Soulstone Survivors: Coffee Break Content

by Lars
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Soulstone Survivors is an Early Access title. This article is not intended as a formal review or preview, but as a casual look at what the game has to offer so far.

As was more or less inevitable, the massive success of bargain title Vampire Survivors has inspired a wave of copycats already. Soulstone Survivors is probably the highest-budget of the lot, and it costs almost four times the original price of Vampire Survivors.

Soulstone Survivors combat

If you’re not familiar with… what I guess is a genre now, it can be explained simply as a mix of Dynasty Warriors and The Binding of Isaac. You get dumped into an arena, gaining new weapons and upgrades every time your character levels up, and you have to kill hordes of enemies and boss monsters to progress. You attack automatically, so from a gameplay perspective all you really do is walk around and choose which of the randomly assigned upgrades you want to take.

It doesn’t sound that compelling, but it’s addictive. Soulstone Survivors seems to grab the crux of that core gameplay loop and purifies it intensively whilst expanding on the surrounding mechanics its inspiration left out. It has vivid, colourful 3D graphics, but they’re generic, and while the visuals are fancier the game lacks the personality and individual sense of humour that made Vampire Survivors so endearing. I’ve killed thousands of monsters so far, toppled a fair few bosses, and I don’t remember a single one of them.

Soulstone Survivors upgrade screen

Vampire Survivors, on the other hand – who could forget those brain-bending boss fights in Cappella Magna? Or the hordes of twisted gorgon heads that attack you in the library in-between waves of goofy looking mud monsters? It did more with far, far less. But I digress. Personality aside, Soulstone Survivors is a lot of fun, and offers a snappier approach to the genre than we’ve seen before. Rounds in Vampire have a hard limit of 25 minutes, at which point your character will be killed by Death unless they’ve collected a very specific and overpowered set of items. Even then, armed with the power to kill the reaper, you’ll be wiped out by another inescapable fate shortly after.

Soulstone Survivors has a quicker format. Rounds will usually last about 12-15 minutes, and they end once you topple a total of five ‘void lords’ – huge boss monsters with punishing abilities. You summon the bosses by killing set amounts of monsters, and once you’ve killed five you have the option to retreat to safety or push on to another level. Eventually you can tackle these at higher difficulty levels, whilst applying modifiers to make the game more challenging. There are a total of five difficulty levels – I’ve worked my way up to the fourth, and things get crazy.

I actually can’t conceive of it getting any harder than it already is. As it stands, hordes of elite enemies are spawning with buffed health, three Void Lords are summoned at once making the total I need to kill 15 instead of 5, and giant Curse Pillars are appearing to absolutely bombard me with damage. So much is going on at once that mobility is almost pointless – it seems to be more important to stockpile a ton of health and armour power-ups. But by doing that, you miss out on vital damage upgrades, which you will absolutely need if you want to stand a chance.

This means that despite the wide variety of characters and upgrades, you kind of get locked into playing one way to succeed, which saps a lot of fun out of the late game experience. I’ve dumped just over eight hours into the game so far, and I feel like my patience is starting to slip away. Compare that to almost eighty in Vampire Survivors and it becomes obvious that looks really aren’t that important. Soulstone has lots of potential, but so many elements of it are generic and under-utilised.

Is it worth buying Soulstone Survivors right now?

Honestly, you’ll probably get a good few hours of fun out of it, but this game could have been assembled from a kit. It has no theme, no distinguishing personality, just a ton of generic weapons, characters, visuals and music stuck together. They’re assembled competently, but not into anything that’s going to stand out. It’s the gaming equivalent of a gingerbread house kit.

There’s no joy in discovering new weapons. Yes, you can stack upgrades to make skills ridiculously overpowered, winkling out a few small glimmers of satisfaction, but everything just melts into the same pot. It’s slightly addictive, but it doesn’t actually offer anything of substance. Wait and see with this one – by the time it leaves Early Access it might be worth a look.

Soulstone Survivors is available now on Steam Early Access.

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