It must be tiring being a necromancer, right? All that communicating with the dead and carrying skulls around and looking unnecessarily broody and rotten and evil all the time. It’d wear the best of us out, and not without a complaint or two to go along with it. So when the time comes that, there, in your weekly necromancer workflow, you find the immortal words ‘Wednesday: burn down a load of towns and cause general chaos in the name of breaking the King’s stuff because he jilted you’, wouldn’t it be nice if you could get someone else to do the work? For a change? A poorly paid minority perhaps? Or the undead, even, why not. Nekro is a game that enjoys delegation, just as much as it does the violent murder of lumberjacks.
Yes, Nekro, a Kickstarted action/strategy from darkForge Games that is currently hovering around Steam’s Early Access, has you slip on the sludgy sandals of a necromancer and tasks you with raising the dead and bowling explosive skull grenades at an assortment of oft-relentless enemies, against the rather garish backdrop that is the stark and saturated world you’re given to ruin. It plays out like a room-temperature cocktail of Diablo, Codies’ old Overlord series, and how I’d imagine a single player MOBA might be. Having only dipped a frightened toe into the turbulent world of DOTA2 for the most fleeting of moments though, that analogy could well be entirely incorrect. I’m saying it anyway though because I’m a professional.
There’re currently three different ‘classes’ of necromancer to choose from, that each afford you varying skills and abilities; the aforementioned explosive skull bowling an exclusive trait of the Grenadier class. Meanwhile a pretty accessible menu system kits you out with a load of in-battle upgrades and extras as you progress, and it’s here you choose the minions you want to Pied-Piper into battle so they can do all your dirty work. Essentially, all the fighting is done by marching your feeble army of minions to their death, managing them during the fight, and by furiously smashing your mouse button 1 to within an inch of its meaningless life.
The gameplay is fluid and super satisfying at times, though that’s most obvious on the few occasions when you’re in a position to manage your horde during battle, dipping in and out of it yourself when necessary. In my time with the game, my minions never really amounted to much, and needed tending to with an attention and urgency Konami’s PR department would currently maim a small animal for. This made the more intense fights a bit of an illegible scramble to a) run away from nearby enemies b) attack nearby enemies c) consume dead nearby enemies’ souls and d) raise corpses into my handful of minions who were steadily being trodden on by any enemy they so much as tugged the sleeve of.
Still, it’s this component that actually injects a bit of strategy into the game. Albeit not the reasoned and thought-out flavour of strategy that you tend to associate with the word. It got slightly repetitive, but in this guise, the action/strategy formula works well in small doses. It’s not the kind of jaunt you’d smash out a four hour session with on a rainy day. It’s a chaser to that sort of experience; a little mindless, simplistic and fun, and easy to pick up for the most part. This baring one peculiar mission I tried in which I had to smash up a statue seemingly made of diamond-laced Titanium and wrapped in Mithril, whilst fending off an unending wave of enemies. It took bloody ages for some reason. There’s a chance I’m just rubbish and was doing it wrong, mind.
The game’s tone is a little bit slimy and broody and blood-splattered , and a little bit brash and colourful and jovial, but not enough of either for it to be a selling point. The voice-overed level introductions are a nice touch, as so many developers seem to leave all the reading down to us poor illiterate fools, but the ambivalent comedy is neither guffawingly obvious nor fittingly subtle. Which is a shame, as I like a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just doesn’t seem to sit comfortably in Nekro at the moment for some reason.
With its latest content patch, ‘General Tso’s Bootcamp and Chicken Emporium’, there’s a smattering of new content, including two new levels, enemies, bosses, items and even a control scheme. Naturally the game is yet to be released, but it’s a promising sign that the developers are pumping this much new material into it. It’s set for a full release in Q2 2015, and why not have yourself a mooch round its Steam page.
All this in mind then, Nekro, in its current, Early Access form, is a fun, quick-fire blast for those that are into the genre. You won’t be bowled over by the depth or the substance, but if you fancy playing the bad guy, have a general dislike of anybody who could be categorised as a farmer on sight, and enjoy eating digital chickens, this might just be the perfect little spree for you. You weirdo.