XBLIG Review: Brimstone – A Valiant Effort

Punchbag Entertainment’s Brimstone has all the makings of an entertaining Action-RPG in the vein of Diablo or Torchlight, but misses on a few key elements which prevent it from reaching its potential as the best of its class on the XBLIG channel.

At its core, Brimstone is a classic hack-and-slash dungeon crawler complete with hoards of vicious enemies, gobs of loot, and randomly generated levels.  The game is mostly enjoyable, particularly in the early stages.  The “click-kill-loot” gameplay formula is still as addictive as ever and the top-down perspective lends itself perfectly to a game of this type.  It also doesn’t hurt that Brimstone features an uncountable number of weapons and armor and the enemies are varied and plentiful to keep the action frantic.  Brimstone benefits from a rock solid performance with no slowdown, glitches, or bugs experienced during my time with the game.  The graphics of the game lend well to the style, drawing you in to the game play and sometimes even distracting from its design pitfalls.

The sense of exploration presented by the randomized dungeons felt top notch early on, but this feeling was severely dampened during subsequent sessions with the game when I realized I would have to replay floors of the dungeon I’d already traversed.  While this isn’t a deal breaker because of the game’s short span, it’s off-putting to be forced to replay the same levels over and over again.  This problem is further exacerbated by the lack of lore, story, or character development in the world.  While not every game needs a story, I found myself questioning the purpose behind my journey into the depths of Brimstone’s twisted dungeons.  Early on it appears you’ll be provided at least a cursory story to drive you on your quest, but sadly the developer leaves this unexplored.

Another problem with Brimstone lies in the quest management.  To put it bluntly, quest management is non-existent.  This may have to do with the fact that I only encountered two quests between starting the game and killing the final boss, but it is incredibly frustrating to be missing a simple feature that has been present in just about every dungeon-crawler for the past 15 years.  In order to see what you’re supposed to be doing, you have to travel back to town and talk to the character who originally tasked you with the mission -, there is no quest log to assist you.  This may not be a big deal to some, but battle hardened RPG vets may find this a hindrance.

Perhaps my biggest frustration with Brimstone falls in the handling of loot and inventory management.  While loot drops are plentiful, your inventory is quickly filled with random junk.  There is an abundance of scrolls in the game – healing, identify, town portal, curse removal – which is fantastic except there is no method to stack these items as you would in other RPG’s of this type such as Diablo.  These scrolls take up valuable space which could be used for weapons, armor, and accessories and creates a constant state of forced inventory cleansing, interrupting the action considerably.

Items lack adequate descriptions of their powers/abilities, causing you to draw from prior knowledge of RPG statistics to guess what they might do. If you aren’t familiar with abbreviations such as P Res, Eva, and Dex, you may want to keep an internet connected device nearby for clarification.  There are no graphics correlating to the objects in the inventory, nor is there any significant change to your character’s appearance when equipped. These factors, particularly when such great models exist in other games, create frustration with the missed opportunity.

Finally, something I found inexcusable was that I had no idea how to sell items I obtained and would have to resort to destroying them.  This meant that in the latter stages of the game I completely stopped picking up items from standard enemy types or checking chests for treasure.

If you delight in mowing down waves of enemies, you’ll find the combat in Brimstone to be solid … with a slight caveat.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with the action, it just lacks the visceral feel that Triple A series such as Diablo or Torchlight have managed to capture.  Those familiar with the aforementioned titles know the feeling of satisfaction crushing your first fallen shaman in Diablo II, or rattling the bones of a skeleton in Torchlight and watching the gold and items fly.  This feeling is simply missing here.  Yes, it is an indie game and not some mass-produced title by Blizzard or Runic games, but it still should be noted.

While Brimstone has no character classes to speak of, you have the ability to differentiate your character with the assignment of attributes gained through leveling up.  I went with a jack-of-all-trades, assigning my points evenly across the four attributes, but the choice is yours to customize your character however you see fit.  You want a tank mage?  Assign points to magic and toughness.  You want a powerful ranger?  Assign points to strength and dexterity.  A bit of imagination is required, but this option does afford some replay value and interesting prospects for party-based multiplayer.

My playtest of Brimstone’s online multiplayer was generally positive.  I was able to connect to a game in progress quickly and experienced no lag during my playtime, even when my fellow adventurers and I were swarmed with enemies.  The only issues I found were the lack of available games online (I only managed to find one game in a week) and the difficulty finding other players within the game.  Granted, this isn’t a huge game but it would have been nice to have some indication of where the other players were so I could quickly join them in battle.  Also featured is local multiplayer for those with buddies nearby to take up the fight.

As a big fan of the Action RPG genre, I really wanted to like Brimstone.  The recent Heroes’ Might patch, smooth multiplayer, and finely tuned difficulty levels show that Brimstone is truly meaningful to Punchbag Entertainment. The price is right and there is some fun to be had, but even with all the added elements the frustrating bits make Brimstone only enjoyable for the first 30 minutes unless you are a true hardcore fan of the genre.

Final Rating:  5.5/10

CBR Breakdown:
Console Played On:  Xbox 360 (XBLIG)
Time to Completion:  2-5 hours
Gamerscore Earned:  N/A
Purchase Price:  80 MSP ($1)
Current Price:  80 MSP ($1)
Recommended Purchase Price:  80 MSP ($1)
Why You Should Buy It: You enjoyed the Diablo series and are willing to overlook some flaws.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy It:  There are better alternatives in the XBLIG market at the same price point.

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About Josh Campbell