'Soulstone Survivors' and 'Halls of Torment'
- Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac
- Cost: $5 to $10
- Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
- Score: Soulstone Survivors, 10/10.
- Halls of Torment, 5/10
This week I tried out two "bullet heaven" or rogue-like shoot-'em-up games made to join the same niche as the genre-defining "Vampire Survivors," where the goal of the game is to survive continuous waves of enemies for as long as possible.
In these games, players control a character who attacks automatically, only controlling the character's motion and picking from a selection of upgrades once the next experience level has been reached. By completing various challenges, new characters, skills, equipment and levels can be unlocked.
The first game I looked at, "Halls of Torment," just launched into early access on Steam in late May. Developer Chasing Carrots opted for a pixelated, late 1990s aesthetic for the game, which would look right at home alongside titles such as "Diablo" I or II, or "Baldur's Gate," with the character destroying monsters such as skeletons, slimes, evil wizards and hellhounds.
Players start with a Swordsman, but can later unlock characters such as the Archer, Cleric, Exterminator, Shieldmaiden and Warlock. As in "Vampire Survivors," players can use gold earned during missions to add permanent blessings to characters and can collect armor (such as boots, rings and gloves) to equip characters for future playthroughs.
Currently there are only three halls, or levels, to play on.
I know it's still in early access, but right now "Halls of Torment" is pretty bare bones. Character progression is very slow, with extremely incremental increases in power in permanent boosts and in game-play.
As in "Vampire Survivors," players can also find and equip additional weapon abilities while playing, but I really found the whole experience a bit underwhelming. The goal is to survive 30 minutes of increasingly strong and numerous waves of enemies, and then fight a boss, but it takes lot of not-so-fun playing to get a character powerful enough to survive that long.
That said, the game is only $5 and hopefully will undergo quite a bit more development over time.
MUCH MORE FUN
The second contender, "Soulstone Survivors," almost couldn't be any more different. Rather than trying to emulate "Vampire Survivor's" pixelated aesthetic, developer Game Smithing Limited leaned into the Unity engine, creating an absolute delight with smooth visuals and gameplay.
Like other entries in the genre, it features unlockable characters, skills and equipment, but the action turns the game-play dial to 11.
Each class starts with a specific skill — such as a basic slash for the warrior, or fireball blast for the pyromancer, and then upon leveling-up is given several new options, eventually acquiring six active abilities and a host of passive upgrades.
"Soulstone Survivors" has dozens of active and passive abilities to grab, with three randomly chosen at each level-up, and players pick one of those three. The combinations are endless, offering a mixture of not just elements, such as fire, lightning, ice and shadow, but abilities that target nearest enemies, random enemies, auras centered on the caster and more. And then each of those abilities can be leveled up, with passive skills that will add damage-over-time effects like burning or poison, or slowing effects, or increasing enemy vulnerabilities.
Finding the right synergy of skills can turn a character into a face-melting, horde-destroying juggernaut. After enough enemies have been killed, a boss battle occurs, and once enough bosses have been defeated to clear a level, players can either keep going with the current build in another level or return to the main menu.
Each battleground has seven levels of difficulty, but tougher battles offer greater rewards.
There's so much action on-screen in "Soulstone Survivors" that it's a little hard to keep track of. The ability upgrades are really fun. For example, an active ability might be to call down a thunder-strike every five seconds that can stun and damage enemies in a small area, but the upgrades not only increase the damage, but change the size of the area and casting speed, and add poison, burning and other ailments. A separate upgrade adds multicasting, or the chance that the ability will trigger multiple times.
In all, it gives the game a real sense of immediate progression and permanent progression, and while "Soulstone Survivors" is also in early access (since late 2022), it's far more polished and already a solid experience worth recommending. And at just $10, still quite inexpensive.
As a final note, the soundtrack for "Soulstone Survivors" absolutely slaps, featuring a mixture of synth and orchestral bangers.