A statue stands in the darkness. It is surrounded by a motionless pool of black water. Upon the water’s surface torchlight glimmers, but nothing more is seen. The still eyes of the stone goddess look somewhere above the ragged party with cold impartiality. The necromancer mutters something under his breath. The sound, however, is strangely muffled, almost unreal, dreamlike; it quickly fades away. Now, everywhere around there’s silence. Somehow, this place feels separated from the dungeon that surrounds it. It’s a temple of Order, in a realm of Chaos.
Shadowy Dungeons and Forgotten Altars
The Sargosian Abyss is well-named. It seems to pull you into some dark depths, right from the introduction. It has stricken me with its incredible, almost tangible atmosphere. I’ve always preferred ASCII in roguelikes, thinking that no graphics can evoke that arcane ambience of glowing letters on a black screen. This game has proven me wrong. Its strange colors, its melancholy music, its vivid and haunting writing; these things conjure that eerie other-wordly mood of shadowy dungeons and forgotten altars, as only a few works of art can. A true roguelike aesthetics.
In a way, this may be because the art style is so reminiscent of the classics. With pure black background and bright, clear tiles, the game almost looks text-based, done in some ornate font. During the exploration phase, I don’t recall seeing any animations. As the heroes travel the dark halls, the caverns are still and quiet, once again bringing to mind the great works of old. Those effects that appear during battles are smooth and straightforward. These in no way offset the overall feeling of mystery veiling the dungeon.
The texts are weird, in the best meaning of that word. Some passages almost sent shivers down my spine, permeated as these were with Lovecraftian overtones of strange Gods and forgotten secrets. It’s not the over-the-top horror that serves only to scare, leaving no lasting impression on the mind. Instead, it’s this enveloping sort of dread – a feeling of descend into a tenebrous void, beyond mortal realms. A place where dark uncaring deities dream, to whom your straggling band of adventurers is but a passing shadow.
Sacrifices to Chaos
A shadow that passes all too quickly. Like the masterpieces of times gone by, The Sargosian Abyss is unforgiving. Its twisting corridors all lead to peril and doom. Strange creatures hide in dark corners. White bones gleam among weird subterranean mushrooms – a warning to all who dare intrude into the sunless domain. Yet, there’s no way back for the lost souls wandering the twilight lands. Exiles from the world above, they are destined to roam these bleak realms until the end of their sorrowful lives. Sacrifices to the Goddess of Chaos, the game calls them. It’s a fitting description – it took some time before I got past even the first floor.
Yet the unwilling heroes are not without their own powers. Each of the four champions in the party has a profession, which you choose at the start of the journey. The barbarian’s steel will cut through even the most unholy flesh. The unbreakable hoplite is able, at least for a while, to hold off the tide that threatens to engulf all. The archer’s sharp aim is unfaltering even in the face of death. Eldritch flames serve the elementalist, making the shadows retreat. The priest’s prayers have retained their divine might, even in this cursed abyss. The necromancer can still call forth the dead to fight, when the living can fight no more.
Yet, strength alone won’t be enough to survive in these depths. Charging straight into a line of enemies is a heroic end, but an end nonetheless. Considering the game’s narrative, I doubt whether it’s even a good way to escape the dungeon. More likely, the heroes’ souls will be devoured and tormented for all eternity. Yet, even in the darkest reaches of the abyss, there’s still hope. Prayers might help – by healing the wounded. A wiser choice, however, would be to put your faith into tactics and planning. The combat follows the traditions of SSI classics: turn-based, grid-based and party-based; where each action must be carefully considered.
Shadows in the Gloom
A sound of eight feet scuttling on the hard stones. Light, reflecting off a giant shell. A smell of rot coming from the shadows. A knocking of bones approaching from behind a turn. The enemies in this game are nothing if not varied and unique. The encounters are almost all memorable, especially when combined with the fantastic scenery accompanying them. I distinctly remember as once, traveling through moss-covered caves, I stumbled upon a group of strange-looking goblins. It took a moment to realize that these aren’t regular creatures – but zombies. The necromancer, of their own kind, was hiding behind the undead servants, leaning on a wooden staff.
Should I say that I died in this battle? I can only guess what happened to the unfortunate souls whose corpses were left in that moss-covered cave. The fight left an impression. Even with its minimalist pixel art style, The Sargosian Abyss is able to convey exactly what it wants. Just as the roguelikes of old did, with but a few symbols on the screen. It didn’t take long for me to become completely immersed in the grim subterranean world of The Sargosian Abyss. It looks living, in a way. There are candles burning on the stone floor; bridges, that span calm underground lakes. It’s like its own universe – where strange inhabitants hide amidst the eternal gloom.
The impression is amplified by many enemies being equal in strength, if not stronger than the heroes. Unlike in classic roguelikes – these don’t seem like mindless villains for you to defeat. The battles are tactical above all else. Positioning and coordination are of utmost importance. The dungeon is brutal, but not unfair. For every challenge it throws at you, you’ve got something to throw back at it. The goblin necromancer is a mighty foe, without doubt. The powers of darkness, however, have no single master. They’ll serve you just as well, if you choose the right champion.
The Sunless Halls
You might’ve already gotten some idea about level design from the previous paragraphs. Still, I can’t overstate how much I enjoy the dungeon’s structure. It differs from that of traditional roguelikes in a number of ways. The game’s unique tactical approach demands some adjustments to the classic formula. A party-based system wouldn’t have worked if you had to personally move each hero across each hall. The solution is to divide the overall cave system into segments. Those usually include a few rooms and tunnels. During exploration, you need only move the party’s leader. During combat, however, the battlefield is the segment where you met your opponents.
Its limited area allows for quick-paced, engaging combat, without long waiting periods. You may get a few turns to fire everything you’ve got at the charging foes. Then, it’s time to close the ranks and get ready for melee. However, there’s no single strategy that works for every encounter. The seemingly procedurally generated segments all have unique features. Those make planning in advance an important, but not an all-deciding factor. Some battles you can win with a few well-aimed fireballs. Other layouts would require even the priest to take up the sword.
Finally, the combat greatly benefits from the game’s clean UI. Everything takes just a few clicks. There’s no keyboard required; performing the various actions is as convenient as you’d expect from a modern project. Furthermore, the interface elements fit the overall aesthetics. These are done in the same pixel art style, in no way breaking the immersion. Even the clicking sounds are stylized in a way that only enhances the retro vibes. And everything runs smoothly; without any bugs, as far as I can judge. Maybe all those sacrifices to Chaos do pay off?
The Sargosian Abyss atmosphere is beyond praise. Its mechanics are unique and polished. The interface is intuitive. The combat – engaging. It’s one of the best, even if not the most traditional, roguelikes I’ve played in a while. It’s up there with the greatest of the great, both modern works like Soulash, and the masterpieces of old. What more can I say about it? The words hold no power over the cruel Gods. Only with blood can their eternal hunger be satisfied.
So, are you ready to enter the Abyss?