Arboria is a hodgepodge of ideas and mechanics drawn from games I tend to like. The combat system is extremely reminiscent of Dark Souls, various elements like permadeath and hub-based progression are drawn from roguelikes, and everything is tied together in a fantasy action RPG with some hints at sci-fi.
The marriage of concepts that is Arboria sounds like a match made in heaven, and there are plenty of moments hinting at that glory throughout the Early Access build. However, there are also significant hurdles for the game to overcome as it proceeds through development.
- What is Arboria? It’s a third-person action roguelite with RPG elements and some clear inspiration from the Souls series. Players take on the role of the Yotunz, creatures of bark and leaves, determined to combat the corruption encroaching on their forest home.
- Developer: Dreamplant
- Publisher: All in! Games
- Release Date: Hits Early Access May 7, 2020
- Website: www.arboriagame.com
- Reviewed On: PC
The Soul of a Warrior
As mentioned above, Arboria’s combat feels very Souls-esque, down to the gamepad controls for attacking being tied to the right bumper and trigger. But perhaps the aptest comparison comes from Bloodborne, as Arboria employs a similar emphasis on speed and aggression compared to a more methodical approach heavy with blocks, parries, and healing. Your offhand is occupied by a magic ability, which can be defensive – like the Shield or Teleport – but these are never as reliable as offensive spells like the Shockwave, one of the most consistent ways to interrupt enemy attacks and stun them momentarily.
As for weapons, there are only a few different types. Fortunately, they also come with various elemental imbues, each one carrying its own moveset and variance in speed and stopping power.
But how does the combat system hold up? In Arboria’s current build, you can definitely glimpse the promise therein. Some fights, especially with the tougher enemies, start to capture that tense back-and-forth punctuated with powerful abilities for which a combat system like this is so well suited. That said, Arboria’s combat is held back by several factors. Some of these have more to do with the roguelite elements at play, which will be discussed in more detail in the next section. Others, however, have to do with weapon and spell selection, enemy variety, and camera controls.
Let’s break these down. Between weapons and spells, the former get a much better treatment. While the differences between the axe and the sword aren’t as pronounced as you might think, something like the scythe can certainly change your playstyle based on its moveset. After unlocking a second weapon slot, I found it fun to swap between two different kinds of weapons, seeing which one could most efficiently dispatch those pesky wasps.
As for your offhand abilities, there’s an issue with balance. Shield and Teleport both technically have offensive capabilities, but these are pretty limp, and their defensive capabilities rarely feel better than simply dodging. This is especially the case with Teleport, as using it while locked on to an enemy can screw with the camera and take away your targeting, ironically enough opening you up to an attack. Meanwhile, Shockwave is virtually the only AOE or ranged attack currently in the game, and its ability to stunlock single, tougher creatures is exceedingly useful.
And speaking of creatures, without laying too much into an Early Access title which will surely address this moving forward, repeatedly carving through wasps and spitters in the early game quickly becomes tiresome, and some additional enemy types would do wonders for the fun factor.
Roguish Charm, Early Access
Arboria’s roguelite elements are similarly a mixture of promise and problem. Specific mechanics are already successful, like the use of Veri to purchase upgrades, which feels like meaningful choice and progression that distinctly improved the quality of my runs. Others stand on shakier ground. In another similarity to Bloodborne – this time to its Chalice Dungeons – Arboria employs some randomization to its level design. And just like in Bloodborne, this supposedly endless variety of levels inevitably begins to feel samey, each permutation as compared to others sporting a distinction without a difference. Randomization is trickier than it seems when you’re using it to add variety to a game, and hopefully the devs of Arboria can come to appreciate that and adjust accordingly.
At the same time, some roguelite elements carry virtues and vices within themselves, needing just mild tweaks to feel right. One cool concept is the ability to donate Veri directly to the Gods (or Da Godz, as the Yotunz – channeling Warhammer – like to say) in exchange for certain bonuses. However, upon finishing a run, the mood of the Gods seemed somewhat random, and not in an interesting way. It would be nice to see a framework of decisions that would please the Gods – stuff like praying at their totems, which you can do in runs – and then a number of choices that would anger them, promoting evaluations of risk and reward.
Similarly, while you’re given the option after losing a character to select a new one from a batch, this choice rarely feels meaningful. Most of the time, there was one Yotun that was demonstrably better than his peers, and it made the most sense to pick him. One issue is that so many traits are tied to stats directly, meaning that you are frequently comparing quantity as opposed to quality, the former being a more rote, monotonous process.
Because of these reasons and others, it’s a good thing that Arboria is hitting Early Access. Many games hit full release in a state not even half as good as this, and the devs have the opportunity to tinker and polish as they move forward. This will be helpful particularly for the audiovisuals, where there’s currently an interesting aesthetic at play, a blend of fantastical nature scenery and ruined sci-fi tech. But the audiovisuals need work to truly capture it, particularly during cutscenes bizarrely devoid of sound effects.
Now, I’ve touched upon many places where the game can improve, but don’t assume that this is a lack of enthusiasm. Quite the opposite, in fact: Arboria shows enough potential with its confluence of roguelite and Souls-esque ideas that I would like to see it succeed, and its current build is easily fun enough to give me hope that it will. Given the right amount of love and care, Arboria certainly has the power to synthesize its influences, which is no mean feat. Also, right before leaping to his almost certain doom, the main character does a dab. I honestly don’t know what to make of that.