Let It Die Review – Free Souls, But at What Cost?
Let It DieDecember 3rd, 2016
Suda51’s been out of the spotlight as a game director, having had a couple of years since the releases of Shadow of the Damned and Short Peace. Since then, he had been working on a title known as Lily Bergamo that eventually was transformed and reworked into what players now recognize as Let It Die. Pitched as a freemium game and published by GungHo Online Entertainment, this roguelike adventure takes some of what makes Dark Souls so satisfyingly difficult and pitches an idea that might seem wholly mad to some: what if players had to pay real money when they died?
Let It Die takes place in an arcade frequented by a number of teenage delinquents and the friendly Uncle Death. As the silent protagonist, it’s up to you to challenge a popular multiplayer game known as Let It Die and work your way up to the top of the game’s treacherous Tower of Barbs. Set in a post-apocalyptic slice of Japan, the characters and dialogue have just the right balance of Suda51’s signature quirkiness mixed with the sort of post-apocalyptic survival tale you’d see in modern fiction. Imagine Mad Max taking part in a Japanese suburb or department store. Instead of heavy metal axes and guns (which there are still plenty of in Let It Die), players have to use bladed hockey sticks and clothing irons as their defensive weaponry.
By now, it should be well known that Suda51’s style of directing takes a mesh of satire and seriousness and rather than straddling the line between the two, his games veer widely off in one direction only to spin out and head off into another way. That’s Let It Die’s story in a nutshell. By playing the game within a game, players get to see just how screwed up this world has been after wars and destruction have ravaged the landscape and brought about the so-called Tower of Barbs into fruition, the goal of the player’s adventure. Along the way, players can listen to nearly two hundred different music tracks, many of which from up and coming Japanese artists of various genres (perhaps the only names I was able to recognize in the entire setlist were Akira Yamaoka himself and VELTPUNCH).
Exploring the Tower of Barbs is as perilous as its namesake implies. As the enemies and traps within change each time the player ascends its steps, the danger changes every time a new journey begins. To combat the dangers within, players fight their way through with a combat system that should feel familiar to those that have already explored Anor Londo and Lothric in Dark Souls. With weapons in each hand (or both if wielding a pickaxe or similar two-handed weapon), players must block, dodge roll, or parry incoming attacks while being mindful of their stamina (represented by the player’s beating heart). Overextending one's attacks or mistiming a riposte can just as easily mean the end as your character would open up to the enemy’s attack, usually leading to either equipment breaking or a quick death.
Weapon durability is one of the negatives to Let it Die that has such an impact on how the player engages in combat. Even a brand new hammer might only last long enough to make it through only a floor or two before breaking. New equipment and gear spring up in the most unlikeliest of times, whether it’s stashed away in randomly appearing chests or off the bodies of slain enemies. Sadly, nearly every piece of usable gear might only have a small handful of uses before it’s thrown away. In order to get gear that you might be able to use for more than a single floor of the Tower of Barbs, the merchant operating in the Waiting Room is the player’s only reliable source.
This Hitler looking fellow collects the blueprints that the player finds throughout their adventure and builds his stocks accordingly. By using both coins and gathered materials, his inventory grows with equipment that can always be readily available to the player, assuming they have the coin on hand, before another adventure into the tower. The merchant's gear can also be upgraded in the same manner, although crafting and upgrading both take a number of real minutes to complete. This is one of the freemium hooks that teases the player into spending real money, as a single DLC token is enough to finish up that crafting timer. For the first few floors of the tower, the wait was only a few minutes but I fear that the timer might extend into the realm of hours towards the top of the Tower of Barbs.
Perhaps the biggest mistake the player can make is growing too attached to their current character. Just as their equipment can quickly degrade and break, so can the characters. Taking notes from the difficulty curve of games like the Dark Souls series, death is an all too common occurrence in Let it Die. Once the player loses all hope and succumbs to that sweet call of death, they’re given a second chance in terms of ‘insurance’. After each death, the player is given an option to cash in some of their premium currency (rainbow-colored skulls known as Death Metal) for a new lease on life. By taking advantage of insurance, the player is thrust back into the game exactly where they once stood before being cut down. This includes being naked and weaponless if all of their gear broke just moments ago.
While it may sound like a good idea to occasionally skip the insurance, it’s important to note that the premium insurance is the only thing keeping that character from being permanently erased. Failing to cough up some cash to bring your character back to life on the spot means having to start a new character. When I reached the max level on my first character, I was tempted to let them go once I died to one of the tower’s mid-bosses. However, I changed my mind and revived them once more and let them hang around as a defender for my base to keep other invading players from attacking my bank and stealing some of the cash I had saved up.
If the thought of Dark Souls-style invasions excites you, Let it Die has a number of ways to wreak havoc on another player’s game. On the asynchronous side, players can send off one of their characters (referred to as Haters) to invade a specific player’s game (always pulled from a list of random players, though I did come across at least one person on my friend’s list on the first day) for a specific amount of time. Regardless of being successful in their hunt, they’ll usually bring back some sort of goods such as cash or crafting materials to help improve the base, though a successful invasion usually leads to better rewards.
The second style of invasion I found is known as TDM or Tokyo Death Metro. With every player’s base linked across the world through an underground train system, players can again pick a target of their choosing and take the express line to the foe’s base. If the opposing player is smart, they’ll have set up defending characters (any character on standby can be assigned to be a defender or invader through the cold storage back at the home base) to prevent enemy players from wreaking havoc. This havoc usually comes in three ways: knocking out enemy defenders (and occasionally being able to capture them and bring them back to your base via the train you arrived in on), destroying the enemy’s two currency banks and razing them for your own, and lastly attacking the enemy’s bathroom where captured POW’s are being held for ransom and offer another source of in-game currency.
Both invasion types are performed asynchronously, ala the likes of Metal Gear Solid V’s base invasion mechanics. There’s no direct multiplayer against other players, but I didn't think of this as a major negative since Let It Die’s mechanics don’t lend themselves all too well to PvP due to limited precision in both attacking and evading. Compared to the Dark Souls games, Let It Die’s melee combat feels a bit stiff and unforgiving overall. Having both block/parry and the dodge roll set to the same button, depending on whether the character is moving or not, can lead to evading right on into a deadly attack that could’ve otherwise been mitigated simply by standing still and blocking.
Let it Die is undoubtedly a free-to-play game, although its freemium hooks can be little more than inconveniences if the player is skilled enough to hold their own. GungHo can get the player’s real money through the likes of express passes and reviving the character on the spot, but I couldn’t find anything that made the character notably advantaged just by throwing down a few extra bucks. Waiting for timers and express passes might turn off some players that want access to everything immediately, but perhaps the only source of frustration for the player that wants a completely free experience would be that internal debate on whether to drop a small amount of real cash on insurance or let that character rot and disappear.
Trying to cross the genre of Souls games together with the random nature of roguelike games is a task that's difficult enough to make work, let alone infusing it with a free-to-play system that punishes the player for dying. Let It Die somehow manages to find a very thin line bridging the three together and makes it work with a quirky infusion that stands by Suda's game development. While some mechanical aspects, and yes, the freemium components, prevent it from being a perfect experience, fans of Souls games owe it to themselves to download this free-to-play title and give it a shot. Win, and see yourself standing at the top of the Tower of Barbs; die, and become just another Hater filling its halls.
Suda51's insane humor is more than enough to keep this free-to-play Souls title going, although some of the mechanics might keep players from sticking through the entire experience.
- Possible to finish without spending a dime
- Dark Souls veterans should feel accustomed to the mechanics and gameplay
- Suda51's dark humor and Yamaoka's music tastes fuse wonderfully
- Combat feels a bit shallow
- Newcomers might feel overwhelmed with systems and invasions
- Freemium hooks sink in early