Become a hero! The premise of many action RPG games. This very phrase admittedly wears thin, fast. Far too often do we see games of this type littering the Xbox Storefront, promising an adventure to be remembered, only to be left sorely disappointed by cut-and-paste design choices and like-minded tropes. Moonlighter, however, sets itself apart from its peers thanks to its wonderful design, progression and mechanics. This is certainly a game that should not be overlooked, especially if, like me, you’ve grown tired of the formula.
Moonlighter has not only restored my faith and interest, but even now, I cant wait to get back and plug more time into it. You would be forgiven for believing at first glance, that this is just another one of those games outline above. However, even without complete originality, Moonlighter goes on to be one of the best games of its type, this year gone so far. That, I do not say lightly. I have high standards, very high standards. It takes a lot to impress me, let alone keep me entertained. Something this game has effortlessly met.
Players take on the role of Will, owner of the titular shop. Will aspires to be much more than just a seller of wares. Will wants to be a hero of his own making. Five dungeons stand near the village of Rynoka, dungeons that have been ransacked before by adventurers long forgotten, who would then return to Rynoka and sell their goods. Seeing an opportunity to step up to the plate and turn a great deal of profit in the process, Will takes it upon himself to restore Rynoka’s trade and community, all whilst becoming the hero he wants to be.
Moonlighter plays out in two parts; one part shop management and one part dungeon diving. This allows for a great deal of freedom throughout, but they also go hand in glove magnificently well. You’ll dive into deadly dungeons and raid them of their goods, to then return to Rynoka and sell them to fill your pockets. This also provides a nice pace between each aspect, constantly breaking up the fields of play and giving you somewhat of a meaningful rest between its vast encounters. It’s Shoppe Keep meets The Binding of Isaac.
Choice plays a large part in Moonlighter, such as where you should be spending your gold and how you should be spending your time. Eventually the game opens up as you proceed, further enhancing the experience as a result. Remarkably, it never feels stale or repetitive. The developer has clearly put some thought into maintaining engagement, something that’s paid off in leaps and bounds. Moonlighter is much more about its journey than any other game of its type in recent memory. It’s deep, it’s compelling and it’s so well interwoven.
Loot sought from dungeons never has a price tag on it, leaving you to set the price of your own wares. This is tough to begin with, but as more time is invested and you’re diving deeper into each dungeon and finding more wares, it soon becomes a second nature. I quite enjoyed laying the foundation of my own economy and then building upon it as I started to better understand the estimated worth of each item. The game does well to accommodate this feature too, giving you some light tools to eventually work out what’s what.
Reactions following a sale or potential sale will give you some indication as to whether you’ve over/under valued your loot, promoting another run to the dungeon to come back and get it right. Setting your prices too high will see you making zero return for your efforts, whereas selling items at a fraction of what they’re worth, will have the polar opposite effect. Customers will express one of four emotions when browsing your wares, so it pays off to familiarize yourselves with this system from the get-go, to enjoy a maximum income.
Moonlighter also comes with a stat-sheet that’s present at the end of every business day, letting you know how much you’ve sold, how much you’ve made and how the popularity of each item has altered. It’s not a taxing system by any means, but that’s not to say that its simplicity runs the risk of becoming too basic for its own good. On the contrary, this system is perfectly suited for the overall adventure and pace. When you’ve pulled in enough income, you can then spend this on a range of other benefits to help you on your quest.
Players can upgrade Will via the use of the witch or the blacksmith (once purchased) which offer better buffs and equipment, respectively. In-turn, this enables you to explore the dungeons to better effect and hopefully grants you the strength and capability to kill each dungeon boss, which will unlock the next dungeon. Currency can also be spent on hiring staff, expanding the shop or bringing in new merchants to the evolving village of Rynoka. The dungeon aspects of the game remains as equally as well rounded as the management.
These dungeons are all randomly generated, giving the game a fresh edge on each approach. Combat, as expected, consists of that hack-and-slash formula, with alternating weapons giving you access to different damage outputs. Enemies will gradually climb in complexity and difficulty, with several variations to keep on top of. Item rarity will also climb alongside this, dishing up a risk vs reward sense of play. The controls remain tight throughout and despite the occasional input delay, I cant say I found much issue with it.
Many action RPGs as of late have been particularly grindy, but due to how well developed Moonlighter is, this is almost totally negated by its two overarching systems. Meaning that depending on how you sell/loot, you yourself will be in control of the grind. It really does have an amazing balance to it. It helps that the visuals are so well presented, serving up some lush details across a selection of diverse and interesting locations, all of which is further upheld by a solid and catchy soundtrack that never outstays its welcome.
Moonlighter is easily one of the best action RPGs of the year so far. Its mashup of shop management and dungeon crawling results in an experience that has magnificent pacing, interesting mechanics and fluid gameplay. This may sound like a cliche, but Moonlighter is the definition of easy to pick up and hard to put down. It helps that it’s so accessible, making it suitable for both genre fans and newcomers alike.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.