by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
A Little Slice Of Limbo
Death is an every-lingering threat in most games, and that's even more true in rogue-like projects that require failure to achieve progress. However, embracing the power of death and learning from failure is even more central in Elder Games' Soulslinger: Envoy of Death. Here, players take on the role of an enforcer of Death himself, bound by the powerful entity to patrol Limbo and stop those looking to disturb the natural order of things.
I was recently given access to a limited preview build of Soulslinger, which introduced the game's basic narrative set-up and teased the enemies, weapons, and power-ups that will be available when the game launches in full at a hitherto unannounced date in the presumably not-terribly-distant future. While my slice was undoubtedly small, I was pleased to find a lot to love. Soulslinger has the makings of a terribly interesting game, and there’s already plenty of fun to be had.
Keeping The Afterlife In Order
While teases of a bigger long-form narrative exist the Soulslinger demo, most of it was kept to just that. However, the main narrative hook of what I was able to play centred on a mysterious and presumably demonic group called The Cartel wreaking havoc across the afterlife's Limbo. These monstrous and magical beings' specific goals aren't made clear, but it is made apparent that they aren't supposed to be where they are, and the Death himself wants them taken out. That’s where the player character comes in.
Players step into the titular shoes of a Soulslinger, an envoy of Death that does his bidding, whether they like it or not. In this case, the unnamed (at least during my playtime) protagonist appears to be newly deceased - or at least newly operating with Death - and on tentative good terms with the iconic being. He’s unable to pass on to the true afterlife, stuck in Limbo for reasons that will presumably be the narrative core of the full game.
Embracing Deathly Power
Soulslinger: Envoy of Deaths roguelike gameplay and narrative loop springs from the Soulslingers repeated excursions into Limbo to fend off The Cartel. Gameplay runs are split into a number of defined arena-like areas that spawn a defined number of enemies who need to be taken out. Once an arena is cleared, the Soulslinger gets a reward, which range from special abilities to stat upgrades to crafting resources and beyond. Furthermore, each time a reward is claimed, several gates open to give the player choice of where to go next. The reward for that next arena can be seen, so players need to intentionally aim for whatever rewards they want or need most.
In terms of power, there are a few ways to make progress. Two are run-specific. Though I'm sure there will be more the abilities I was given access to in this build were elemental - electricity, fire, poison. It was generally of benefit to try and build through one in particular, as, for example, taking multiple fire-based rewards could stack bonus damage against flaming enemies and also present numerous ways to set enemies ablaze. Alternatively, resources are earned each run that can be spend to upgrade more general stats and abilities or craft weapon improvements. I was able to try out a revolver and shotgun, and although the upgrade tree was only present in small part, both already felt satisfying and effective in combat.
Finding Safe Haven
In Soulslinger, the arenas of Limbo are all heavily influence by a grungy Wild West aesthetic. There were only limited play areas in the demo, but even they presented an interesting mix of classic Western town squares, mining establishments, mountain camps, and a few others. Moreover, they games visuals are an impressive delight, and every environment is packed with detail despite a muted color palate.
More interesting from a design perspective, though, is the between-run hub area called Haven. This place appears to recite in an ephemeral deciduous forest. Here, Death resides, as does one NPC. Conversations were limited in the demo, but the fill title promises that this area will be important and "adapts to what you do in the rogue-like gameplay." I wasn't able to see this in action, but it's clear that Death may be more than he appears, and not everyone may be thrilled to be in his service.
It's hard to make a judgement call about any game based on a small slice of gameplay, but there's a lot to like with Soulslinger: Envoy of Death. Importantly, the compat and level design are satisfying and memorable, which keeps the moment-to-moment experience a delight. Even with limited weapons and upgrades, I felt truly powerful in every fight from basic minions to the demo-ending boss battle against to knight-like spirits. Additionally, I'm intrigued where the narrative is going. If Elder Games can deliver on the story teases and intrigue present in the preview build, Soulslinger: Envoy of Death will be well worth revisiting when it releases in full.
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