Jeffrey Bosboom's Blog

[blog] [projects] [about]

Review: Sword of the Stars: The Pit

Sword of the Stars: The Pit is a roguelike with sprite-based graphical interface. Most aspects are standard: you fight your way down a dungeon, gaining experience, improving skills by use, improving stats by leveling up, and equipping new items. Weapons and armor have durability scores that decrease as they’re used (when you attack or are attacked), eventually breaking. Equipment can be repaired at certain dungeon features or with consumable items, but repairs reduce max durability by a percentage of the lost durability, making conserving durability important. Ranged weapons consume ammo that can be found in the dungeon or dropped from some monsters, and as in most roguelikes, the player character needs to eat. Managing durability, ammo and food is the core of the game.

The Pit’s crafting system is its most notable feature. Monsters don’t drop edible corpses, but many drop ingredients that can be cooked at a cooker (a limited-use dungeon feature) with others to produce food. Weapons and armor can be similarly crafted at a lab station. Recipes are discovered across games by decrypting messages from computers via the decryption skill, but they’ll still work even if not officially discovered, so players can look them up online. Of course, what items drop are random, and in my experience you’ll have filled up your inventory before being able to craft anything.

Moving on to minor game features, The Pit features a small randomized appearance system in the form of biomods which can be attached to weapons, armor or the player character to enhance or worsen them. Identification is either by use or a rechargable tool; there aren’t complicated strategies as in NetHack. There are also randomized-appearance door traps, though there doesn’t seem to be any form of identification besides triggering them. The game features facing, including field-of-view limits, but facing changes don’t cost time, so it feels inconsequential. Inventory is Diablo-style “Tetris inventory” (with auto-arrange), with size based on the player character’s might (strength/constitution) score.

The Pit didn’t hook me, and I played only a handful of games before moving on. I’m an experienced NetHack player, and NetHack has subgoals to choose between, some generic to every game (dive to town to check Izchak’s shop for magic lamps), others specific to a particular game (after finding a spellbook of identify as a non-caster role, find a safe way to kill a priest for his or her robe). There are also metastrategies like digging for victory that can be interesting even if suboptimal. In contrast, in The Pit, you just… go down while conserving resources. You do have a choice whether to fully explore floors or descend immediately when you find the ladder down, but that’s about it. I’m not saying The Pit is simple, but it’s more about forming tactics for the current encounter than forming a strategy and executing it. It might be fun to code a bot for (if I could hook it up to the graphical interface), maybe using ideas from the TAEB::AI::Planar NetHack bot, but I didn’t find it very fun to play.