The co-op roguelike from indie powerhouse and Don’t Starve dev Klei Entertainment is even better than I’d hoped, and a must-play Steam Next Fest demo

0
7

Maybe it’s because I’m fresh out of Ember Knights and still mentally reside in the co-op roguelike zone, or maybe it’s because Don’t Starve dev Klei Entertainment somehow nails every single genre it tries, but I’m rapidly falling in love with Rotwood. The Steam Next Fest demo for Klei’s latest reveals a polished dungeon-crawler that’s fun alone and ripe for multiplayer shenanigans, and after beating its first boss, I’m extra hungry for that elusive release date.
Klei has kept Rotwood fairly close to its chest since its reveal in 2022. We got a new trailer just days ago ahead of Steam Next Fest, but even the game’s Steam page is pretty barebones, with a short blurb promising a roguelike dungeon-crawler where you and up to three friends fight through dense and increasingly challenging labyrinths to upgrade your gear and base.
The demo lives up to this promise and then some. The genre is a perfect fit for Klei, which, while also known for strategic games such as Griftlands and Invisible Inc, has its roots in action games like Shank and Mark of the Ninja – all notably standouts in their genres. To be clear, I’ve cleared one run of Rotwood using one non-upgraded weapon – a hammer with an incredible sense of weight to it – yet it’s already clear just how much depth there is to combat.
Rotwood plays like a 2.5D brawler, meaning attacks have a bit of AoE on them that hit the space around you. This is the first big learning curve: depth perception, or how close you actually have to be to hit – or, importantly, dodge – something. It didn’t take me long to get my spacing calibrated, and then I could start leaning into the combos. Light attacks, heavy attacks, and my hammer’s charged AoE set up the basics and feel good to use, but the secret sauce is in the contextual hits.
If I dodge-roll one way, pull the stick the other way, and launch a heavy attack, my character will do a homerun backswing. If I use a heavy attack after two light attacks, I can land a double frontflip finisher. With a heavy after three lights, I can charge a bigger AoE hit. I can also cancel the hammer’s charged attack – which, as I understand it, can be swapped later on – early if I need to dodge. And again, this is one default weapon.
The timing and range on these different attacks adds real skill expression to combat, and that’s further reinforced by draftable upgrades that have already got me thinking about builds. I got one skill that gives me two shield points every time I perfectly dodge an attack, with four points granting me a proper shield that reduces the next hit I take to just one damage. Paired with another skill that gives me a point of shield every time I kill an enemy with the hammer’s charged AoE, I was able to get absurd uptime on shields that made me practically invincible.
I was glad to get a strong defensive build up and running, because Rotwood is not messing around. I nearly died twice, but was bailed out by a refillable health potion and the allowance of healing given out at some checkpoints. The standard difficulty throws a lot of enemies at you at once, and while I did clear the labyrinth on my first try, it wasn’t at all easy. This further pushes you to pick the right rooms as you chart a course to the boss, preserving and recovering your health as needed, and stacking synergistic buffs that suit your weapon.
Everything about Rotwood, from the combat to the cute character creator to that inimitable Klei art, has felt absolutely sublime from minute one. In amongst the demo’s brevity, I can see flashes of the upgrades and systems to come – boss-powered bonuses, new weapons, blacksmithing, hub enhancements, and I’m pretty sure also some light farming – and when I think about enjoying it all with friends I get downright giddy. Klei hasn’t missed yet, and so far this looks like another all-timer. Bring on the early access release.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here