Sword of the Stars: The Pit Review

by on 19th Jun 2013

Of Storied Beginnings

I finally got a chance to devote some time to SotS: The Pit. The game throws you into the Sword of the Stars universe, but you won't be getting a fleet of starships. You're going right down into the dirt, and with no help from your friends, either. The game is single player only. Anything SotS is a must-take-a-look for me, as I loved the original space strategy game and was also heartbroken by my comp not running its second instalment.

The Pit started as an IndieGoGo campaign. It ended roughly half funded (despite my contribution) and things weren't looking great. Luckily Kerberos Productions took this not as a defeat but as a challenge. One to be overcome. And it was, as the game is being sold at all major digital retailers, having had very good reception, both from critics and gamers alike.

The Pit is a roguelike - meaning that it is a turn-based, dungeon crawling RPG with permanent death. Well, unless, in a neat death-cheating trick, you survive. The story behind the game says that a deadly plague is ravaging your world. Your last hope is a legendary alien facility dug deep into the Feldspar Mountains... a massive Pit, built by the ancient Suul'ka. Suul'ka, as players of Sword of the Stars series know, are Liir elders with immense psychic powers, who refuse to die. Elders, not powers. They (yes, elders again) enslaved their own younger brethren and are generally unpleasant.

If 'The Pit' really exists, there might be something left. Something that will give your doctors a fighting chance, hopefully a cure. All you know for sure is that every expedition into those mountains has failed to return...

Parting The Depths

As roguelike tradition also dictates, facility floors are randomly generated and, wandering the caves'n'corridors, opening crates (fridges, lockers, safes…) you will find loot. Very diverse loot. From weapons, ammo, chemicals, to more mysterious ingredients and even more mysterious items which modify weapons, armour or even you. And you don't know what an item will do, unless you have a scanner for just such things. Or you simply… try them out. Beware, a yellow mutation serum might make you smarter in this playthrough, but it may make you weaker in the next. Same for all modifiers. And door traps. Yep, there are those as well. Traps being traps means that in general they are a bad thing, but there is a chance one might make you faster for a limited time or even heal you. The sooner you get to know them, the better. You wouldn't want to experiment down deep, say, while clawing your way to level 30.

I mentioned mysterious ingredients, haven't I? SotS: The Pit has a very extensive list of craftable items. You found some bindings and electronic components. Walk up to a lab station and forge them together to get absolutely nothing. And you just lost some ingredients. Story of my (game) life. I tried and tried to use my imagination and mix those ingredients to no avail. So how do you actually know what to put together to get something useful? Well, every now and then you'll come across a console, with some luck or skill you'll get it up and working and you will be able to read a message it holds. And with even more luck, you'll translate it. Usually you'll need to find the same message a few times on different consoles and translate it piece by piece, though a translator works miracles. Sometimes it tells of what was happening way back when it was written and sometimes it tells you how some long dead inhabitant of the facility managed to use the ingredients in the correct combination. Needless to say, the latter is far more useful for your survival.

Foods and chemicals are mixed at the cooker, while electronic devices are built at the lab station. Crafting is not just useful. It is essential. The best armours, weapons, food, cocktails, and everything in between… are crafted.

Food plays an important role. Never throw it away. Even mouldy cheese may save your life. Try not to eat spoiled or raw food, but in times of need... hopefully you'll have a serum at the ready, too. All manners of food can be consumed 'as is', but some you can combine into a dish which is much more nutritious than the sum of its ingredients. Again, it is better to have a recipe than to go wild on a cooker.

A lot of "indigenous" animals are disease carriers, and will quite gladly infect you with a bite or a scratch, less gladly if you just happen to be eating their flesh, uncooked. Robots on the other hand will not infect you with disease. They will shoot, slash, bombard and do all sorts of niceties to you though. So carry EMP grenades, or whatever you can craft that affects them.

An Ego Trip

Hmmm, so much has been said regarding what to do and how to find it, but what about me? ME ME ME ME?!?!?!? Ok, also, what about you, yourself...

You and me can start the game as one of three classes - scout, engineer or marine. You can probably imagine how they differ in terms of stats, but they also set out with different starting gear and advancement paths. From here on in you can mould your character to your heart's content. So far so good, and good aplenty.

There is one major thing I'd change in the game though. I'd change the crafting recipes' mechanics. As it is, the recipes stay the same every time you play, and next time you play all previously discovered recipes are stored in your personal database. What this means is that the first time you play, your chances of winning are more or less zero. Through several playthroughs you'll accumulate enough crafting knowledge to actually have a chance. To make it even more complicated, at easy level you'll only have access to some of the recipes.

As a strategy player one wants a good strategy to work. Always. Unless countered, naturally. I'm all for learning how to use the tools at hand while playing, but not by simply not having the required information at all. Perhaps obtaining the recipes could be made much easier, but in this case those, too, would probably have to vary at least slightly from one playthrough to another.

The Colours of Pitch-Darkness

Unlike one might expect in a pit, The Pit is not just black screen. The game has been given pixelated graphics, cartoony style and vivid colours. The music and sound effects fit the look; they are simplistic and remind me of games long past. These are all deliberate design decisions, made to create a general retro look, but may still leave you wanting for more.

The Unsettling Closure

The Pit is a very fun game to play, especially when you're not in the mood for something overly complex. Not that you can't play it complex, mind; you can even "abuse" the game turn system. For instance, always approach everything useful-looking in the room so that you get to it mid-turn. By trying to use (open...) you will get to recognize a possible Adaptoid. But I just wouldn't be able to enjoy the game if I went into this much trouble.

What is an Adaptoid, or a Protean? Ah, guys and gals, play the game, it is worth it. Also, a "Mind Games" expansion is said to be looming in the very near future. If you want to hone your skills before the Zuul males fry your brains, better start soon.

Reviewer's Verdict: 7/10

 

Add Comment Comments

Space Voyager\
4 Jul 2013 - 10:10am
Space Voyager

silencer_pl, on 04 July 2013 - 07:40 AM, said:

That is so wrong... and besides isn't it the specialty of roguelikes? In FTL you also can't always win.

It is not about being able to win every time, it is about not having a chance to win at all. I can't imagine the luck one should have to win in the first... 3-5 playthroughs. The chances are negligible, perhaps you stand a chance in fifth try on easy.

Again, I'm all for a hard game and tough luck. But collecting the info, necessary to survive for the first time, through several playthroughs is not good IMO. This is not a hard game, it is an impossible game that becomes possible later, if you have the time and the will.
silencer_pl\
4 Jul 2013 - 7:40am
silencer_pl

Space Voyager, on 03 July 2013 - 03:57 PM, said:

and KNOWING that you CAN NOT win from the start.

That is so wrong... and besides isn't it the specialty of roguelikes? In FTL you also can't always win.
Space Voyager\
4 Jul 2013 - 4:38am
Space Voyager
I think retro look really exploaded with Minecraft. It could always have been around I guess but I didn't notice it... I like it, especially since it also means less stress for the comp. And it does bring back memories. Younger gamers may have less sympathy for the style though.

As far as buying or not - it depends on how much time you are able to devout to the game. And perhaps allowing youself to cheat may have a good real life excuse, like not being able to play the game ten times and probably more for the first win. I might actually take Silencer's advice myself, too. Might as well have some unrestricted fun. ;)
noxtheroxstar\
3 Jul 2013 - 10:05pm
noxtheroxstar
No prob, I'm kind of hesitant to buy it considering your review and a few others. Is it just me, or has a lot of indie games in the last few months been using the same art/graphics style such as FTL, The Pit, Hotline Miami, Retro City Rampage, etc or am I completely disconnected from gaming?
Space Voyager\
3 Jul 2013 - 3:57pm
Space Voyager

NoXTheRoXStaR, on 02 July 2013 - 07:26 PM, said:

Looks like S.V. is going to have to write and addendum to his "The Pit" Review.

http://www.gog.com/g...t_mindgames_dlc

The Pit : MindGames DLC

I took the liberty to move your post, NoX, I hope you don't mind. I moved it so I can answer without creating unnecessary crowd in Other gaming news.

I'd love to write an addendum but I don't think I will return to The Pit. I really dislike the design decision for the recipes and KNOWING that you CAN NOT win from the start - and for the next few games - is not really giving me much drive. I'll most likely buy the expansion anyway. I question my sanity.
silencer_pl\
3 Jul 2013 - 2:17pm
silencer_pl
I'll wait for promo :P
Thorondor\
3 Jul 2013 - 2:01pm
Thorondor
Posted Image

::

Now on Steam.
noxtheroxstar\
2 Jul 2013 - 7:26pm
noxtheroxstar
Looks like S.V. is going to have to write and addendum to his "The Pit" Review.

http://www.gog.com/g...t_mindgames_dlc

The Pit : MindGames DLC
silencer_pl\
25 Jun 2013 - 9:12am
silencer_pl
Great news.
Space Voyager\
25 Jun 2013 - 7:47am
Space Voyager
Mind Games expansion is coming July 1st or so they say at 24/7. Kerberos Productions agrees and prevents further guessing at the price; $4,99.
Space Voyager\
20 Jun 2013 - 6:39am
Space Voyager
The listed non-craftable items are nice exceptions that prove the rule. Even if you happen to find both (incredible luck), you'll still need crafting to survive. I haven't found either, but I also haven't had the time to go through the game more than twice (started more games to get the general feel though), never actually finishing it as twice is just not enough to gather enough crafting knowledge.

Yes, for those impatient, there is cheating. Not the way the game is meant to be played and certainly not what I'm interested in as a reviewer.

Frankly, the recipe-finding system I wrote as a deficiency made me think about going for 6 or even less, as I find it an incredibly game-breaking detail. Needless to say, one notices such things when you just don't have the time to go through the game ten or more times - and don't cheat. You want the game to be played the same from the first to the last time, the only thing getting better being you. Not the stored knowledge the game let's you use cumulatively.
Then my SotS fanboyinsm took over and the fun and lore details prevailed. My mistake, but I would do it all over again.

And BTW, nothing will save your arse if you're not playing smart. Not even luck.
silencer_pl\
19 Jun 2013 - 2:58pm
silencer_pl
Well to be honest - I think the review is missing the bits where you don't like the game. I think I don't see the reason other than turn abusing to reduce the points to 7. Not that the game is perfect but still.


Quote

Crafting is not just useful. It is essential. The best armours, weapons...


While the first part is true, the second is dependent.

PBA aka power suit is the strongest armour and it is not craftable - but only Marine can use it to full potential. Next armour in defense value is Hiver Chitin Armour - that is craftable.

Weapons - the strongest weapon that I've found was Meson Rifle - not craftable, next in line is Pulse Rifle - that is craftable, but there are weapons that require PBA armour and they are even more powerful, like rocket launcher, plasma/fusion cannon, Heavy Cannon where only Heavy Cannon is craftable.

For those who are inpatient and want to speed things up - there is already a wiki that contains all current recipes.

http://sword-of-the-...om/wiki/Recipes

Knowing the recipes will not save your sorry ass if you're not playing smart.

Quote

There is one major thing I'd change in the game though. I'd change the crafting recipes' mechanics. As it is, the recipes stay the same every time you play, and next time you play all previously discovered recipes are stored in your personal database. What this means is that the first time you play, your chances of winning are more or less zero. Through several playthroughs you'll accumulate enough crafting knowledge to actually have a chance. To make it even more complicated, at easy level you'll only have access to some of the recipes.

That is silly I think - first you need to have at least few playthroughs to unlock some recipes, then the required materials are not always easy to come, then there is a chance to fail the creation process (note every action is capped at 99% so there is 1% of failing). Also the easy level doesn't make things complicated. Yes you can only have first 50 messages but your chance of doing something is doubled and you deal twice the damage. That is the level to familiarize yourself with the game. And those 50 messages give plenty of recipes to go play normal difficulty.

 

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Game Card

Sword of the Stars Box
Developer: Kerberos Productions
Publisher: Destineer
Released:29/08/2006

Screenshots

The Pit startup screen.Messages without a translator.New game - choosing a class.Starting character inventory - you don't get much!Foraging through a recycling bin for goodies.Door traps can either hurt, or sometimes even help.Stepping on a poison gas mine.Character inventory after foraging.Disabling one of the many traps.A bot (robot) in Bot Storage/Repair Lab.Lab station screen used for crafing special recipies.This used to be a box.Strange creature - an enlarged virus.

Databank

Sword of the Stars Series

Purchasing Options