[If/when the game releases to its official 1.0 launch, I may write a new review should my thoughts change. Full disclosure, I was provided with a key for the game by RyseUp Studios. My review is voluntary and under no compensated agreement.]
I feel that we’re at the point lately where criticizing roguelikes/lites for not being groundbreaking or earth-shatteringly different from others of that genre has grown pointless. Take RoboQuest for example: The name doesn’t inspire splendour to be sure, but even in its current Early Access state, it’s a fun and functional game that asks you to rely on being a better player, not just depending on exploiting its roguelike elements. Does RoboQuest reinvent the wheel when it comes to the genre? Absolutely not, but it’s not often an indie first-person shooter in development feels this good play, all while remaining stable and having suffered only one crash in my ten or so hours.
When I first learned that you play as a robot, I wrongly thought this would be a slower-paced, methodical first-person shooter - Very much the opposite. Despite being so large, the playable robots move deceptively fast and have excellent air control. Getting a feel for the speed and movement is a must, as areas in each level have varying degrees of verticality to traverse, both to cover ground and evade enemy fire. You could, in theory, use cover and play defensively, but RoboQuest feels its best when you’re in the thick of it, sprinting and jumping around all over the place. The robotic enemies don’t have the same degree of movement, but they’re plentiful and relentless in keeping up offensive pressure, be it with bullets, temporarily locking your inputs or with melee strikes. Their AI does tend to go to sleep if you leave one area and enter another, but catching them off-guard shouldn’t be relied on - They’re quick to wake up and put the pressure back on.
The game encourages such an action-y playstyle since cells (experience points dropped by destroyed enemies) also replenishes your health somewhat if damage has been taken in the current build of the game. Even with a relic (equip-able effects) that increases the pickup range of cells, you have to be quite close to these lil’ nuggets to vacuum them up. As you might imagine, they’ll vanish after a brief time. Play harder and faster to get more cells, but risk taking more damage - And then needing more cells to recover that health. Areas in levels are connected by hallways or corridors to act as transitions, and exploring each level fully can be beneficial for challenge rooms or hidden sections with loot. Mostly though, you’ll be wanting to get into as many fights as possible to collect cells, level up and choose perks to further strengthen your robot or a particular projectile type.
Weapons vary from tech lasers and energy balls to grungy automatic bullet sprayers to hefty explosive launchers. Later wrench upgrades allow weapons to have different affixes, like greater damage for less accuracy or moving even faster while wielding it. Further empowerment comes from colour-coded cores: Assault is red, precision is green, etc. More of the same colour means more damage for weapons that match and provides passive effects like fire rate or empowering your robot’s latent skill. The problem is that equipping various colours does less than equipping one particular colour, as the passive effects feel negligible compared to the raw damage gains. This becomes apparent in later levels when automatic weapons feel like rapid-firing mosquito bites, and weapons like sniper rifles or launchers are far more effective. That said, this can encourage changing up your build mid-run. Hence, you’re not just sticking to the same strategy repeatedly. Still, it can feel like the game has a bias towards weapons with slower fire rates than faster ones.
As mentioned earlier, wrenches are your permanent progression source to upgrade your base camp between runs. New robots, relics, and chances for affixes can be purchased for example; while these provide new options and ways to play in your next run, success or failure will mostly boil down to your skill and choices. It certainly comes off that way during gameplay, what with mobility and accuracy being paramount. RoboQuest isn’t a ‘cruel’ game unlike its counterparts with its challenge, but it will shred your health to ribbons should you get careless or too confident - The enemies are slow, but they’re quick on the trigger and plenty accurate for a bunch of tin cans. It’s not a game with a high skill ceiling, but it’s definitely one that requires good focus to keep track of the action.
Balance criticisms aside, I still have put in and enjoyed just over ten hours into RoboQuest. This game definitely isn’t going to spark a love of the roguelike/lite genre if such games don’t already interest you, nor does it break new ground. It hasn’t blown my socks off to any degree, but a well-supported game that reliably works that’s still in development is not often seen but always welcome. The developers are showing outstanding support for the game to see it completed. While significant updates have a generous gap between them, hotfixes and support patches are on a steady clip to keep the game stable. RoboQuest easily gets a recommendation from me.