If you’re not familiar with the original Sword of the Stars, then all you really need to know is that this spin-off, Sword of the Stars: The Pit, is a top-down, grid-based roguelike set in a sci-fi universe. It adheres to conventional roguelike gameplay dynamics: it’s turn-based, is built around basic RPG principles such as levelling up and collecting items, and when you die, it’s game over.
So as far as roguelikes go, how does The Pit stand up? Well having poured most of my recent gaming hours into AAA blockbusters such as SimCity and Tomb Raider, the first thing that hit me were the low-budget visuals. Of course, this was expected, because The Pit is a low-budget indie game, and these games succeed or fail based on the strength of their gameplay. In this arena, The Pit does quite well. It doesn’t do anything that you will not have seen if you have spent any time with other roguelikes, but for the most part it manages to be an enjoyable experience in its own right.
The grid-based, turn-based combat encourages you to play tactically and carefully, and make the best of your array of skills, which is a good thing, because as I mentioned previously, when you die, you are forced to start from the beginning. You will think carefully about managing your resources and manoeuvring your hero in combat. As you progress further into the game, the difficulty gradually ramps up, although it never becomes unbearable (having played the game on the medium difficulty setting). You also have to feed your hero, and if you fail to do so at regular intervals, he/she will begin to starve and his/her strength will become reduced.
The randomized levels deliver a reasonable degree of replayability to the experience, although don’t expect any innovative or inspired level design. As a result, it’s easy to get a little sick of The Pit after spending too much time at a stretch with it. Its biggest downfall is probably the fact that it lacks any real character or personality. I was not expecting a masterpiece of a story, but you really are left with a world that feels quite hollow, which potentially makes for a rather dry experience.
Despite that, it is still quite fun to play. The combat and RPG mechanics work well, and there is a crafting system which I was unable to really get into due to its ridiculous vastness and ambiguity. You would have to be extremely dedicated to the game in order to get anywhere with its crafting system, and I just didn’t feel particularly drawn to investing the sort of time required to do so. You are given no clues as to which recipes might work, so it’s a very hit and miss affair, and I ended up forgoing it completely and relying on killing enemies to find new items.
You are given three unique hero classes: Marine, Pilot and Engineer. These classes are sufficient if not overwhelmingly interesting, and I would have loved the opportunity to create my own custom class. The Engineer is potentially the most interesting class, but requires you to invest a lot of time and energy into getting the crafting system going – which I was not prepared to do.
At its core, Sword of the Stars: The Pit is a decent roguelike with solid combat and RPG mechanics. However, it fails to really do anything new or interesting, and its lack of a strong narrative leaves you feeling a bit lost a lot of the time. For my money, I’d recommend Legend of Grimrock over this.