The body stirs upon the altar. The candles flicker as if in a wind. Shadows dance on the cavern’s walls. The wolves howl somewhere in the forest, and the bats flutter blindly against the ceiling, as if in fear. They sense something, coming across the veil. The mortals at the village shake in their beds. A strange silhouette enters their dark dreams.
The fishmen don’t sleep, though, on the shores of river Gnelm. Throughout the night they’ve been praying at their primitive bone altars, begging their deity for guidance. But the master of lakes and rivers is silent. And the elven lord of woods is silent too. The divinities know what has arrived from the black void that stretches infinitely beyond the realm of the living.
The long eons have passed. The chains have been broken. The God has returned.
A World To Burn
The light is almost blinding at first; the sounds are strangely alive – after the long dark and quiet of oblivion. You emerge from the cave and look at the forest after the rain. The leaves rustle in the wind. Behind you, a long mountain chain rises above the clouds. You breathe in the fresh air. It’s been so long.
A world you’ve left so many ages ago once again greets you. With its forests and hills, villages and towns; peasants working on the fields and fish, dancing in the clear blue rivers. Mundane or strange, savage or civilized – everywhere around you, there is life. Life to extinguish.
There is so much here – so many places to travel to by the winding roads of the realm. Or, if roads and towns are not to your liking, a campfire and a tent in the wilds may serve you just as well. There really is an entire world here, with its stories and its mysteries. With deep underground halls and faraway deserts. With bright days and cold nights, full of shadows.
A Blade, Made of Bones
Yet you remain blind to its beauty. A single goal drives you now – revenge. With enough sacrifices your old might will be restored and then you’ll be ready to take back what’s yours. The mortals will fight back, of course. You look at the bloodied blade in your hand. Not the best weapon, but it’ll do. For now.
As you become stronger your arsenal of destruction too will increase in power. Soon you’ll exchange the primitive bone blade for some more appropriate weapon. A steel sword and a sturdy shield, taken from an unlucky merchant, are a good start. Yet, some enchantments would go a long way towards ensuring that none shall dare oppose your grim rule.
In the beginning, however, you must make smart use of what you’ve got lying around. A rock you stumble upon can make for a nice knife to skin that wolf with. While the pile of bones left behind after the process could be turned into a deadly bow; for those situations when close combat isn’t the safest option for the continuation of your brutal reign.
Serve or Die – Or Both
Yet, there may be times when even your amazing strength and incredible precision won’t cut it. Luckily, there is another weapon at your disposal, no less murderous than the cold steel of a berserker’s axe. The ancient energies of dark sorcery are yours to command. The powers of fire and death shall serve those, who walk the mysterious paths of warlocks and necromancers.
Rains of flame shall descend upon the heretics, who dare to defy your supreme will. Spears of ice will impale the traitors, who think that they can stand in your path. The elements themselves will rise against all those, who won’t willingly submit to your dominion. What use are the swords and axes when those wielding them can’t even reach their dreadful opponent?
But why even fight yourself? Isn’t it much more enjoyable to stay back and watch the battle from a safe distance? If the foolish mortals refuse to submit to your power in life – they’ll do so in death. The dreaded lore of necromancy can ensure that you never run out of warriors to carry your standard. Indeed, is there a better way to turn enemies into friends, than by resurrecting them as mindless zombies?
The Dark Paths
Death walks by many roads. The end, however, is one – And none shall escape when you come for their souls. Yet, by what winding path will you reach your throne of bones? What method of annihilation is most suited to your grim tastes? The sound of steel cutting through flesh may be music for some. Others, though, may be more inclined towards the more civilized, and even scientific approach to bringing ruin upon the world.
Will you find the answers you seek in the eldritch scrolls of sorcerous knowledge? Or, in the midst of a bloody battle, taken over by a berserker’s rage? Will the armor of a fallen knight suffice to hold your terrible presence, or would it be a necromancer’s black robe? Will your spirit roam the scorching deserts under the guise of a nomad; or the forests’ depths, as a lonely poacher? There are eight distinct professions in the game: each offering its own shade of darkness.
In addition to sixteen races: each more weird and fear-inspiring than the last. Why play as a mere human, or some elf from a forest? A vampire, or a lich seem like way more appropriate vessels for your evil soul to inhabit. Amusingly, there are no regular dwarves or elves in the game. Do not despair, however. There are great alternatives here: dark dwarves and dark elves.
Total obliteration was never as streamlined as it is now, with Soulash featuring a modern and intuitive user interface. Unlike its grim roguelike predecessors of times gone by, it also has full mouse support. Yet, it doesn’t give up the traditional keyboard controls either, perfectly blending together the two systems. In fact, its movement system is one of the most realistic I’ve seen in any roguelike so far.
It actually requires the character to change their facing direction, with everything behind their back being invisible. This makes for an incredibly atmospheric effect; as you back away from some mighty opponent – only to look behind and realize that you’ve walked yourself into a corner. Well, better get ready to defend yourself with every last bit of courage you’ve got. There’s nowhere to run now.
Luckily, your choices of defense are readily available through a well-organized panel of buttons: each representing some spell or ability. No more having to memorize a thousand arcane keys, feeling like some ancient sorcerer, while playing your favorite roguelike. With its interface, Soulash really did manage to preserve the classic style, while making everything that much clearer. The path to destruction is practically labeled with shining arrows – so what are you waiting for?
A Soundtrack for the Apocalypse
The music that’ll accompany you on your grim journey may not be what you’d expect at first. With but a hint of melancholy to it – most of all it feels calm and serene. It’s strangely fitting, however, serving as if to balance the evilness of the gameplay. Often you find yourself distracted from your great task – and just walking along the river, thinking about that world that’ll soon be no more.
The graphic style too, just like everything else in Soulash, is unique. Not just with its overall design – which is more or less standard, high-quality pixel art. There is this subtle 3D effect, which you only notice after walking around the map for some time. As a programmer, I definitely admire the work that must’ve gone into implementing something so unusual for a 2D top-down engine. It certainly adds to the immersion – but, unfortunately, you’ll have to play the game yourself to truly experience it.
All in all, the apocalypse looks to be accompanied by some good meditative music – definitely a plus. It brings attention to that other side of the game – it’s incredible world. It gives you a moment to rest and simply enjoy its fantastic sights. I’m sure it’s not often that you find yourself thinking of nature’s beauty, while washing the blood off your clothes in a forest stream.
Soulash is a dark masterpiece from across the eldritch veil, that hands you an entire world, full of beauty and light, and then tells you to destroy it. It may not be for everyone, but it is, nevertheless, a true work of art. Strange and unique it may be – but what great art isn’t? It draws you in, with its breathtaking universe, its innovative mechanics; its immersive graphics and a well-thought-out UI.
And most of all with the story it tells, grim, yet strangely thoughtful. It’s a real Lovecraftian tale – a tale of forgotten gods and dream-like faraway kingdoms. If the great writer was alive today, I’m sure he’d be proud; and that’s, by far, the best compliment I can give to Soulash.
Thank you for reading.