Okhlos

Shin Megami Tensei V, a game that I’ve been looking forward to, is almost here to bring some god killing action to a new generation. Today though, we’re going to be looking at killing Greek gods specifically. …No, we’re not talking about Hades, actually. I swear, I will play Hades one day.

Instead, we’re looking at Okhlos! Okhlos, by Coffee Powered Machine, is one of the lesser known titles in Devolver Digital’s publication catalogue. It originally released in 2016 and it had a sizeable “Omega” update last year. Besides adding a whole bunch of new stuff, the game also lowered the number of levels you have to get through; while it means that you’ll be less prepared, you won’t get fatigued, which is honestly a sincere concern I have with this game.

In Okhlos, the Greek gods are kinda being dicks and one local philosopher, after witnessing Zeus kill a bunch of people for no reason, decides to stage a revolt. In this action roguelike, you guide an angry mob across Greece on a quest to butcher the gods and free humanity from their authoritarian tyranny. Hm! There’s something attractive to me about this concept, but I can’t put my finger on why…

You move around a player character while controlling a crowd of people independently with the mouse. If you hold shift to run, your army will also spread out, which can be a bit annoying if they get caught behind buildings Jacob and Esau Isaac style, but spreading out is an effective way to get the crowd to dodge big attacks and to prevent poison and fire from spreading among people. You can also hold space to get the gang to bunch together, where you can then left-click to order them to attack whatever’s next to them. You can also guard using right-click, and while not explicitly said, you can do perfect guards that lowers damage taken further (if not negate them entirely) if you time the button press just as the attack lands.

While I find the control method easy to understand, it’s actually a bit unwieldy, because directing a huge crowd of people is Hard Actually. The crowd can’t perfectly follow your movements, and a few stragglers are bound to get stuck on objects. The crowd controlling issue also rears its head when you have to navigate in areas filled with traps, because the movement of the individual members of the mob and how large it is even when grouped up makes taking damage from traps feel unavoidable. This is especially the case for the fire level, because there’s fire pits everywhere that someone will eventually wander into and you have to spread everyone out to prevent the fire from spreading further, which could domino into people getting set on fire anyway.

There’s also the fact that you can’t control anyone specific. Where one goes, they all go – unless you get them to scatter, in which case, better hope that the unit you sent running out of danger doesn’t wander into more danger. When you or the crowd walk into a friendly NPC when capacity isn’t full, they’ll join your ranks, even if you don’t particularly want them. And you can’t get rid of people in the mob besides intentionally driving them into traps (which will likely hurt other ones in the crossfire), so you’re just going to have to deal with it.

You control a philosopher, who has the unique ability of leading the mob. Any other philosophers that join up essentially act as extra lives if your player character philosopher dies. There are average citizen individuals, there are defenders that can take more of a beating, attackers that help carry the damage dealing and (looks at notes) slaves? Seems weird to be fighting authoritarian gods while still having slaves, but as the fucking nerds say, change is a marathon not a sprint or some shit. Anyway, the slaves are also unique units in that they carry the game’s active items, which does handy things like summoning helpful ghost units out of thin air and healing everyone in the mob.

Also I guess there’s animal units? You can gather animals into the crowd who can’t really attack at all. I guess you can use them to set off traps or whatever, but you can’t really command individual units. I don’t respect them.

With your crowd, you head out to rampage through Greece. Each world has three levels and each level demands that every enemy must die. Occasionally there are some shake-ups, with the second levels of each batch throwing in tougher miniboss enemies and level variants where the enemies are at the start and will just bum rush you immediately. Kill them all and you can proceed to the next area, where you can also visit the shop.

The shop is the place where you’re most likely to acquire hero units. Heroes are a range of classical Greek figures (real and mythological) as well as pop culture references renamed to be more Greek-sounding. I actually kinda hate it. Ready Player One-ass content. Also, how dare you have a “this is Sparta” joke at the start of the Sparta level? That was old even by 2016 standards.

The heroes bring passive benefits to the mob – when they’re still alive, that is. A few heroes have passive abilities like the guy that’s just Dracula, who heals everyone that gets a kill. Then there are the many that boosts the team’s overall stats, like increasing/decreasing the mob’s stats or increasing the mob capacity.

There’s the standard attack, defense, speed stats, but there’s also the unique Morale stat. It’s not explicitly said what the stat does (then again, I was out of it when I was playing the tutorial), but it’s very important for momentum. The top of the screen shows how enthusiastic your mob is at any time. When the bar is maxed out, you can lead the mob to tear straight through buildings, which makes navigating the maps way easier; it might be a coincidence, but I’ve observed that the crowd makes more critical hits when they’re riled up. The mood of the crowd builds up as you kill enemies and destroy objects with little losses, and the rate at which it’s built is tied to how big the morale stat is.

On that subject, you not only have to worry about the health of your followers, but also how inspired they are to fight. As the bar gets low, people may leave your mob. A few bosses also have the ability to make people leave the gang, but they have a chance to resist based on the morale stat. So, while it doesn’t contribute to pure fighting prowess, morale is important to account for going forward.

Heroes are also hardier than your normal army members and will respawn between worlds, so you’re always guaranteed to have at least a few guys on your side. Heroes are also the main source of character progression in the game which… feels stale?

It’s weird, because I like the feel of the game. When the morale of your mob is at a pitch high, you’re just tearing stuff up. Buildings crumble at their might, weaker enemies are immediately torn apart. One guy dies only for another to replace them. It’s chaotic. It’s cathartic.

But it all just starts to feel… samey. The heroes don’t drastically change how you play, and the few ones with autonomous attacks aren’t strong enough to make it feel like a meaningful shift. There’s little sense of risk and reward too, because you can easily replenish the people you sacrificed to get them.

The way you play never changes. It’s “numbers go up”, but because of the game’s action leanings, it doesn’t feel meaningful to me. The crowd grows bigger and stronger, but when you’re just doing the same things, it doesn’t feel like you’re stronger.. If anything, having a bigger crowd just leads to late game frustrations of crowd management that I complained about earlier.

It not just feels samey from a gameplay standpoint, but a mood standpoint. Like, I played Katamari earlier this year. Except for the gimmick levels (FUCK the cow level), your goal is the same: rolling up the biggest katamari that you can manage. However, there’s a meaningful way in how you grew in Katamari because you have a clear view of things that are initially insurmountable that you can soon grow to conquer. And yeah, in Okhlos the threats do get harder, but there isn’t a good sense of scale in your growth. It’s just, “oh, more Greek monsters and buildings to fuck up.” And yeah, head honcho Zeus is probably the final boss, but after killing at least six other gods up to that point, it’s like, whatever.

Now, there’s an optional boss in each world, with most of them being a smaller threat in Greek mythos like the Hydra, and honestly? I wish that they were early bosses instead. It won’t fix the feeling of playing the game, but there would be a clear threat escalation that would make me feel like a growing threat to the gods that I would appreciate.

Okhlos does somewhat address this through the cryptos, which unlocks alternate modes for you to play. There’s a sorta glass cannon mode where you lead a small pack of really strong heroes and nothing else, there’s a “pacifist mode” where you just have to recruit everyone on a level to continue on, etc. They’re nice changes of pace, but I wish the main mode had a change of pace.

And so, I genuinely had a hard time feeling the motivation to actually do a complete run through of the game. I get sick of playing after just two runs when I’m down for multiple in one session with other action roguelikes. And this is with the Omega version of the game, mind you. Apparently, in the original version of the game, the worlds consisted of five levels instead of three and honestly, changing it was a good move because the game would get old real quickly under how it used to be.

Okhlos is a game that I’d really want to like, but it lacks the addicting pull that I’d want out of a roguelike. I can have fun with it in the short term, but it’s just unsatisfying to play in the long term, which is not really something you’d want in a roguelike.

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