Moonlighter combines the joys of dungeon-crawling with the lucrative nature of the loot procured and takes it to its natural conclusion. Harry Papadimitriou got some hands on time with the game before it makes its debut later this year.
In Digital Sun Game's Moonlighter, slated for release by end of year, players take control of a rather adventurous merchant aiming to restore prosperity to his shop and town. To do that he'll venture deeper and deeper into dangerous dungeons to collect increasingly rare and more expensive items to sell. With such a well rounded merchant-adventurer, the game offers multiple aspects of gameplay, from adventuring, to crafting, to managing your shop.
Gameplay alternates between exploring dungeons, and selling the items found therein in your shop. There are five different dungeons, each progressively more difficult. As players explore each dungeon, they fight through enemies and traps and collect items. Dungeons don't currently feature puzzles, but the developers have played around with the idea. Players can hold about twenty or so different item types in stacks of up to ten, depending on the item. Some items are cursed, meaning that they have requirements as to which slots they can occupy in the inventory and which items they can be next to, if any, introducing a space management component to the inventory. If players die in a dungeon, they lose all the items they collected except for those items in the first row of the inventory. Players are therefore encouraged to place the most valuable items in those slots. The next time players enter the dungeon they must start all over, and the dungeon is randomly regenerated, so it's an entirely new level. This introduces a roguelike element to the game, where deaths are punishing and lead to some lost progress but that loss is isolated to the most recent dungeon attempt. Players can also pay a fee to escape a dungeon with all items collected so far, though this will still lead to having to start a newly generated dungeon from scratch the next time around. For a heftier fee, they can preserve their progress in the dungeon as well, and pick up from where they left off upon reentry.
The action RPG combat is varied, with crisp and highly responsive controls. Players can equip two of five or so different weapons, each providing a different style of play. In the demo I used a spear that offered long range thrust and charge attacks, and a sword and shield set that allowed me to chain up to three increasingly damaging hits and gave me the ability to block. Hitting a button allows switching between the two equipped weapons in real time. Rolling is also available for mitigating damage, providing a fast response and invulnerability frames, and enabling hit-and-run tactics. Each weapon type can be upgraded in one of two different upgrade paths, though both paths are always available by finding a new base weapon of that type. For example, players may find two base spears, and upgrade each down a different path. In the demo, I encountered a number of different enemies, some requiring different tactics and made easier by specific weapons. The combat is definitely not a button mash, and instead players will have to carefully consider how to tackle the different dungeon rooms and enemy combinations. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to a boss battle in the time I had with the demo, but look for a more detailed impression about that and other game systems in the near future.
Outside of the dungeons, players manage their shop. They can place items on shelves and select a price. At first it's not possible to know what an item is worth, but as NPCs buy items (or don't), they generate feedback on the price, allowing you to fine tune it. Previously sold items that are similar to a newly found item can also be used to infer appropriate price points. Prices are also affected by how many of an item have been in the market recently. As players earn more money they can use it to recruit NPCs to the town, which in turn help players do better in combat. For example, a blacksmith can be recruited, making weapon upgrades available. In this way, there is a complete circle in which players adventure in the dungeon to improve the shop and town, which in turn leads to combat and adventuring improvements.
The game also features stunning pixel art visuals. The developers have opted for a pixelated look with a classic Zelda-like perspective. The pixel art is highly detailed and vivid, and features modern effects like lighting. Animations are smooth and highly fluid. The art direction in the two areas I visited did an excellent job of setting the appropriate mood for the setting. Generally the game's visuals feel very modern while simultaneously inducing a hefty dose of nostalgic appeal.
Overall, Moonlighter is shaping up to be a great game with stunning visuals, crisp controls, and meaningful, action-packed combat. The combination of shop management, town improvements, and dungeon crawling provide great variety of play, and the roguelike elements keep each foray into dungeons feeling fresh. All of the systems mentioned seemed highly polished in the E3 demo, and all are core to the experience. The one notable thing that was missing was any mention of a strong narrative, and this is often not a focus in roguelike and simulation games. Nevertheless, I'm very excited about the variety of highly polished gameplay offerings in Moonlighter and looking forward to the game's release.
Click here to see more screenshots.