I could hear the quick, animalistic footsteps echo around me deep in the sewers of the Thalassian Fissure. The tunnels were devoid of light, an inky blackness that made me temporarily abandon my gun – a burst-fire rifle known as Sorokos – to replace it with a small stick doused in Persephone's flame, illuminating my path. I used this flaming stick to bat aside the terrifying snake creatures that called these cursed sewers home, watching my health gauge recede as the poison damage from their fangs and claws built up. This was my best run yet. I really didn't want to lose my progress and, more importantly, my hard-earned danake (the game's currency).
I pushed onward, rushing through the dark maze until eventually I made my way to the exit, only one hit left on my health bar. With those same footsteps on my heels, I made it into the safe zone. There, I had a choice. Take another precious health slot, refill my equipment, and risk moving forward, or head back to the Pantheon and start anew, purchasing new equipment and making another run? I chose the former, starting a new area. I was immediately set upon by an enemy I had never seen, and before I knew it, the decision was made for me. Dejected, I was forced back into the harrowed halls of the Pantheon, my pockets emptied of danake. Time to start again.
That is the basic, addictive gameplay loop of UK developer Item42's roguelike FPS, PERISH. You play as Amyetes, a pariah condemned in death to exist in the halfway realm of purgatory. Your only option for escape is to enact the Rites of Orpheus and fight your way through the many realms of the afterlife to get to Elysium, your paradise. With the help of Pythia, the Priestess of the Pantheon that serves as your hub, you will carve your way through hoards of chthonic entities, huge bosses, and even gods.
Aesthetically, PERISH is quite unlike anything I have seen before. Item42 have gone on record as saying the art style is an amalgamation of four different historical mythologies: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Christian. Because of this, every aspect of PERISH is instantly recognizable and appropriately hellish. The player character, Amyetes, is a ghoulish spirit with the physical properties of a rotting corpse, with his teeth showing and eyes bulging under his helmet. Pythia looks like a demon priestess - tight, taught, grey skin stretched over her skull giving her a permanent grimace, her ornate dress a mixture of ashen black and gold. Everything is dripping in this same mythological dressing - gold lines the walls of one level, blood rains from the sky in another, and yet another is a massive labyrinth filled with unspeakable horrors. PERISH is a beautiful, dark, twisted game that leans heavily into the more atmospheric and disturbing side of mythology, and it all comes together to make a cohesive and brilliant art design.
So how does the game play?
The best way I can describe PERISH's gameplay is if DOOM and Destiny had a baby that happened to be a roguelike. Movement is smooth and snappy, with melee weapons given the ability to block and a movement dash always being available after a short cooldown. Your equipment also includes throwing daggers that automatically replenish, allowing the players to have a ranged attack, even if your main weapon is melee focused.
Weapons are unlocked upon finding them in chests scattered throughout the game's multitude of levels, where, even after discovery, they will not be available until they are purchased with your accumulated danake. The weapons cover multiple of disciplines, from a curved sword and a double-sided battleaxe to revolvers and sniper rifles. Each weapon has its own feel distinguishing each one from the last, along with potential drawbacks and benefits that make you think about what weapon to take with you. For example, the battleaxe is slower than the sword, but stronger. The burst rifle fires much faster than the sniper rifle but is also significantly weaker.
The way you play can be customized through the choices you make with your weaponry and loadouts. On top of this, there are also "crowns" to purchase. These act as a permanent buff to your character and can significantly affect each run you make. Many of the crowns, like the weapons, offer a trade-off, such as reducing your health to only one hit, but greatly increasing the amount of danake that enemies drop. My favorite is the Arc crown – it causes lightning to periodically shoot out from my character, causing damage instantly to the enemy it hits.
Loadout construction goes even further still with the edition of rings for purchase. Your character can hold up to six rings, with their additions taking the form of things like increasing dagger damage or the size of your dagger pool, or giving yourself another hit before death. Lastly, you have consumables that can be purchased for use. These consumables can be something like the Saltpetre Jar, which acts like a grenade, or the Vitality Jar, giving you brief invulnerability. Consumables can be refilled at the end of each stage, along with replenishing a single hit on your life bar. If you wish to change your equipment mid-run, instead of replenishing your consumables, a chest will fill with random items stored in your inventory that you can swap at the end of each stage.
None of these purchases can be made without first earning the required currency. Danake (the currency of the Persian Empire as well as the currency in PERISH) can be accumulated by slaughtering enemies, completing tasks, and beating levels. Danake can be pretty hard-earned, depending on how much you choose to engage with the enemy based on your own health and how much you decided to spend on your previous upgrades.
When you complete a task, you are gifted danake that goes straight into your bank, as well as being rewarded with a choice between three different cards. These cards are crucial in making or breaking your run, giving you massive bonuses that stay with you during the entirety of that run. These bonuses can include adding burning damage or explosive damage to your daggers, knocking enemies down when dashing, increasing your control while in the air for better maneuverability, and dumping your danake stash back into the Pantheon so you don't lose them on your death. Being dealt a bad hand in PERISH is like being dealt a bad hand any other time; it sucks and can really increase the difficulty of your runs.
That is the name of the game though. PERISH is a roguelike after all, and a brutal one at that. The base health gauge is only 3 measly hits, and with enemies throwing lightning bolts, swinging swords and axes, shooting sniper rifles, and even shooting machine guns at you, those 3 hits deplete quickly. Upon death, you will keep your weapons, crowns, and rings, but lose a significant chunk of your danake and all of your cards. Without danake, it becomes impossible to upgrade your equipment, rendering your next run to be as difficult as the one you just did.
There is somewhat of a relief to be had though. Between each area there are portals that can take you back to the Pantheon. If you decided to go this route, you will be transported back to the hub world with your entire danake haul in tact, allowing you to purchase new equipment to get back into the fray. The catch, however, is that you must restart your entire run all the way back from the beginning, forgoing your cards as if you had died.
This is the first of only a few qualms I have with PERISH's gameplay loop. While I understand that roguelikes are, by their very nature, an experiment in trial and error, the fact that the cards are lost when returning to the Pantheon gives a very distinct feeling of "giving up" instead of "cashing out" when it comes to your runs. It can be anxiety-inducing to finally decide whether or not to go back to the Pantheon, especially if you have made it further in a particular run than ever before, as you are dooming the last twenty to thirty minutes of gameplay to the digital graveyard.
In addition, enemy placement is nonexistent. Rather, Item42 has decided to make enemy spawning a constant and never-ending endeavor. Enemies will ceaselessly spawn behind you, in front of you, and beside you. Regardless of whether you just started a level or have just finished a task and are looking for the exit, you are in continuous danger. While this does have the effect of keeping you always moving, always running, and always on your toes, it never really allows you to breathe and take into account what you just did. It also causes truly aggravating cheap shots from enemies respawning in an area you just cleared. Some of the encounters in this game have DOOM Eternal levels of intensity, and it would be conducive to the experience to have thirty seconds of calm to reflect on everything that just happened. Instead, you get a message saying "the enemy threat lessens," as more abominations appear from every angle, just less than before.
Most of these issues are immediately negated when indulging in the best part of PERISH – playing with friends. PERISH can be played with up to 4 people, and this is where the game really shines. Carving through hoards of the damned in a multitude of mythological hells is an absolute blast with friends, and deciding to head back to the Pantheon is much less difficult when you have other people to talk to and fill that time with. Item42 has been adamant about the fact that, while PERISH can be played individually, it really is supposed to be a group experience, and I couldn't agree more.
PERISH doesn't necessarily do anything new with the roguelike genre, but what it does do is done exceedingly well. There are definitely some small frustrations with the experience, as there are with most roguelikes, but as far as a budget FPS roguelike is concerned, PERISH is genuinely awesome. I cannot recommend it enough if you're into roguelikes, so grab some friends and dive into the bowels of purgatory.
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