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Arboria Early Access Preview – The Newest Trolls-Like

I’m a simple man. I see a Souls-like, and I play the Souls-like. It’s a task that over the years has become increasingly difficult. Since Dark Souls came out in 2011, this style of game has evolved from internet meme to full-on cornerstone of the ARPG genre. And yes, I know that Demon’s Souls came first. But Dark Souls really established the franchise in the gaming zeitgeist. So with the ever-growing numbers of Souls-likes ranging from cheap imitations to legitimate contenders to the throne, it can be hard to tell which ones are worth your time. So is Arboria the next big thing in the world of hardcore gaming?

Well, no. At least, not yet. Recently released into Early Access, Arboria is very clearly unfinished. And that’s okay. From Polish developer Dreamplant and publisher All In! Games, Arboria is maybe at the 20% point. Even that number is just a vague guess. With a game like Arboria, it’s difficult to tell exactly how much gameplay each addition will bring. This is compounded by Arboria not only being a Souls-like, but also a Rogue-like. So while the current set of weapons/armor/levels might be 1/3 of the total (once again, this is just a guess, I have no idea what the scope of the final game is), adding the rest might make the game 10x more robust. Only time will tell.

In its current state, Arboria is pretty light on features. Still, the concept is solid. You play as a troll. The game calls them Yotun, but I think that’s just fancy Slavic speak for troll. You begin your journey by picking one of three heads. This head serves as your character’s baseline stats. Your head gets pooped out onto a new body, which serves as your one and only life for this run. You’ll descend into a procedurally generated dungeon on a journey to heal the roots of some magic tree and collect space crystals. As you fight your way through hordes of evil bugs, your fairy companion will hoover up all the magic currency sparkles. Making it to the end of the dungeon will give your fairy a chance to barf it all up into a mechanical goop harvester. You’ll then descend another level down to fight even tougher baddies.

For your poor unfortunate trolls, there is no easy way out from this adventure. The only way to go is down. Death is their sole means of escape. When you die, your fairy pulls your head from your body and flies you up to the troll-generator, where it’s immortalized on your own personal leaderboard (that is, until they get knocked out of the top 5 best trolls slot). At this point, you are given the choice to donate a certain amount of magic goop to the Gods. Higher donations will increase your next troll’s base stats. You can also save goop to spend on expensive permanent upgrades.

While delving through the dungeons you also have the task of cleansing roots. This is done either by surviving for a certain period of time around the root or beating a set number of enemies. Beating the challenge will award you with a full health bar. Unlike the rest of the dungeon, the roots don’t reset after you cleanse them. Cleansing a certain number of roots is a prerequisite to unlocking more upgrades.

And that’s about it. You delve dungeons to get stuff that makes delving dungeons easier. It’s a simple formula, but plenty of games use simple formulas effectively. It’s also pretty clear where they plan to add content into Arboria. There’s a village you can explore that currently only houses the large floating upgrade head. Other trolls are diligently at work fixing up the place, which I’m sure will be done in a future patch.

The biggest shortcoming in content is the combat. There are presently only three weapons in Arboria: a fast scythe, a medium axe, and a heavy sword. Each weapon only has a couple light and heavy attacks. The scythe is the standout of the bunch, with a few moves that can be used to disengage. You also have three different offhand abilities: teleport, shield, and shockwave. Each of these can also come with a random elemental modifier to build a Souls-like style status effect. There are also only a handful of enemies in the game. There are currently three levels to the dungeon, but the environments only really get interesting in the third layer. Otherwise, it’s pretty much all just the same kind of hallway with some smattering of spike traps or explosive pods spread about.

The lack of content is a bit of a drag. I’m pretty forgiving of Early Access games in general. But even I was feeling it slog by the end. It’s a shame, because the combat itself can be pretty intense. There’s none of the bells and whistles of other Souls-likes. There’s no parrying, backstab, and outside of the shield ability no blocking. I didn’t like it at first, but once you get into the flow of the telegraphed attacks this simple system works fine. There’s no stamina in Arboria, but your special abilities are limited by energy. Energy regains fast enough that you should get used to using your abilities as combat staples. It’s nothing flashy, but it all works together pretty well once you get the hang of it.

The real charm of Arboria is the story. From the get go, there’s a clear juxtaposition between pieces of space-age tech and the moldy huts the trolls live in. The trolls themselves regard these objects as sacred artifacts. You’ll get snippets of an overall story as you make it to deeper post-level checkpoints. Something about a mind-control hat and how the aliens are probably using you to harvest resources. Or something like that. It’s ultimately secondary to the combat. But it is cute and interesting enough to get me to come back in the future.

It’s not a whole lot of content for a $20 price tag. But if you’re down for the long haul, Arboria‘s got some charm. If you want to check out more about the game, you can watch the interview we did with the Arboria team at PAX East. If you want to check it out yourself, you can check it out on Steam for $20.

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