Roguelikes plus something else will be a running theme here, the way that Spelunky is a roguelike plus and platformer plus Spelunker and The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike plus the first Zelda plus Smash TV. Those reductive addition problems never tell the whole story, but knowing what a given game adds to the formula does elucidate its basic M.O.
Eldritch is a roguelike plus Minecraft. But no, it’s more specific than that. What it’s aiming at is, quite specifically, the feeling of descending into one of Minecraft’s caves for the first time. The thrill of randomized exploration. The promise of treasure. The fear of monsters that are oh-so-capable of killing you, that fear enhanced rather than hobbled by the simplistic graphics—those graphics that suggest dangers rather than depicting them, that force your brain to fill in the blanks, as it’s more than happy to do.
So the monsters stay scary, even though they’re just shambling zombie Kermits and guys in robes and wait, what the hell was that?!
There’s a lot of sneaking, and lot lot of scrounging, with enemies cleverly designed to force an ebb and flow of cowardly retreats and bold, decisive attacks. Take the hooded figure above for instance. He can be deadly, but his nastiest attack is long-range, so you’re fine as long as you can get the drop on him and close the distance quickly. You find yourself running at him with a knife, full speed, reckless, going for broke, hoping that nothing has snuck up behind you while you were charging, seeing that sure enough, something has, and then knifing that monstrosity, too. Exhaling only then. A lot of that, minute to minute.
On a longer timeline, Eldtirch works because it uses compound playthroughs cleverly. That’s something else that good roguelike-alikes do that Rogue itself didn’t: they let you keep certain progress—items, shortcuts—across attempts, despite your character remaining very much dead and the world in which that character died being gone forever. In Eldritch, you can hang onto whatever currency you’ve had the foresight to stash in a Bank Chest, and completing one world unlocks a permanent shortcut to the next, in the form of a glowing book. You’re building toward something, managing risk and reward, even as you start more or less from scratch each time.
It jives well with the idea that you’re a librarian, choosing with each new life to climb into your growing collection of Lovecraftian demon-books. You’re not fighting for survival like you would in Minecraft or The Binding of Isaac. You’re a treasure-hunter, like in Spelunky—an archeologist, like in in La-Mulana. That’s the tone. You’re willingly putting yourself into danger in order to understand the world around you. An impulse as admirable as it is insane.
If you’re intoxicated by the decent into a new Minecraft cave, and/or if you’re entranced by spooky alien worlds, then this one is very much worth checking out.