The Drop (Guest Review)

The Drop is a roguelike, and the sequel to The Reconstruction. It is cute and funny and wonderful and you should absolutely go play it, even if you disliked The Reconstruction.

 

The premise is that, five years after the end of The Reconstruction, the Drop opened up again, attracting explorers to investigate the new phenomenon. It also drew in people from all across the world, because it has some sort of reality-warping vortex effect that causes it to absorb and integrate parts of the land into itself. This includes anyone who was on the land at the time, so the caverns are filled with lost souls and remnants of various environments. To further complicate matters, rumors of a wish-granting dragon at the very bottom have popped up, attracting power-seeking adventurers as well. It’s a very interesting and bizarre setting, and paves the way for many different motivations among the heroes instead of just lazy heroic cliche for each one. (Cast is still a sausagefest though – I get that with most characters returning from a game that was also a sausagefest it was inevitable, but the dev couldn’t even achieve gender equality among the new faces? Why couldn’t the fih’jik have been women? Why couldn’t Sypak be a female from the capital? That would have made him so much more interesting, and we know the capital isn’t immune to the vortex since one of the floor themes is modeled after it. Come on, this isn’t hard.)

First of all, the flavor text. Oh wow, the flavor text. I spent the first 5 minutes of every playthrough just walking around the camp and talking to everybody. Not only are there tons of NPCs with interesting dialogue, they’re incredibly reactive and change in response to so many things – your race, your element, your progress in the dungeon, everything. They also feature a variety of voices and personalities instead of dull standard NPCs, which was fun. I particularly enjoyed how different all the greater shra were. This is something I perhaps didn’t mention as much as I should have, but The Reconstruction did have very good writing – characters, even minor NPCs, all had distinct and recognizable voices, often with clever or witty turns of phrase. This minimalist and character-focused story style really plays to the developer’s strengths, and I enjoyed it a lot. The narration, too – I did complain in The Reconstruction that the snarky narrator was a little overbearing at times, but here, when it’s your only voice during the gameplay, it works perfectly. The item descriptions, use text, and thought snippets are all either utterly hilarious or simply very well-done. In particular, while the mechanism of having to swallow stuff whole to figure out what it is was unrealistic and a bit punishing, I loved how the game rolled with it such that you only realize you made a mistake when the narrator gives you a hilarious deadpan scolding like “Tastes like dirt. Probably because it is.” Takes the sting off of some of the more crippling decisions.

I’m not sure how well I can comment on the gameplay. I’m not a big roguelike fan so I can’t really say how well it upholds the genre, but I found it enjoyable despite not liking roguelikes, so that’s something? I suppose what’s usually the dealbreaker for me is the permadeath – though it does provide tension and encourage careful play, I think it’s far too punishing to erase all your progress like that, especially in a genre so dependent on random chance. There were quite a few times in this where I just spawned in front of a giant group of monsters, and in that situation there’s really nothing you can do. I felt that defeat here was punishing enough while still allowing you to get back on your feet, which was a good balance. And there’s a permadeath mode for purists anyway, so everyone’s happy.

I will say that I was a bit let down by the environment mechanics. Leading up to the game’s release (and on the gamepage itself), the developer talked up how you would be able to manipulate the environment to your advantage and conflicts would often depend on this strategy. In practice… not really. The environmental effects just aren’t frequent or useful enough. Sure, I could boil the water to inflict some paltry DoT on this enemy… or I could just hit its elemental weakness and kill it in two hits, probably inflicting the DoT in the process because practically every spell does. I think the only one that I used with any consistency was the shock + water = stun one, since both of those two components are common enough that you’ll see it a lot and the effect is really useful. Grass + fire = fire was also good in theory since fire is so debilitating, but I just couldn’t seem to find it often enough. To be honest, I usually triggered them by accident. I think the real problem here is how limited your spell slots are; I don’t really have time to run through all my available spells and switch to one that might provide some slight tactical advantage when the enemy is already coming after me and I can just kill it quickly. The other half of this are enemy traits, which are just too hard to plan around since they’re so hard to discover and I could never keep them straight between playthroughs. When you get lucky and find a phobia that’s nice, but it just results in you spamming that spell until they’re dead instead of any truly clever strategy. Once you get the panic and stun spells they become unnecessary anyway. And speaking of which, the panic and stun spells were super gamebreaking. Once I got Stoneslide, Unstable Mind, or Impure Thoughts, that was all I ever used. Even the final boss is vulnerable to them! The only things that ever became dangerous after that were ambushes, groups, and those special monsters who think it’s funny to be immune to stun. Those are all pretty rare, though.

I also didn’t use items as much as I think was intended. I loved identifying all of them, of course (all the flavor text will be mine), but I often just stuck with a few good healing items and usually forgot I had them. The attack items just aren’t good enough to use reliably – maybe if you run out of HP faster than you thought and just need one more attack to save your bacon, but that never really came up for me. The few that could be used to confuse enemies were nice, but other than that, eh. Magic’s just too powerful and spammable to make me consider anything else. Magic may have been a little too powerful, I think – physical attacks are just so worthless that if you do get into close quarters you’re usually doomed, while magic gives you lots of free distance attacks, usually killing enemies before they can lay a finger on you.

But overall, it was tense and fun. It did get a little repetitive after awhile, but the funny narration and sheer variety in environments helped to mitigate that.

Story-wise this was also good. I’ve said that the developer is good at individual scenes but bad at large-scale plotting, so this simplistic format that pins everything on a few scenes was a good choice. I loved how it was a true ensemble piece, often developing characters who were very minor in The Reconstruction (Lani! ♥), and the variety in their motivations. I really enjoyed the camp dialogue in particular; I complained a lot about how little one-on-one interaction there was in The Reconstruction, such that we’re told everyone’s inseparable friends by the end of it but we’re never actually shown what they think of each other. This bridges that gap by providing unique conversations for every single character pairing, which was amazing and the developer really outdid himself. And no Qualstio, hooray! The new faces did feel less interesting and developed than the returning characters, but I suppose that’s to be expected. The minimalist way in which we’re given little windows into what the outside world looks like and how things have developed since we left off was also very well-done, and really goes to show how less is more. It does what any good sequel should do, quietly smoothing over weird elements that didn’t really work and allowing us to fill in most of the gaps – it lets us remember the old story as better than it was while quietly improving everything for future installments.

One part that I didn’t like as much was Dehl’s storyline. Maybe you had to be there, but here’s the context: Dehl wasn’t in the initial release, but added in a surprise patch much later. (This is why he never appears at the camp.) Before then, all players had to go off of were a few vague references from the other characters, who implied Dehl had been out-of-touch for a long time and no one knew what he was doing. I thought this air of mystery worked perfectly well, and keeping the previous protagonist out of the spotlight to focus on everyone else was clever. Could even have been profound; everyone thought they knew him but never truly understood him, and this distance reflects that. But then suddenly the veil of mystery is thrown back, and the truth just couldn’t live up to my expectations. The guildmates’ response to him is incredibly blase so he kept in touch after all, and his lack of a camp presence makes him a pretty bland character himself. His ending also explicitly says that he’s still a miserable sadsack, so nothing about his character issues actually got resolved – and according to word of God he’s dead of old age in the sequel, so they never will be! Thanks game, that’s really what I wanted for the last word on my favorite character.

The finale, though! I guess obligatory spoiler warning but you’ll see it coming a mile off: the final boss is Havan, whose spirit was bound to the bottom of the Drop by the chaos energy. It really comes out of nowhere (especially since he returned to normal by the time he died) and you could cut it out entirely without affecting anything, but I’m willing to let it slide because it’s so cool. The scene was amazingly well-written; it surprised me to see how someone so monstrous could become so pitiful.

If you didn’t think that was beautiful I don’t know what to tell you.

What I found particularly interesting was the revelation that Havan truly does want to be a hero, and believes he can become one simply by taking down a villain. There’s something tragic about that: he really thinks that becoming a hero is that simple, that it’s just a matter of shortcuts and bargaining and then everyone will love him again. It’s such a sad, twisted view of reality that eerily mimics RPG players’ behavior, but he earnestly believes it. He so desperately wants to be a hero at any cost, and that demonstrates exactly why he will never be one. Havan is just such a deep and interesting character, and I’m honestly a little sad to see him go even if that sense of finality is the only logical end for him. The battle itself was pretty great and actually challenging since he had too much health for my typical “go all-out and hope they die before you” approach to work. I also loved that he has a unique quip depending on which health bar you empty first instead of just a general one. (I replayed the battle three times to see them all, of course.) I also liked that Tezkhra expressed guilt and sympathy, properly aligning his behavior with his stated character traits for once. (That “Just let go, Havan. Only some of us get a second chance at all.” line sounded pretty hypocritical, though – when he gets a second chance it’s totally fine, but when Havan gets a second chance suddenly resurrection is wrong because…?) Then the ending is just a mindscrew plastered with blazing neon signs that say PLAY THE SEQUEL, but I will admit I did not expect certain developments at all and am very interested to see how it will influence Tezkhra’s role in the sequel. Also what I hope is acknowledgement that immortality is actually a good thing and not just setting Tez up as a mad scientist villain!

But yeah, I loved pretty much everything about this game. I loved the characters. I loved the jokes. I loved the flavor text. I loved the music. I loved the emphasis on magic and how many spells there were. I did not love the new character portraits – sorry, new artist guy – but that’s probably just personal taste. Even if you don’t like roguelikes or the previous game, give it a try! It’s a fun timekiller if nothing else.

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