World of Horror Early Access Review – Beautiful and Buggy
World of Horror is incredibly popular. It might not be on the level of Resident Evil, but for an indie game by one guy, it’s got an insanely dedicated following. And for good reason. It’s the kind of game we dream of both playing and hopefully one day making ourselves. Paweł Koźmiński (better known as Panstasz) has done something truly incredible with World of Horror. It’s got an amazing Junji Ito inspired art style done entirely in MS Paint. It’s also a solid CRPG, blending horror with skill checks in a way that makes for both satisfying gameplay and real tension. It’s easy to play, but with a level of depth that really speaks to the almost obsessive passion of its creator. It’s beautiful. It’s also almost unplayably buggy.
I almost didn’t write this review. World of Horror is just too buggy to give a fair shake. In my 10 playthroughs, 8 of them have ended in the game crashing. That is an 80% failure rate. I’m generally forgiving of crashes in Early Access. But those numbers cannot be ignored. What’s worse is that a crash results in losing the entire run. The game is designed to be played in individual campaigns with no autosave feature. Actually saving the game requires an in-game action that you will never naturally do as part of your playthrough. So if the game crashes, your progress is lost. This is far more maddening than even the most lengthy gazes into the eyes of an Elder God.
Still, World of Horror deserves recognition. It’s a unique and wonderful game. I’m sure the bugs will be ironed out with time. So for the rest of the review, I’m going to talk about what makes World of Horror great. Just mentally insert after each paragraph *but these things are only great when the game doesn’t randomly break*. Got it? Good. On with the review.
If you’re not already a fan, World of Horror is a new indie horror RPG from Polish dentist Paweł Koźmiński (Panstasz). It’s a passion project he’s been working on for years. I actually first heard about it when a friend told me to check it out on itch.io, with the big caveat that it had been in development for so long that it might never see a full release. While the game still isn’t in full release, today’s launch into Steam Early Access is a huge step in that direction. Needless to say, fans are ecstatic to get their hands on this new version.
World of Horror is one of those games that’s hard to tell what it is at a glance. Excellent spooky MS Paint drawings, the game? Well, that’s part of it. World of Horror at its core is a CRPG. It’s very easy to see how World of Horror would fit right into the library of old DOS games. You play as one of seven (initially five) characters living in a small Japanese coastal town in the 1980s. Recently, a strange series of events has caused things in the town to get all Lovecraftian. As one of the few (initially) sane people left in town, you take it upon yourself to solve the mystery and hopefully banish the Old God. You’ll do this by solving five randomly assigned mysteries, which you can tackle in any order. These mysteries will either transport you to a specific location or take you all across the city. You’ll explore around, hunt for clues, encounter otherworldly events, and fight off all manner of nightmarish ghouls. The actions you take and the choices you make will lead to one of several endings for each individual mission. Even if these endings aren’t always ideal, it’s very hard to actually lose unless you run out of health or sanity.
The gameplay is a wonderful mix of easy to play and hard to master. There’s a shit load of stuff in World of Horror, but you don’t really need to learn most of it when you start. The core gameplay loop is clicking explore and dealing with the consequences. Most of these consequences come in the form of randomized events that ask you to pick from a few options. For example, do you search a room, or run out the door? Pretty basic stuff. Often times one of these options will be greyed out depending on if you have a certain skill/item/companion. Picking any of these options will initiate a skill check. If you pass the check, good things happen. If you fail, bad things happen. Your chances of success can be improved with a basic stat system you’ve come to expect from any RPG.
You’ll also be forced to confront a variety of monsters in World of Horror. Monsters spawn in a pseudo-random fashion, but all function similarly. You just need to get their health bar to 0 before they do the same to you. You fight by stringing together a series of actions, each with their own energy cost dependant upon a corresponding stat. You can build your combo up to a cost of 200, then perform all the actions in order. Then the monster takes a turn to do their thing. Repeat until dead.
I’m simplifying things here, but that’s all you really need to know to get into World of Horror. Much of the game’s complexity is discovered piecemeal. World of Horror tries to ease you into this with a series of increasingly complex modes. While I normally skip the tutorial, I’d recommend playing through them in order. Once you finally get to the fully-customizable option, you’ll be ready for everything World of Horror has to offer.
Peering through the veil beyond the basics, there’s an insane amount of stuff to do in World of Horror. This self-driven discovery is the real meat of World of Horror. While the town levels give you places to go to complete the mission, it’s up to you where you actually want to explore. Learning the optional benefits and dangers of each location is a huge part of the game’s complexity. Exploring the hospital might lead to a random encounter that heals your wounds. Exploring the warehouses might give you a new companion. Or you can get attacked by a demon. It’s up to you to weigh the risks. Once you break out of the game’s rails, you’ll realize that there’s a whole world of horror to explore (I promise that’s the only time I make that joke).
At this point, you’ll likely start experimenting with some of World of Horror‘s more obscure options. There’s magic, companion actions, rituals, and even a series of claps and bows that can banish ghostly enemies. You’ll also want to start creating your own custom campaigns. This will allow you to select specific characters, Gods, difficulties, abilities, and unlockables. Similar to The Binding of Isaac, completing certain objectives will unlock new stuff for future playthroughs. These range from new items to encounters. These items will often further unlock new options in the base game. If you come across a strange rock, one of the options is locked unless you have the Hermit companion. The Hermit companion doesn’t unlock until you fail a skill check with a roll of 1. These unlockables give you a reason to keep coming back, and will doubtlessly lead to dozen if not hundreds of extra runs.
Whiiiiiich is why it’s so shitty when the game crashes. And we’re back to that. Losing a few of the harder achievements because the game crashed before the finish line is absolutely backbreaking. I cannot stress this heavily enough. Even if this all sounds wonderful, buying the game in this Early Access state must come with the huge disclaimer that it will crash. And you will be pissed. Even if it’s not a fatal bug, there are plenty of other bugs that will mar your experience. At one point I got locked into a combat segment that somehow mixed with exploration. It kept swapping between the two, until the entire game just stopped working.
If you can look past the bugs, World of Horror is a monumental accomplishment. Even just looking at the art, it’s clear that Panstasz has a rare combination of talent and dedication. It manages to be disturbing and terrifying despite having only a single bit. It might not be perfectly balanced, but the breadth and creativity of the content needs to be commended. Which is why I’m not ending this with a score. World of Horror simply isn’t finished. I don’t typically review Early Access games for this very reason. I’m sure that World of Horror will be one of the best indie horror games… someday.