equipment as the game goes on, you constantly improve as a gamer as you play. For the first couple playthroughs, I had wasted all of my ammunition within the first two levels of the game. Much like a panicked, desperate rookie I would shoot at anything that moved and switching to my knife meant that death would be approaching soon. Now, I’ve learned to use melee weapons on the weaker monsters, and save gunfire for anything that wouldn’t die in two swings. I still die (frequently), but it is a neat feeling knowing you’ve “leveled up” as a gamer, while your character resets after every death.
My only gripe with The Pit comes from the controls. In most roguelikes, both the keyboard and mouse and be used together or independently without any real issue. The Pit kind of awkwardly mashes the two together in a way that doesn’t work terribly, but could certainly work better. Character movement is done with the WASD keys, spacebar is the ‘use’ button, and the mouse is used solely for menus. Why can’t I just use the arrow keys to operate menus? Alternatively, why can’t I just click on a spot to move there, or click an enemy to shoot them?
Another small issue has to do with the skill set. You’re given a “SOTSdex”, which does a great job of documenting any enemies, weapons or items you find in your travels. One thing the game fails to really explain, however, are the skills your character levels up. “Medical” is an obvious skill, but what is “Biotech”? What’s the difference between “Assault Weapon” and “Rifle”? Or “Knife” and “Melee”?
While The Pit doesn’t quite match the complexity of something like Nethack, it is still a great sci-fi turn-based roguelike (actually, are there any other sci-fi roguelikes? I don’t think very many have such a heavy emphasis on guns and ranged combat). The smaller issues mentioned above can be slightly annoying and the graphics aren’t too impressive, but it’s still a fun roguelike. And I do love my roguelikes.