James Stephanie Sterling
Let It Die Review – Senpai To Win
Read this review, Senpai!
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment Format: PS4 Released: December 3, 2016 Free-to-play
It’s trite to compare games to Dark Souls these days, so stuffed is the Internet with thinkpieces cleverly pointing out the similarities between From Software’s series and every other videogame in the world, but it’s hard not to bring up a Souls game when discussing Let It Die. The fact Grasshopper Manufacture chomped the action-RPG franchise’s flavor is immediate from the get-go.
As you might expect from Grasshopper, this curious free-to-play game adds a distinctly eccentric spin on the Souls formula. Set within a fictional arcade videogame that is itself set within a creepy dystopian sci-fi tower, Let It Die is shamelessly self-referential and doesn’t skimp on the oddball behavior.
Your guide, for example, is Uncle Death – a grim reaper with shades who loves to skateboard, rocks a Mexican accent, and refers to the player exclusively as Senpai. His constant breaking of the fourth wall and inane chatter sets the tone for this silly, comic, violently grim game about dying, killing, and mushroom consumption.
The overall premise is fairly simple – select a fighter from a number of classes and march them as high up the Tower of Barbs as possible. Taking inspiration from Roguelike games, the tower features randomly generated floors that players need to fight their way through, though the “randomized” elements consist of fairly recognizable corridors and rooms.
Each floor is littered with enemies that charge headlong at the player and attack with swift brutality. While there are certain robotic opponents that remain distinct, most of the foes encountered utilize character models, weapons, and armor that are all accessible to players. Whether these screaming roadblocks drop such items is down to chance, but almost everything seen can be worn or wielded at some point.
Combat attempts to set itself up as a fast-paced Dark Souls, but the shoddy targeting system, the way in which enemies charge in droves, and the ponderous attack animations fail to match From Software’s methodical structure. Blocking and dodging is ineffective for the most part, hindered by stodgy animations and a lack of responsiveness.
None of this is to say Let It Die isn’t fun, it’s just not what one might expect at first.
For all its emphasis on the deadliness of combat and the need to take care when exploring, Grasshopper’s presentation resembles a more straightforward hack n’ slash that extensively rewards offensive playstyles. Charging into a throng and letting loose with a volley of attacks is, generally, more rewarding than trying to play it safe, since it’s more about who hits first than who hits smartly.
That said, Let It Die is in love with durability like no other game I’ve seen. Weapons and armor break constantly, and often come with a sliver of their potential health when procured within the tower itself. So flimsy are the armaments, they’ll even lose hit points if you swing at thin air, degrading with each attack command regardless of whether or not there’s a target present.
Weapons cannot be repaired, only purchased new from one of the game’s merchants, but they’re dropped plentifully enough that you’ll soon grow used to scavenging and living from implement to implement.
The range of weaponry is interesting and barbaric. It includes hot irons, nasty looking machetes, and a range of guns that are powerful but difficult to use – very much like the two-handed heavy weapons that I personally detest. Each weapon has its own unique power attack that can be used when a gauge is filled, as well as a suitably vicious finisher that can be performed on dizzied victims.
Let It Die‘s Tower of Barbs is littered with animals and mushrooms that can be seized and put to good use. Most creatures, such as frogs or rats, can be eaten for health regeneration, while mushrooms have all sorts of unique properties. There are certainly healing items among them, but some useful fungi buff stats or can be thrown to produce explosions, poison gas, and sleep effects.
All such items – animals included – can be both thrown as well as consumed, which naturally leads to much “hilarity” when you accidentally eat the exploding mushroom and take a good whack of damage right in the tummy. Also, just because this is a game full of strange little touches, you can toss any of these consumables into fire and grill them to alter their properties.
In the early stages, players may purchase up to three “fighters”, with those not currently in use stored within a massive freezer. Those in storage can be used to go after afters online, or defend the home base in TDM – a game type we’ll touch upon later.
Fighters belong to any one of a number of classes with their own stat bonuses and specialties. Some are designed to take more hits, others to deal more damage, and there are fighters built to carry more stuff – a very useful trait considering the hard limit on what you can collect and store.
As fighters climb the tower and dispatch enemies, they’ll accrue experience which can be brought back to the first floor waiting room and pumped into stats. Leveling a single fighter actually takes a short amount of time, but the trade-off is the fact they’re capped at certain levels until ten floors have been cleared and the “Don” (big freaky boss) overseeing that portion of the tower has been killed.
What’s more, you can only further level up fighters by purchasing new ones of a higher grade that unlock upon the Don’s death. Older, lower grade fighters don’t improve beyond their maximum limits.
Between this and the aforementioned durability system, the name Let It Die takes on some major significance.
This is not a game in which you’re meant to grow attached to anything. Your favorite weapons break, your best fighters will either die or grow obsolete. Almost everything you acquire can be taken from you, and at some point you’ll indeed just have to let it all go.
Speaking of letting go, fighters who die in the tower are not immediately gone forever. In a twist similar to ZombiU – another game that took several Souls-themed cues – your dropped fighter respawns in the floor it died on, now a pissed off undead killer known as a Hater.
Haters can be instantly restored to their playable glory by spending Kill Coins – the game’s most generously dispersed currency – to have Uncle Death retrieve them. However, should you lack the funds or inclination to spend them, Haters may be manually retrieved by finding and defeating them in battle, though any fighter reclaimed this way will lose the stuff they’d collected before their death.
Again, some things just need letting go.
Islands of permanency do exist in Let It Die, however small. Weapons have their own experience and level system, where the more a certain armament is used, the more effective it becomes in combat. This is tied to the player, not the individual weapons or fighters, meaning that the more you use a hammer, the better any hammer you find becomes.
The waiting room – a central hub from which players start – contains a specific merchant who will be able to unlock and upgrade new gear using blueprints obtained within the tower. By spending materials and SPLithium – all earned in-game – these items can be mass produced and bought before any excursion. They can also be upgraded multiple times, provided players keep finding the resources to do so.
The waiting room, as well as being a place of commerce – and (annoyingly) the only safe place to exit the game without losing a fighter – is a vital component of the indirect competitive multiplayer, TDM. TDM is basically a troll’s wet dream, as it allows players to attack the waiting rooms of others while they’re logged off or away in the tower.
In TDM, the aim is to get into another player’s waiting room and destroy the banks that hold their Kill Coins and SPLithium. Those worried about invasion can set their inactive fighters to defend the waiting room, giving any would-be attacker some opposition, but that comes with a risk. Should the invader defeat defending fighters, they get the chance to kidnap one of them.
Kidnapped fighters are quite literally robbed from the player who was invaded and can be slowly converted by the invader for use in their own game. During conversion, kidnapped fighters will accrue huge amounts of SPLithium for their captor and will remain hostage until they’re fully converted or set free by anybody who invades the invader (it’s a constant warzone).
This unique game of attack and defend is a fantastic idea, and the ability to join teams and contribute to an overall goal through successful attacks makes for some interesting dynamics. Still, those who partake must be prepared for consequences, because invasions are common and the costs can be detrimental.
I’ve brought up currency a few times, because this is a free-to-play game and you bet your ass there’s more than one way to pay for things. Kill Coins form the basic economy, earned throughout general play in the tower. They’re required to purchase or retrieve fighters, as well as buy any available equipment.
They’re also crucial for using the elevator – any floor in which you’ve discovered an elevator can be returned to instantly in exchange for Kill Coins, which saves a ton of time.
Then there’s Death Metal. This premium currency is used for a number of things, the most basic being spent in exchange for a hefty wad of Kill Coins. They can also be used to unlock extra storage space for gathered items in the waiting room, and to buy passes for an express elevator that is not only posh looking, but negates the Kill Coin cost.
Express elevator privileges can be bought in one-day or seven-day increments, and the game so far has handed out the single-pay passes quite regularly.
While Death Metal has several utilities, perhaps its most important function is that of a free revival token. Should you die anywhere in the tower and feel disinclined to start over, you’ll be given the option to spend a Death Metal and resurrect right there with nothing lost. As an added bonus, any damage dealt to enemies will remain in place, which can be an overwhelming edge when in a tough battle.
Instant revival is by far Death Metal’s most worthwhile use, saving huge amounts of time and, potentially, heartache.
The flipside of this benefit is that it renders a lot of challenge in Let It Die moot, provided you have the money and the desire to spend it. Boss fights can be won through sheer expenditure, and while you can of course choose not to participate in the economy, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this game wants fights to go down this way, just angling to have Death Metal spent to remain in the fight.
Mobs of enemies love to surround and decimate players, while any session can suffer “invasions” of Hunters sent by online players, as well as displaced Haters from other games. These online interruptions may very well pit your fighter against opponents far in excess of their own level, and the general battle of attrition that regular combat becomes only serves to keep bottlenecking players into a life or death transaction.
To its credit, Let It Die has so far been shockingly generous with its Death Metal, awarding the currency as login bonuses to such a degree that I’ve been able to resurrect countless times and still have some primo cash to drop on storage space expansion. While this game could very well deserve to be called a “pay to win” game, my time spent with Let It Die has thus far only caused me to spend fictional money.
In-game Death Metal is, however, a precious commodity even with Grasshopper’s generosity, and continued playtime will inevitably whittle down an average player’s resources unless they’re damn good, damn lucky, or damn thrifty. I’m none of those things, and I’m finally at a point where Death Metal is getting too valuable to throw away.
At this point, Let It Die becomes considerably less fun.
As invasions threaten to take away hoarded coin and even prized fighters, as I face losing more valuable pickups from near-unavoidable deaths, as I face the prospect of riding the crappy elevator instead of the nice one, I care less about progressing, become less invested in what I’m doing.
One of the problems in making a game where almost everything is designed to be disposable is that the product itself risks becoming just as easily discarded. So weak is my connection to anything in the game that I could drop it right now and not feel compelled to pick it up again. It’s a fun game while it’s being played, but not a particularly engaging one, not so much that I ever feel too pressing a need to return.
That’s the major downside to Let It Die overall. It’s entertainingly weird, the combat is enjoyable enough, and the roguelike elements are interesting, but with no real attachment to the world or my own acquisitions, I find it hard to stay invested. Free-to-play games need to get their hooks into a player to ensure regular engagement and potential purchases, but that’s not what this game has managed.
Instead, it’s encouraged a level of disaffection in me that’s hard to shake. Tough battles aren’t very enthralling when I know I can buy my way out. New weapons and cool costumes aren’t that hot when I know they’ll break. There’s no point getting attached to a fighter that ultimately, inevitably, won’t matter.
It’s definitely worth the time, especially being free to start, and I would recommend anybody with a PS4 and a love of brawling check it out. It’s a well put together little game with a good dash of trademark Grasshopper oddity. As a throwaway bit of violent action with some clever online features, it’s a good time.
A good time, but not a particularly enthralling one. At some point, as with everything involved in this production, you’ll eventually just have to Let It Die.