This is not a review. The reason this is not a review is because I am completely incapable of playing ScourgeBringer. And yet I so very desperately wish I were, because it’s great.
There is a genre of games that I want to be able to play, but don’t appear to possess the skill level to be able to do so. ScourgeBringer entirely fits into that genre: super-twitchy fast combat arcade games. Screen by screen you clear a level’s map, taking out waves of enemies using a combination of melee and ranged attacks, all at 50,000mph. Finish the level, defeat the boss, and then start over in the next.
ScourgeBringer is such a joy to control. The movement is zippy, fluid, instinctive. Attacks keep you moving, keep you in the air, meaning chaining them together lets you fly about a level like a mad fairy, firing off your very limited ranged attacks at a bigger enemy at the same time as slash-slash-slashing through the three right next to you, before bouncing off a wall to catch the fireball firing robot before it launches its next attack. And it feels amazing, stringing this together, getting through a screen without taking a single hit.
The more I played, the better I got, too. First time I could barely get through two screens, but then as I learned the moves, the dashes, the bounces, the attacks, it started to come together. Enemies give warnings before they attack, so it becomes about lightning-fast decisions about what to hit, what to dodge, where to dash. I realised I could prioritise finding a level’s podium screen, getting the extra bonus it offers, and then making sure I fought the level’s final-door protecting eye robot creature thingy when I had a good amount of health. I learned to stun it before attacks, and what seemed monstrously difficult became moderately challenging.
There it is, all the progress, the improving skill, the getting to grips with a very difficult game. And then that first level ends in a boss fight that I can’t even get halfway into. Each fail means restarting the entire level, there are no lives, no extra turns (unless you’re lucky enough to have found one on the podium or in the shop). So each failure means replaying all those previous difficult elements again, not failing all through that yet again, and then getting even less far with the boss than last time.
I just don’t have it in me. Not least because I constantly have the booming voice in my head yelling, “Even if you managed to do this, you’re on LEVEL 1! You’re barely capable of the very first part of the game! What on Earth is the point of trying to get past this?!”
That is always the problem with these games for me. These beautiful, supremely well-crafted roguelite platformers. I have frustrated fun, appreciative but daunted, until I reach that incredibly early wall that just makes it clear it’s not for me. But I desperately wish it were. I crave the ability to play games like these, because they’re just so damned fun in the bits I can do.
But then of course I have the other thought: why? Why is this so, so hard? What is the point of creating a game this good, this carefully designed, that so few people can ever properly enjoy?
I know the answers. Believe me, I’ve heard them all when asking similar questions about similar games over a decade plus on RPS. Furious, spiteful, belittling answers, mostly. Stupid-brained utterances of “git gud”. Awful unaware outbursts that contain the word “elite”. And I’ve heard the good answers too, ones I can completely get behind, like, “Hey, why shouldn’t people who are super good at such games get ones to enjoy too?” And that’s really valid. I’ve just never understood why the same game can’t cater for both. Remember difficulty options?
I know that’s a dirty term in rogue-land, where everything is about BEATING THE GAME. A term I’ve always loathed. I prefer ENJOYING THE GAME, whether it’s because it’s so freaking difficult, or so completely lovely, or so utterly gory, or whatever. And I’ve never understood why these games can’t be released with “Proper Mode”, where it’s this hard, designed for players who are super good at this sort of thing, but then also “Accessible Mode”, where the rest of us can enjoy the game with the challenge set to a level where it’s vaguely possible to progress.
It’s worth noting that ScourgeBringer does have some accessibility options, including one that allows players to hold down the attack button rather than repeatedly tap it – essential for players with various physical limitations. The one that perhaps makes the game slightly easier is slowing the overall speed. I thought I’d try this, but in the end it just made me fail slightly more slowly, and I enjoyed the game much more moving much more quickly. Still, it’s absolutely fantastic that this is included.
But I have to accept the game, as brilliant as it clearly is, doesn’t want me. It’s still in Early Access, but I don’t imagine for a moment that an easier version is on the cards. And I also think that if I were to dedicate enough time, I’d eventually manage to beat that first boss. And then, from all experience in the past, immediately die on the first screen of the second level and have to start over from scratch. I don’t have the time or the wherewithal. I wish I did.
A version of a game like ScourgeBringer, designed to be won, rather than lost, might simply be impossible. The very nature of a roguelite is to repeatedly defeat you, with only the best of the best able to see the latter stages. I just wish there were a way to allow the middlest of the middlest to at least see a bit more of the fantastic game they’re really enjoying playing.
- Flying Oak Games / Dear Villagers
- Official Site
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This game really is a wonder. I went through a lot of the same learning process as you. The first time I beat the end boss of the first world, I had the blood blessing thing that gives you 5% extra damage for every hit point missing, and I squeaked out a victory with 1 hp left (after having started from full). I did not last long in the second level.
And then the next several times I reached that end boss, it trounced me. But then the patterns just clicked for me, and I realized that his move from the side of the screen where he sends out his fist only needs to be dodged once (i.e., you don’t take damage if you are attacking him when the fist returns), so if you are already attacking him then you just need to dash up once and resume attacking when gravity pulls you down again; that you can stun it when it is in the center of the screen and the big ! appears over its head; and the attack where it rains down fireballs is still a real pain but it’s possible to stay above them rather than dodge the falling ones. For the last one it also helps to unlock the ability to deflect bullets when using the stun attack.
Once you beat the boss the first time, a new track of unlockable abilities opens up, which includes one of those “smart bomb” type attacks that does massive damage all around you, which helped me more regularly beat this boss once I earned enough soul-things to unlock it (that took a lot of just killing the first mini-boss over and over).
But, I still have lots of trouble in the second world, including the second world mini-boss, and my subscription to XBox Game Pass for PC runs out today, so I will look forward to playing again in the future.
This is something I think about a lot and I think the best way of describing it is that games should support a “tourist-mode”.
When I was in Paris and visited the Van Gogh museum I had a great time. Certain paintings there I probably could have appreciated a lot more if I’d done a couple of hours of research before my visit, but I didn’t and if that was a requirement I might have opted for something else.
Achievements have damaged the cause of playing games casually a lot, because a certain type of person will need to try and get them if they are there even if they don’t play games for a challenge. In the old days if you didn’t have the skill to experience a game you could use cheat codes to get through it and nobody was there shaming you, but if you do that these days achievements will be disabled and everyone will know you didn’t “play properly”. Many times I’ve laughed with friends about the difficulty of the Driver 1 tutorial on PS1 and how none of us would have experienced any of the game without cheats
Nier: Automata was a real pioneer for tourist-mode and I believe the developers really understood this problem. If the combat system was too much you could have the game handle all of it and focus on movement with little threat of failure and if there were achievements you didn’t real like working towards you could buy them with in-game currency and there would be no evidence you hadn’t done it the same as anyone who’d put in the hours.
I massively prefer playing games on PC because I know that if there is a part I cannot conquer I have the option of using Cheat Engine and more importantly, if a glitch prevents essencial progression, which on consoles affected me on FFV, Kingdoms of Alumer and Dragon Age 2, I have options to fix it myself.
Tourists know they will never understand the culture they are visiting completely and they accept that, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to absorb what they can. Why should I be locked out of experiencing the incredible level design and architecture of Dark Souls because I have awful reflexes? Why can I not try and see how much fun Downwell would be if I was a more competent player. There’s another group in the physically disabled that may never be able to see the wonderful thing you have built because you have a “right way to play” in mind when you built it.
I really appreciate your perspective here (and on RPS about this topic). I have a very similar reaction to great games that are just too hard for my at this stage in my life. I wish I could enjoy the art, the music and the gameplay without having blazing fast reflexes and significant time to invest. Maybe if I start training my toddler now, she’ll have a chance at them in 10 years.
It makes me a little sad all this beautiful content and brilliant designs are deeply locked away to only a sliver of the gaming population, let alone the gaming public. I hope you keep beating this drum and pushing for modes where normals can enjoy these great games. And they’d sell a lot more games, art, etc!
I know this probably isn’t what you are looking for (and is kind of beside the point), but here are some tips on how to beat the first boss:
First, you should try to reflect as many projectiles as possible back into him. This helps you avoid his more bullet-hell type attacks and also does a ton of damage. The larger bullets in phase 2 are especially damaging.
Next, I think you can mostly avoid attacking him until he is stunned. Unlike regular enemies, you can only stun him when he has the exclamation point over his head. He will always move to the center of the screen before doing this, which will help let you know that the window is coming.
Finally, once you have beaten him once (which might require getting lucky), you unlock a new branch of the skill tree. This includes a power that clears all the bullets on the screen, does a ton of damage, and gives a chance at recharging health. Having this power makes the boss a LOT easier. Personally I don’t really like this from a game-design perspective (shouldn’t the fight be easier when you are newer to the game???), but it is a little encouraging that you won’t keep being stuck forever on this one boss.
The first time I beat the boss I think it was on a run where I got a full heal from the podium right before I fought him. I imagine that a lot of players beat him for the first time when they get a lucky upgrade like this, and then never really need to fight the “hard” version (without fury) again.
Good luck! (on both future attempts and your crusade to end difficulty spikes)
I’d like to argue against your idea “I don’t imagine for a moment that an easier version is on the cards.” For context, I’ve played this game a decent amount since it’s release into EA and gotten past the second boss once.
I’d interest you in taking a look at the development history of HADES from Supergiant Games. It shares a lot in common with ScourgeBringer, both being combat focused rogue-lites with arena room combat, procedural arrangement of levels, and persistent progression. I’ve been following it since it became available in 2018. Back when they only had the first two levels and two bosses the difficulty curve was much steeper than in the current build of the game. This is because as more levels are added and the progression system retooled to accommodate earlier levels must be made easier so that the pacing of the game is preserved. In the early days of HADES I would regularly die to the midboss in the first area. Now I can breeze through the first two areas without much effort at all.
Before you say this is just because I’m better at the game now I’ll tell you how I know it’s not.
It’s because I don’t actually play HADES all that much at all. I’ve maybe logged 5 hours in it total across every update.
My sister plays it religiously. I keep track of new updates and the development because I love the studio and so I can talk to her about the state of the game. So when I sat down a couple of weeks ago and blazed through the first two levels after a new update I know it’s because they’ve made them easier now.
If you can’t deal with ScourgeBringer’s difficulty right now I’d recommend you just wait for it to run through it’s development and return closer to launch. What you’re playing right now is probably what the devs expect the mid game to feel like difficulty wise but mapped onto the first levels. So don’t feel bad, you don’t need to “git gud” or anything.
I hear you John. I too am an old man who just doesn’t have the reflexes and skill to play these twitch based games (though to be honest I never really had those skills in abundance). I really appreciated the helper mode options in Celeste and wish more games had them. For those that don’t there is always CheatEngine. As thethomaseffectsays said above we can just play in tourist mode. Just enjoy the sights and sounds. Sure we don’t get the high highs that those who can really commit themselves to being good at these kind of games get, that sense of accomplishment of overcoming the obstacles, but sometimes “being” in a game space is enough,
I read the bit about wishing there were difficulty options, and, like Chris Smith above, was about to chime in about how I thought Celeste was a great model to follow for accessibility.
But. Uh. The reduced game speed was the option in Celeste that I thought made the difference in being able to appreciate the intended game design at lower experienced difficulty, so if that didn’t do John any good, I have no idea what to suggest.
I don’t know if the devs heard your plea, but I did find two things that made my life easier in the accessibility options of the settings menu.
The first one is that you can slow down enemy bullet speed almost as much as you like and the second one is that you can choose more health pickups for you or even invulnerability.
I beat the game only in godmode and realised there would have been no way in hell to beat it normally, so I’m thankful to be given the chance to check it out in its entirety at least. I would have preferred a super easy mode instead of straight cheating, but I took what I could get.
If you still feel like playing scourgebringer, give it a go!
I really appreciated your read. This game is simply a masterpiece. But apparently at 45 I am too old to play it.
I managed to get to the second level monster. That is beyond my capabilities.
Then there is the fact that you have to start back from level 1… that’s too much of a grind I’ve just put away this wonderful game.
I share your feelings about “beating a game.” Even aside from the difficulty locking people out, there are plenty of games where the gameplay is the *least* interesting thing about it, and I’d love the option to press Start to skip gameplay the same way you press Start to skip cutscenes. You don’t get to beat it, but (for some games) it’d be a way to enjoy it more.