Review: Pylon: Rogue


Not so roguelike

Roguelikes are becoming a hot commodity in gaming. What was once a unique way to experience an old genre is now a common indie crutch to pad out an otherwise thin experience. We’ve seen absolute classics utilize elements from roguelikes (Spelunky, The Binding of Isaac), but there has been an odd trend of developers barely developing their titles and simply relying on procedural generation to do the grunt work.

When you buy into a roguelike, you’re prepping yourself for an uphill battle with elements like permadeath, random generation, and extreme difficulty. These aren’t experiences that you can quickly blast through and call it a day.

Pylon: Rogue has most of those elements down pat, but it seems to have forgotten about creating a balanced and enjoyable experience.

Pylon: Rogue (PC)
Developer: QuantumSquid Interactive
Publisher: QuantumSquid Interactive
Released: September 21, 2017
MSRP: $14.99

Taking cues from Diablo, Pylon looks like an action RPG that would have been popular in the mid ‘90s. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Blizzard released a new Diablo III expansion at a glance, but a deeper exploration of this game reveals how shallow it really is. Combat works with a simple combo system, where you can mash attack for a quick four-hit string or charge up any of those attacks in succession. Mixing and matching these is supposed to make for an improvisational style of fighting, but tends to just be muddy and confusing.

With so much inspiration being drawn from The Binding of Isaac, you’d think things like persistent upgrades or charming visuals would be on the docket, but Pylon doesn’t exhibit much of that. The enemies are also totally generic, failing to exhibit the grotesque cuteness that Edmund McMillen captured so well. The game also has the ability to unlock different items for spawn, but it loves to never give you anything when you truly need it.

Games like Diablo or Torchlight have enemies where avoiding damage can be impossible. You’re in the front lines trying to deal damage and you get swarmed, so you’re going to get hit. Those games combat that by giving the player potions and spells to heal themselves, but Pylon does not have that. Sure, you can sometimes get a heart to drop, but this happens so infrequently that you end up having to play each segment with so much caution that battles with five enemies can take 20 minutes.

Pylon gives you three starting classes to choose from, but two of those are melee-focused characters. Melee fighters have a hell of a time dealing with the enemies in this game. Enemies love to bum rush you when you enter a room and then scatter away after dealing attacks. It creates this strange dynamic where you end up chasing down enemies while constantly trying to avoid incoming attacks and not getting a lot of chances to retaliate.

You’d think the one ranged character would fare better, but she almost gets as raw of a deal as the melee guys. Her class is more of an archer/rogue, so she has a defensive roll and a bow, but there isn’t any kind of aim compensation for attacking enemies. You can’t just aim in their general direction, you need to try and line up your attacks while also dealing with enemies making a beeline for you, so you never really get much time to think.

This would be made better if the upgrades actually did anything tangible to your character, but I haven’t once felt like I was being powered up in my near 10 hours of playtime. The power-ups have a range of effects, but they come so infrequently (a running theme with this game) or cost so much money that you typically don’t have a chance to even obtain them.

When you do, though, their effects are usually passive and hardly of any use. One of the items leaves a trail of poison goo behind your character, but enemies either deftly avoid it or are completely indifferent to the trail. There are also upgrades for your weapon and armor, but again, the statistics are increased at such a small level that you never really notice their impact.

There is no inventory in Pylon, either, so when you find a new weapon, you’ll have to swap it with your current one. Sometimes you’ll find things with better attack ratings, but slower attack speeds, so it’s supposed to give you a risk/reward element to spice things up. It mostly just comes off as another way to depower the player when the whole game world is out to get you.

The level design is also way out of wack. There are two starting areas the game will randomly select from, but the jungle area is objectively harder. You’ll travel through rooms in Pylon where you’ll have to defeat waves of enemies to unlock a door to proceed. In the forest, each room has between two and four waves to battle, which is fine. In the other starting area, the desert, you only have to face a single wave. Sometimes the rooms are bigger, but it’s a lot easier to deal with a single horde of enemies than multiple groups when you have zero upgrades.

What really sucks is when you kill everyone, but the game doesn’t register it. You’ll then be stuck in perpetual limbo until you exit out and reload your save. Thankfully, there's the option to save between each room, but it still becomes a pain in the ass to waste so much time fighting enemies and then have the game turn around and lock up.

While you could just chalk that up to the procedural generator being a bit borked, the actual layout of rooms is hardly different. I’ve seen the same circular oasis come up in my different playthroughs that I swear it is a specifically designed level. I guess having hand crafted rooms would be preferable to boring randomization, but when a game is priding itself on having “no two runs” be the same, it definitely fails on that front.

I haven’t even spoken about the special abilities that each character has, but those still are governed by the exceptionally low drop rates for items. Each class has a scroll ability that functions like a super attack for clearing out rooms. You start off with four scrolls and are supposed to either buy or collect them from levels, but they end up not appearing with any regularity. One melee character, the Moneydin, can turn enemies into money with his ability, so I ended up spamming his special and buying more scrolls to cheese my way to the boss of each area.

The two bosses I’ve faced, though, are just devastatingly hard. You have the same odd combat where you’ll try to close the gap for damage and the boss will push you away and without much in the way of healing, you end up dying relatively quickly before you can do any significant damage. I just about beat the desert boss, but the jungle one is far too overbearing.

The progressive unlock system that is so heavily inspired by The Binding of Isaac even has different things unlock when you “Die 99 times” or “Die to the Desert Boss 3 times,” but I just couldn’t stomach playing anymore of Pylon. I know I’m leaving out some details, but I just don’t have it in me.

It’d be easier to forgive this if the game felt finished. When you select a character, you have an option to pick a different starter weapon, but only the Moneydin has all three weapons currently available. The rock man and archer have options that showcase a “Coming Soon” tag, making me assume this game was rushed out of Early Access. It doesn’t make for the most positive of experiences.

In fact, nothing about my time with Pylon was really positive. I suppose the game looks okay, runs smooth enough, and has great gamepad support, but when it’s just not fun to trek through, what is the ultimate point? I don’t have the drive to bash my head against a wall for another 10 hours before everything clicks and I can sleepwalk through this game.

So maybe the game eventually gets better, but you have to stop and think about how much time you’re willing to invest to get the most out of something. If you can get around its rough edges, you just might be able to see the diamond in the rough.

For me, though, Pylon: Rogue just doesn’t do enough right for me to recommend it. While I’m sure there will be plenty of hardcore fans, for most people, this is just going to be a hard pass.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Pylon: Rogue reviewed by Peter Glagowski



Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice it has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.
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Peter Glagowski
Peter Glagowski   gamer profile

Plucked right from the DToid community (formerly KingSigy), Peter is an aspiring writer with a passion for gaming and fitness. If you can't find him in front of a game, you'll most likely find hi... more + disclosures



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    Filed under... #Action #Diablo #Indie #PC #reviews #roguelike #RPG #Steam #Steam Early Access



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