Spiral Knights: Nostalgia Made New
By Michael Sagoe (mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
The Clockworks are in full rotation as Three Ring Design (with some help from Sega) released a brand new multiplayer adventure called Spiral Knights. Through the power of JAVA based programming, Spiral Knights mixes classic dungeon crawling with tons of MMO goodness, all working within your internet browser!
Crash landing on a strange planet, you and a bunch of other knights must explore the world that waits below them in order to build a new ship and make it back home (or wherever they were going...)
For starters: Creating your knights gives you a small but adequate amount of choices, along with different color schemes that will stick with you depending on the different armors you will be equipping later on.
The game gets you up to speed with a control scheme that is incredibly simple. So simple, in fact, that you can play the game with one hand: Hold left mouse button in a general direction to move, press left mouse button to attack and use the scroll wheel to switch weapons.
You can also use keyboard for more options such as blocking and using vials. Controls for keyboard & mouse work great, but the lack of gamepad support is fairly disappointing considering the game could easily pass as a console title.
The amount of weapon types at your disposal is small, but the variations between each one is vast. Each sword, gun and bomb type work differently and have different attributes, such as Cutters that can perform lighting fast attacks or the slow and powerful hatchets that can cause a stun effects with heavy blows. This will give players a small amount of strategy before heading into dungeons, but you'll most likely find one or two weapon and armor sets that will work best for you depending on which tier you've reached.
My personal favorite was the Autogun because it looks suspiciously like a Nerf Maverick.
The overall presentation of Spiral Knights screams "nostalgia" at every turn. The visual style and level designs look like they came straight out of a Legend of Zelda game. There is also some pleasant and epic music with a 16-bit vibe.
The difficulty curve for each dungeon seems to be nice and appropriate: Tier 1 dungeons are a cakewalk, Tier 2 dungeons get a little more complicated and Tier 3 dungeons requires some serious skill, patience and teamwork. Venturing through each dungeon is as simple as defeating a couple of enemies in one area, moving on to the next area, fight some more enemies, find some treasures and head for the exit. It's nice and simple, just like a dungeon crawler should be.
Most of the monsters you will do battle against are fairly predictable to take down, but when you have to deal with huge mobs of them, battles tend to get fairly frustrating at times.
One common mistake that most action/adventure games have when setting difficulty curves is when they simply give enemies higher HP and higher attack power instead of making them smarter, but enemies in Spiral Knights do indeed get smarter at higher difficulties. This is especially true of gremlins that will dodge bullets like crazy and run away to heal themselves when they are low on health.
As fun as adventuring into the Clockworks can be, the biggest issue with Spiral Knights is a lack of content and the energy system.
While you are essentially not required to buy anything with real money, the energy system in Spiral Knights serves as an elevator key, a crafting substance and a pseudo-fatigue system. Energy is used for just about everything, and you will need to keep your energy up by either buying some with real money or by exchanging your hard earned crowns (in-game currency) for some.
For anyone that's willing to drop in a few bucks from time to time, having a constant supply of energy will be no problem, but for anyone that doesn't want to pay will have two problems: When all their mist energy (free rechargeable energy) is gone, they'll have to exchange their crowns for crystal energy to continue venturing the dungeons while potentially missing out on being able to purchase new equipment and recipes for a while, or they will simply have to wait up to 22 hours for their mist energy to refill back to 100.
Of course, there is somewhat of a solution to the first problem, and that's heading back to the surface and selling your stuff, but it will usually be stuff that you'll need to craft your own equipment to continue on, so the dirty cycle continues. The current energy system only gives free players around two hours of play time, and that's only if they don't they don't screw up and die constantly, forcing them to spend more energy to revive themselves or hope that other players are willing to use their energy to revive them.
Not to mention: Energy costs for reviving double each time.
If you're looking for a casual experience, Spiral Knights will be perfect for you. However, there isn't enough content here to keep a power player busy, especially with the lack of content stemming from the lack of different stages to explore. The Clockworks promises to have tons of new stages to explore, but in truth, many stages you visit are simply re-tooled with different monsters to fight against.
Did you enjoy playing that fire themed stage over and over again? Well good, because now you get to play an incredibly similar stage with an ice theme!
Just to give you a general idea about how much content we are dealing with here: Some players have already been spotted with 5-star equipment, which is supposedly endgame equipment and the game has only been out for a couple of weeks...
One thing I really got to say, though: The community in Spiral Knights is probably one of the nicest online communities I have ever played with. Everyone playing acts like a total bro, always there to lend a hand and everyone is always doing their best to conquer dungeons with you. I have never come across one rude player. Not one! But then again, the game is centered on PvE, so the community has no reason to be full of elitists or anything like that
Overall: Spiral Knights is a great game to those looking for a casual pacing and a bit of nostalgic gaming. Those that are looking for a much more extensive experience will probably have to wait awhile for more content to roll in, and judging by the constant amount of updates being churned out by Three Ring Design, that shouldn't be too far off.
Zelda style dungeon crawler
Browser game; can be played on almost any PC
Nostalgic 16-bit music
No official gamepad support
Lack of content
Energy system needs a bit of retooling