Let It Die was an unexpected detour with a bittersweet payoff. After completing Code Vein, I felt like my thirst for a “Souls style” roll around had not yet been quenched. It was with that understanding I sought out and discovered Let It Die, a free-to-play hack and slash video game from Grasshopper Manufacture.
There is a lot to unpack from merely that sentence alone – for starters, I like Grasshopper Manufacture. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say their known for their polish, pedigree, and execution, I generally enjoy their products. Lollipop Chainsaw was a fun albeit conventional hack and slash, benefited by its comedic approach and quirky aesthetic, and Shadows of the Damned was a solid third-person shooter akin to Resident Evil, filled to the brim with homages and affection for the horror genre (and a very juvenile, perverse sense of humor). Even if their discipline and delivery does not always match their enthusiasm, I am always grateful for their style and refreshing approach to game design. They are quirky and silly, and even when other aspects miss the mark, they usually have charm and personality to spare.
The second aspect is the free-to-play approach the developers went with. Like many of you, when I see anything that is “free-to-play,” I wince. Rightfully so, video-game developers need to make money in-order to make a living and to continue creating the games we love so much. That said, the “free-to-play” model has always been proven ripe with sleaze and manipulation. They offer you a little bit, and hope to hook you in and make you buy more. It is not an idea I believe is inherently bad. Rather, it is an idea I think is often badly implemented. No one wants to play a game where you are forced to either buy-in or eat up a lot of your time grinding in-order to measure up to other players. However, the idea of cosmetic purchases or access to new levels, for instance, might not be such a nefarious tactic. Let It Die offers a lot of bang for no buck, but it is, unfortunately, an example of why I don’t like this “free-to-play” model.
Let It Die has a simple and very meta story to it. You (the player) are befriended by a skateboarding grim reaper named Uncle Death and are brought into the world of Let It Die. By that, I mean, you are quite literally brought into the game (and can leave it into a main-hub), and are challenged with advancing up a treacherous tower.
Similar to other Grasshopper games, Let It Die carries an exuberant and silly sense of humor, including absurd boss battles, outlandish characters, and goofy visuals. If you liked it then, you will like it now, and if you’ve never experienced it, it plays like a very wacky Anime. The music and certain graphics also add to the charm this game’s going for, and they work pretty well.
Early on, I was really taken by how fleshed out everything seemed, especially for a “free-to-play” game, as prefaced. Sometimes it can feel a little complicated or all the details can feel cluttered.
There is a simple Level system at work, and Let It Die makes it very easy to level your character. However, at first, your character caps off at around Level 25, and it is not until later that you unlock a next level fighter you can play as. This character can level up to around Level 50, and then, it carries on like that. The characters are all kept in this freezer and you can swap between them at your leisure. This is certainly a unique approach, making it so the player should really not get attached to their character whatsoever. It is an intriguing idea, but it is one I feel really adds an unnecessary grind.
The characters you have in your Freezer don’t go to waste, however. Rather, you can send them on Expeditions, where they “invade” other people’s worlds and attack them. Once they return, whatever items or coin they’ve attained will be added into your inventory. There is a Tower Defense system as well. Basically, you can decorate your main hub or Waiting Room or empower it with defenses, and, in turn, try to raid other people’s Waiting Rooms. You can also “kidnap” other people’s players and imprison them, draining them for experience or holding them ransom. It is all a neat little system that is complimentary to the base game, offering you more things to do and work on while you advance up the Tower.
Levels can feel a little repetitive. The visuals are bleak and dilapidated, with beat-up roads and debris scattered around. Meanwhile, the game-play itself also feels a little dated. The comparison I heard others make, the one that brought my eyes over to Let It Die in the first place, is that is plays like Dark Souls, but the similarities are very slight. The control layout is a little similar, but it doesn’t flow as well, and there is enough changes that I would not make that comparison the same way I might for Code Vein, or a million others that took clear, direct influence from From Software. In-fact, I think I would call the controls a little clunky, so much so that I feel like my game-play style was broken and subsequently built around accommodating them.
Weapons break fast in Let It Die, as does armor. This will happen less often the further you ascend, but, for the most part, you’ll have a new weapon each level you partake in. Thankfully, they are easy to come by.
Early on, I began my traversal through Let It Die’s terrain and found myself without pants, sporting a butcher’s apron, and wielding an iron. However, as you become more acquainted with how everything works, you will eventually have clothes and weaponry usually available as your disposal.
Generally, I think Let It Die is a lot of fun. It is something I could watch myself pour hundreds of hours into and a maddening bliss, and, in-fact, it is something I did spend around twenty hours with before I decided to move on. The game-play can be rough at times, but it can also be immersive and be very entertaining, and I enjoyed it all without spending any money on it! What more can you ask for? Ripping people in half while your buddy Uncle Death spouts one-liners from inside your controller? So cool! Forgot the PS4 controller could even do that!
Unfortunately, the reason I did decide not to continue on is because of unnecessarily tedious and difficult it could become. I found myself trying to reach the next elevator (a way back to the main-hub and place for you to checkpoint your location) and was unable to. As a fan of the Dark Souls series, I am up for a challenge. However, after the first Boss battle (the tenth floor – many floors also have sub-floors, etc.), there is a significant, obvious heightening in the difficulty. But, this difficulty is different than in Dark Souls or some other game. This difficulty feels cheap and aggravating above all else. Enemies can off you in a single succession of hits and Haters (A.I. versions of actual players “invading” you) wield weapons and attributes you are at a distinct disadvantage against (especially when you’ve hit the level cap). I had instances where I would learn a level like the back of my hand, finish three floors without so much as a scratch, only to walk into a room and be killed with one-shot by a sniper rifle (thus forcing me to replay those three floors allover again).
The thing is, I know exactly how to continue on with it. Every time I nearly beat it, something towards the end, when I am so close, takes that away from me. At that moment, I am willing to do anything to fight on. Like Candy Crush, you need to pay for that extra life to carry on. And, that’s the idea, the quick and cheap deaths, and your frustration and desperation to finally grasp what has been alluding you. It is not a bad business model. It did wonders for Candy Crush. But, it is exploitative and manipulative, a ploy to make you pay to win and nickel and dime you til you have spent more than what you would have been on a conventional base-game purchase.
In their defense, they offer some workarounds. Normally, you have to pay money for extra lives. However, if you check back regularly, they offer you daily bonuses that every other day might include extra lives as well. If that is what you want to do than you can. Personally, that’s not what I want to do and, also, the imbalanced scaling of the difficulty was what really took my interest away. For something like this, I think it really needed a more gradual progression. It went from an, at best, game of average difficulty to what I would call hard, and did so very abruptly. Furthermore, it did so in a way that felt very artificial and inflated. Unarmed enemies able to overwhelm you with punches, etc. It was then, too, I think how finicky and clunky the controls were started to become more apparent.
It may not seem like it through and through, but I really liked Let It Die, and that’s why I am so vocal with my criticism. It has so many of the pieces in place that it is a shame it could not have polished them and went with a better to market it. I don’t speak for everyone, but I would have rather paid a retail price for a game without conditions and strings attached. Maybe they will try this approach again sometime, or maybe others will take influence? I would definitely be interested in that.