Have you ever played a game that you really wish that you hadn’t? When I ask that, I’m talking about the likes of a game that’s so boring, so broken, and so shoddily crafted, that playing it literally feels like a waste of life? I have. Crimson Keep. The game is described as an action RPG, but in truth, it’s more like a torture device that punishes you for bearing with it. Furthermore, there’s a wide range of issues present in the game, and almost no qualities whatsoever to enjoy; ultimately making for a very irritating and poor experience overall.
There’s a plot buried somewhere beneath its mess. Banished to the dungeons below the village of Larkstead, you take on the role of a berserker, a witch, or a drifter, and are tasked with making it out in one piece. Though, due to Mara, the evil sorceress, most of the inhabitants within are fantastical, and, more to the point, evil. There’s some extra meat to the story on top of that, but I cant say that it’s worth getting excited about. By and large, this lays the foundation for what’s ahead. Just, don’t say I didn’t warn you of its drawbacks.
Now, death will come often in Crimson Keep. Whats more, when you die here, you start straight back at the beginning of the adventure – losing any powers and abilities along the way. You’re free to select from one of the three classes available, but outside of that, dying means completely restarting. That alone wouldn’t be so much of a problem, in fact I quite enjoy games with a perma-death structure, but here, it’s not at all pleasant. There’s a hint of roguelike; being that environments and enemies tend to randomly generate upon restart.
The only area that remains the same is your starting area, which serves itself as a light tutorial. Here, a small walkway is home to a couple of low-end enemies, a few barrels, and some signposts. Collectively, these allow you to get a firm grasp as to how the game functions. Crimson Keep is played in first-person view, with but a few commands to keep on track of; dash, attack, defend, and the usual. There’s a small suite of upgrades to tap into as progression is made, but nothing that particularly feels useful in the grand scheme of things.
The majority of these upgrades will unlock as you level up, which typically consists of killing enemies and earning XP. There’s a few upgrades that are locked, mind, and these tend to unlock once you’ve met specific requirements. When you’re done toying around with its structure, you’ll be ready to dive on into the drop-hole at the end of the tutorial to kick start your adventure. Now, as alluded to above, every time you do this, the dungeon layout will randomly generate. That being said, Crimson Keep isn’t a very deep game on this front.
You’ll often be met with the same layout more than once, or at least a range of layouts that become quite samey-samey overall. The aim of the game is to make it through its few dungeons until you reach the endgame, though, I will personally praise anyone that has the luck or the patience to do so. I purposely didn’t mention skill there, because if anything, Crimson Keep is not a game that measures progress that way. I’ll credit the game for being easy to handle; its few controls charted on-screen, and remain accessible throughout.
That, however, is where my praise ends. There’s just far too many systems in the game that either don’t add up, or, feel outright broken. Let’s start with the combat. Combat sees you flailing your melee weapon or firing magic from your wand at the hordes of enemies within each dungeon. In order to correctly register a hit, you’ll practically need to be hugging them. Though, even then, the majority of attacks are either likely to miss, are going to be interrupted by enemy attacks, or will bug out and see your attacks going through your foe.
Safe to say, combat is a messy affair that doesn’t at all feel satisfying. If anything, it feels cheap and unrefined. It doesn’t help matters that the game’s enemies make a habit of landing blows that are clearly well out of range. Several times I saw myself taking large sums of damage when my enemy was nowhere near my player. Further to that, damage measurement is a nuisance. You’re only able to take a few attacks before dying, meaning that it’s practically suicide to take on more than two enemies at any given time throughout.
I would love to tell you that your special abilities or the more powerful weaponry and gear helps to alleviate this, but it doesn’t. You’ll regularly get additional goodies from the corpses of your foes; more powerful weaponry, gear to wear, health items, and so forth. Though in truth, you may as well not even bother picking anything up. With the exception of a few wands, the aid here is minimal. You’ll barely notice any improvements to your character despite what you pick up. Never mind the acquisition of new abilities.
Crimson Keep’s enemies are plentiful, despite there only being a few variations per-area. The only way to get new level-based abilities is to kill them. However, killing even a heap of them doesn’t do much to bolster your XP to the higher levels. When we take into account that you’re expected to kill them amidst the game’s issues, and through the use of a single meager pool of health that dwindles after even one hit from an enemy, and well, you can see where I’m going with this. Even health items are laughable at the best of times.
Consuming a loaf of bread (which is apparently an apple in Crimson Keep) or drinking a health potion, will only partially heal you, and by partially, I mean a smidgen. These items are scarce though, and can only seemingly be picked up from dead enemies and, if you’re lucky, by breaking a barrel. Speaking of barrels, they’re practically pointless. Barrels are scattered all over, so much so that the game encourages you to break them through its achievements. However, you’ll very rarely get a single item drop out of them, if ever anything at all.
Chests, on the other hand, guarantee an item of some sort. These can be found after killing a boss, or in a room that spawns a heap of enemies and then locks you in. Items that you pick up or pull from these chests will go to your equipment menu, and as to be expected, the UI is as ugly as sin. You’ll tediously move items from panel to panel, all whilst the game continues to play out in the background. This doesn’t pose too much of problem when you’re in a quiet area, but when you’re up against a boss, expect a cheap death or ten.
I fell several times at the hands of the first boss alone, simply for trying to swap out my wand for a melee weapon. On the topic of cheap deaths, Crimson Keep holds many of them for you. Do you like the idea of being fly kicked into a lava pit, killing you instantly? Perhaps getting stuck in the environment amidst two OP trolls, killing you instantly? Or maybe even getting attacked on low health by an enemy that isn’t even facing you, killing you instantly? If you do, Crimson Keep is for you, and it has more cheapness in store for you than that.
Only for the sake of this review did I put as much time in it as I did, and even then, I barely made it to the end of the second dungeon. It just seems like an impossible task. Especially given that the game is practically working against you through its technical issues alone. On the few occasions that I managed to get to the second dungeon, it was typically on low health due to the ridiculous power of the first dungeon’s boss. Furthermore, if you die, you cant (as is present in many games like this) restart at the beginning of your last dungeon.
It’s back to square one you go, kissing goodbye to absolutely everything you picked up and earned. Imagine my shock when I spawned into the second dungeon, extremely low on health, and in the face of three poisonous flying skulls and two fire-throwing skeletons. Death, much like any other death in the game, was unavoidable, cheap, and irritating. I put several, several hours into the game, and I had more fun uninstalling it than I did playing it. The bottom line, Crimson Keep is not worth your digital space. It’s just a bag of frustration.
The game throws you into the role of a weak character, and constantly harms you in a shed load of ways that you oftentimes can not overcome. Rinse and repeat. That, ladies and gents, is amidst a wide variety of shoddy design choices and poor overall development. I’m usually mindful of dragging a game through the dirt too much, but Crimson Keep does not deserve a sugar coating. It’s one of the worst games that I’ve ever played, and I do not at all say that lightly. It’s sly, and relentless in its ability to constantly and consistently upset.
Do you want to know where I gave up? I finally managed to get to the second dungeon with a fair bit of health, giving me a good start to lead with. I carefully moved through it, avoiding the cheaply designed enemies that can seemingly kill in one hit. Despite my best efforts, I attracted a poisonous flying skull that took the bulk of my health, forcing me to then rush through in fear of death/restart. I then came upon a sealed door that required me to open it. I died. The door killed me. The door f’ing killed me. Believe it or not, this was intended.
Following this death, the game informed me that I had been sacrificed to the door so that other adventurers could move further into the game. I picked up an achievement for it, and after reading the achievements to learn that there are other doors like this elsewhere, I put down the pad. So, after hours and hours of perseverance, after countless cheap deaths that were through no fault of my own, but through the game’s sloppy framework, that was how the game rewarded my eventual progress, by killing me and sending me back to basics.
It wouldn’t be so terrible if you were able to keep something, anything, but you’re not. Your hundredth death here is akin to turning the game on for the very first time. This strict perma-death system works in any other game of the same type, but here, because progress is measured by luck and chance, rather than skill and tact, it never adds up. That is what awaits you in Crimson Keep, people. You’ll move through its tight dungeons, get killed over things that are out of your control, then start again, die again, start again, and die again.
There’s absolutely no fun in any of it. It’s a disgusting cash grab at best. You will quite literally be paying money to be made angry. Nothing whatsoever is refined. The combat is useless. The enemies are intolerable. The game’s overall design and presentation is about as pleasant as fart in a spacesuit. The leveling-up system is about as handy as a chocolate fireguard. The countless bugs are headache inducing, and everything in between is of equal quality to all of that. This is one of the most ugliest, under baked games on the Xbox One.
Hell, even the visuals are a mess. The environments are completely devoid of detail and life, with character models that will have you scratching your head from start to finish. I cant even commend the game’s audio, which does little to relay any shred of excitement. Here, you’ll be listening to hideous cues that will have you reaching for the mute button faster than Dirty Harry to a revolver. I certainly would not call Crimson Keep totally unplayable on a technical level, but, it’s certainly unplayable on every over level that you can think up.
Now, had the developer spent the time to focus their efforts on gaining feedback and refining Crimson Keep, it could have been a fairly serviceable affair. That said, I find it very hard to believe that the developer didn’t see these issues a mile off, and yet still released the game in the state that it’s in anyway. Whilst it does indeed house the core pillars that a game of this type should have, none of its functions nor its mechanics work in the way that they should. Hell, they’re not even close to what I would consider remotely acceptable.
Crimson Keep is a disgusting mess. It’s a game in which progress is measured by luck and chance rather than skill and strategy, simply due to its horrendously developed framework. The combat is all over the place, the looting is almost completely unnecessary, and the level-up system is practically useless. It doesn’t help that the game is chock-full of cheap deaths, most of which are born through lazy ideas, technical flaws, and poor execution.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.