Crawl is a competitive multiplayer dungeon crawler for PC, Mac and Linux. The two-man development team Powerhoof created the game out of Melborne, Australia. Crawl is their first major project outside of game jams, experiments and prototypes.
The game features distinctive pixel art and supports up to four players locally (as this is an early build online is not a part of it, but Powerhoof is looking into online co-op for a final release). Currently, Crawl is Greenlit on Steam and Powerhoof is aiming to put the game up in Early Access as soon as possible. If the early build is any indication, whatever they consider ready for Early Access will be pretty choice.
What Crawl boils down to is one hero versus one to three spirits. The hero has to navigate through a dungeon while avoiding traps and fighting monsters. Unlike a normal dungeon crawler, the monsters and traps are controlled by other players. Each player chooses a specific deity from three different gods (S’hrim, Teok and Ga’ben). Gods offer players different three starting monsters, which are summoned during the game by player spirits.
Controls for the game are minimalist. Players can attack or use a special move. The special move for a hero is a basic dodge at first. For spirits, it varies depending on monster type and evolution. Using basic attacks and special moves skillfully are key to either remaining as a hero or regaining a body.
The hero is chosen randomly from the number of players entering the dungeon. As the hero, players run through the dungeon looking for gold and killing monsters for experience. Gold, which can be found in chests, can be used at stores randomly located in the dungeon to purchase new weapons, spells and potions.
Experience is necessary to make players more powerful. The hero gains experience from killing player monsters and collecting blue orbs. When players are the hero, the goal is to stay alive as long as possible. The hero needs to move through the dungeon, reach level 10 and defeat the dungeon boss.
All other players exist as spirits. Their goal is to be the first to murder the hero and regain their body. To aid in their slaughter, non-hero players can summon spirits and possess traps to chip away at the hero’s health. When a hero enters a room, there exists the possibility of it containing pentagrams on the floor or traps like turrets, crossbows or spike launchers. Spirits can posses any trap in a room by floating over to it and following a button prompt. When possessing a trap, they can use it to launch devastating short-range attacks at the hero. Traps do not lock a hero in a room, so they are good for hit and run tactics.
To summon a monster, spirits have to inhabit a pentagram; by doing so, a monster from their chosen god is randomly summoned. The summoned monster can be used to square off against the hero. If a monster defeats the hero, the player is reborn as a hero. That player then has a chance to run through the dungeon, leveling up their hero and gathering gold. Summoning monsters locks a room until the hero defeats all monsters. If players kill a hero, they still have to kill any remaining monsters currently active or whom can be summoned from a pentagram.
Level progression in Crawl is balanced nicely between heroes and monsters. Since each player can be both monster and hero, they have two different level progressions. A hero levels up by killing monsters summoned by other players as they run through a dungeon. The better they are at killing monsters and staying alive, the stronger they get. Heroes level up actively through combat.
Monsters level up more passively. Each floor in the dungeon has an exit, so when a hero exits a dungeon it ends the round. At the end of each round, players earn vitae to evolve their monsters. The vitae earned is based on how much hero characters level up. Those players spending more time as spirits earn more vitae to evolve their monsters. Each player’s god gives them three monsters to evolve during the game. Every monster can evolve a certain number of times until they reach peak evolution.
There are also branching evolutions offering different advance and peak evolutions that players can choose between. The more advanced evolutions require more vitae. Smartly using vitae at the end of each round is necessary to give players the best chance at becoming the hero in the next round. Since monsters summon randomly, putting all your vitae into a single monsters is not always the best practice.
The other aspect of progression for heroes is their ability to buy weapons, spells and potions at shops. Heroes earn money by finding chests in the dungeon, but also by praying to an alter. This alter rewards the hero with gold for the blood they spilled playing as a spirit. The longer and more successful a player is at being a monster before becoming human again, the more gold they gain to buy new items.
Heroes start with a basic sword that can be replaced at a shop for a variety of weapons. Depending on their preference, players can use bows, staves, knives or swords to deal with monsters. Spells replace a player’s special move. The effects spells have vary widely from a more powerful dash to cyclones and shields. Potions can be purchased to give players certain bonuses, generally at the expense of speed or defense or some other stat. Experimenting with different weapons, spells and potions can give heroes the edge as other players continue to evolve their monsters.
The hero’s main goal is to reach level 10 and activate the transport stone to face off against the dungeon boss. The dungeon boss is a hulking behemoth of a monster. Since there are no pentagrams or traps in the final boss area, spirits possess aspects of the boss. Possessing one of the boss’ arms allows players to launch different liquids at the hero. By taking over the main head, players can launch a devastating beam at the hero.
In order to make the boss vulnerable, the hero needs to hit a bomb-like spawn at the boss’ open mouth to expose its brain. Once the brain is exposed, the hero needs to wail on it until it is defeated.
Depending on the number of players, the final boss can be tough or fairly easy. With less players, the hero can maneuver quickly and avoid the attacks, but working in tandem can give the hero a hell of a time. Right now, it seems the boss needs to be re-balanced because it is too slow to be effective against the nimbly hero. As is, the boss is a bit too toothless to be formidable, especially compared to the main game’s peak evolution monsters.
Crawl shows plenty of promise. The key to the game’s success is the smart balance of progression between hero and spirits. While it is early and things are subject to change, Crawl is in a very playable state. There are some elements to re-balance and tinker with, but if Powerhoof offered this as Early Access, they would offer a solid product with plenty to enjoy. It would be nice to see more gods and monsters added to the final product and different dungeon bosses down the line.
To enjoy Crawl fully, the game needs three to four players. You can get the idea of combat and gameplay one-on-one, but the game sings with a full house. Online multiplayer would be a great addition if Powerhoof can pull it off. Even if Crawl remains a local-only multiplayer game, it could potentially join the best of the local multiplayer renaissance.