I really wanted to like Diluvion. I REALLY wanted to like it. At first glance it looked like a cross between the darkworld navigation of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the grungy steampunk aesthetic of Fallen London/Echo Bazaar and the omnidirectional multithreat combat of Lylat Wars/Star Fox combined with the promise of the illithid horrors I’m so fond of, making it a massive draw. I wanted to like it so much that I played nothing else in the fortnight leading up to its release. So much so that I powered my way through a full restart after one progression-breaking bug and continuing after two more.
And after defeating the final boss, I’m here to tell you right now that it’s not worth it.
I’ll admit that I’m partly at fault for going in with such high expectations – as Arachnid Game’s debut title, it’s unfair to expect Diluvion to score perfect A’s across the board or compare favourably to classics and personal favourites, but by the same token the game struck out to achieve a lot more than it could have reasonably accomplished.
Let’s start with the things that I liked:
I liked the combat. Underwater combat is much like combat in space, except there is an explicit “up” and “down”, making it possible to rise, sink and right yourself to prevent disorientation. The dual function of cannons as offensive weapons and point defence against incoming torpedos make for fun engagements and the former aspect specifically I found very appealing. It’s extremely satisfying to fire a single projectile (with such force that the recoil literally flipped my craft) from a moving vessel at a moving target a hundred metres away and watch it curve perfectly into their hull, sinking them. That’s awesome. Also, I would regularly farm the Nargflar for fun – the loot was good and it was an easy target.
I liked the environments. Broadly, those parts of the world intended for exploring are well setup to suit the mood. Bioluminescent coral, glowing red fumarole and the few larger subaquatic cities make for an ethereal view, while the landscape looming out of the darkness really gives you a sense that you’re trapped deep in some alien landscape.
I loved the music. Whatever else I may say about the game, I loved the music and if they ever release the soundtrack on steam or anywhere else, I’m paying just for that. A game’s soundtrack can make or break critical experiences, and the music alone was capable of reminding me exactly how I needed to feel, whether it was excited anticipation or tense claustrophobia.
And that’s about it. Combat, environments and music. Now for the painful part.
This game is underpolished, incomplete and in parts seriously broken. This is plain enough from the environments, locations and even playable ships featured in the trailers that never made it into the finished product. I didn’t have any contact details to send in a bug report before the game went live, and having exhausted myself struggling to force my way through them, I’m not really inclined to do so – they’re bound to find out soon enough.
Sid Meier once said that a game is a series of experiences. As an extension of that, experiences can hit a player from a number of different quarters. Maybe the art is stunning or the story is gripping. Maybe the music is enchanting or the characters so compelling. Maybe the game lets you feel smart or skilled. Maybe the game’s mechanics are just so enjoyable that you spend hours upon hours just bumming around and enjoying yourself. The point is, you need to nail down exactly what it is about your game you want people to like, build it well and polish it to a mirror shine and I’m really not sure what Diluvion was trying to achieve in this respect.
Yes, I liked the combat, but the dearth of interesting enemies or variety in engagements meant that it got very samey very quick and after grinding my way to the strongest weapons, there wasn’t a single opponent that I couldn’t crush with my eyes closed. In fact, for those without the patience to figure it out, the first boss is stupid levels of difficult, both in terms of how unprepared players are likely to be when they encounter it and how they’re supposed to intuit how to defeat it.
Yes, I liked the environments, but there’s a grand total of three areas rather than the nine toted in the lore trailer, and even within those three zones, there’s really not much going on. More importantly, while a great deal of effort was spent making landmarks recognisable and appealing to look at, much of the intervening space is incredibly samey and featureless, nor detailed enough to trick you into thinking that it’s significant when really it’s just a dead end (specifically the pointless glowing purple pyramids that weren’t puzzles or plot elements, they were just there to mislead you). This is made double frustrating in the final zone, where webs of deep sea crevices serve literally no purpose other than to get lost while your air runs out because the quest tracking system has bugged or fall out of the game’s geometry entirely – but I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
The final zone is full of blue laser pyramids that do nothing except house unexplained mummies and spare torpedos.
And yes, I liked the music. There’s not really a downside here, but it’s a damn shame the game wasn’t equal to the score.
There are basically no vocals, despite having a narrated trailer. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when your intro and outro are masses of exposition, you want to have the mahogany tones of Logan Cunningham or Wayne June to keep people invested in whatever you have to say. More importantly, you want your characters to do more than make incoherent exclamations when you poke them with the mouse or make no sound at all. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by vocal experiences like Darkest Dungeon or Bastion, but honestly I would have preferred to hear a soft, mechanical sound effect over and over rather than listen to an endless string of “Oh!” “Awah?” “Ayoh~” “Huh?”
I really don’t care for the indoor art. The environments aren’t terrible, but they get boring quick – mostly because of how often they’re recycled – and it’s not immediately apparent which objects can be looted and which can’t. This is compounded by the fact that lootable objects – by accident or by design – will spawn behind environmental ones. Those environments that aren’t recycled are large and awkward to navigate, usually having an extreme excess of useless space for the hell of it. The character art is nothing like as finely crafted as that seen in the preview material, and you’ll see the same handful of googly-eyed weirdo character sprites mostly just stand there or squat in an awkward two-sprite animation. For the sake of both visual appeal and usability, taking a leaf out of Fallen London’s or Darkest Dungeon’s book and just having a single image for key environments with quality portraits for interactions would have been the smarter play.
Like so many other third person experiences, the camera can be extremely hostile. By nature of the fact that you’re stuck in an “over-the-shoulder” view from the same perspective, coming too close to a wall or backing up into one means you’re in for a face-full of your ship’s rear end, usually in a combat situation in tight quarters where visibility on your enemy and their trajectory is fairly important. You’re often expected to navigate cramped spaces as part of normal play too, so seeing the camera clip into a wall and lose visibility on everything while I’m being devoured by monsters isn’t fun.
Speaking of monsters, the enemies leave a lot of questions unanswered because they don’t make a lick of sense. Ordinarily this is where game designers would make the decision to leave some optional trail of lore for those players interested in it – and I was EXTREMELY interested. Why do the drones have giant, bearded faces? Why can I dock with a corpse? Are they mechanical or biological? If they’re animals, why does their interior UI look like a ship and contain scrap and torpedoes and spare parts? If they’re ships, why do they swim like fish and have tentacles and give birth to little monsters? Why does the angler fish wake up when you dock with the lure, but not when you’re literally at the back of its throat or shooting it in the eyes? Why is the final boss a giant bird skull attached to a snake skeleton? There’s nothing in the way of codexes or records or anything for the curious to explore (despite books being highly valued vendor trash), and so the question of deep-sea monstrosities with semi-human aspects goes completely unanswered. It occurred to me that there were plans to flesh out the lore that the team just never got around to: Unexplored noble feuds, flat characters, “oh btw this character just died whoops” messages and an entire main sub-plot about a wartime vendetta that is left completely unresolved, though I honestly can’t tell whether it was the result of a bug or sloppy writing – I’ll explain in a bit. Bugs are a whole other topic.
I discovered entirely by accident that the larger part of the ocean’s spawns are randomly regenerated, either when you swim away or simply save and reload, leading to a cycle of grinding that quickly got me the best gear. I guess it’s the only way to ensure an inexhaustible supply of loot for those people who burn through their ammo, food and torpedoes, but it also means that aside from the story-critical landmarks, there’s no sense of consistency. Additionally, it seems that you can only depend on a given loot point for air once, so if you find yourself running out while surrounded by exhausted nodes, you’re boned (except not really because despite running out several times, the only downside seems to be the painfully loud alarm that goes on until you dock somewhere safe).
I’m just going to spoil it: The final boss fight is an enormous let down for four reasons:
- It comes out of nowhere with no real build up or foreshadowing, and gives you bugger all clues as to what to do next. You go through the nose-hole of a skull and the world turns blue. You’re not told to ascend towards where the heart would be in the ribcage – I spent a century rubbing my nose against the shimmering blue sea bed looking for where to go next – and even when you do, you’re teleported into a limitless void filled with the giant bird-snake-skeleton mentioned earlier (asleep) and no clue how to wake it up – another century bashing myself against floating pyramids trying to figure out what to do next. In a game where colliding with objects causes you to take damage, you’re expected to know to collide into these objects to get power-ups and laser beams. Or maybe that’s super obvious and I’m just stupid.
Is this still Diluvion? Am I still playing the same game?
- It completely shits on everything you’ve been working towards. By this point I’d ditched my salvage vessel because I could afford a fully armed, max tier combat vessel with loads of ammo and torpedoes and didn’t get to use any of them. The boss fight is peppered with these weird mini pyramid sticks which start to follow you when you swim through them and fire lasers. Not once do you use your actual ship’s weapons. Worse, the only thing you really need is speed and maneuverability, which the juggernaut sub is specifically the worst at. So that sucks.
WHY AM I PLAYING LYLAT WARS WITH A SUBMARINE???
- It’s a sudden, stupid departure from the game’s central doctrine. You’ve just played through however many hours of slow, meticulously calculated combat where you dominate ships and sea monsters by trajectorising cannonfire, intercepting torpedoes and locking torpedoes of your own. Now suddenly you’re up against a stupidly massive undead underwater wyvern that stretches further than the game can render, travels faster than any torpedo, launches equally fast triangular polygons at you and can only be defeated with pyramid lasers. An entire game built on on that concept where your ship didn’t pilot like a brick would be really fun, but duct-taping it onto the end of a thoughtful naval engagement experience was just jarring.
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON
- It is super, SUPER obvious that the team just ran out of time and had to make something up to cap off the game’s bleeding stump of an ending. I would have loved to see how they’d actually wanted the story to end as well as all the other content that had to be gutted before shipping, but I guess I’ll never know.
I CAN’T EVEN SEE WHAT I DON’T KNOW I’M DOING
Oh and there are bugs up the ass. And out of the ass. Bugs everywhere, and not the kind I’m inclined to forgive.
The way dialogue is supposed to work is that you view your characters in the 2D internal view, then click on them to see what dialogue options are available. This is already cumbersome enough, but by the end of the game there were several quest-specific messages that insisted on repeating themselves over and over and over, which I suspect prevented the relevant options from appearing. For the benefit of the game designers – if they ever see this and if they ever read this far – here’s a list:
- Jay never stopped talking about using the passport to clear the checkpoint after clearing the checkpoint
- Nor did he stop talking about claiming the bounties after claiming the bounties
- Talked about speaking to the Spirios shipwright and actually created a quest entry AFTER I’d spoken to him and gotten a tier three ship
- Upon disabling the Nagflar, the quest giver would still speak as if it hadn’t been disabled – and then give the quest reward regardless. They would repeat this dialogue including the looting option infinitely, though loot box would be empty.
- Gunner would continually talk about the first boss for the rest of the game
- Dialogue regarding “Victor’s” survival wouldn’t trigger a quest and the matter is left unresolved. I went back and forth between the 2nd and 3rd zones for hours and couldn’t find a way to trigger another confrontation with Victoria or the Morgen’s Tear.
- No pop-up dialogue during entire final encounter. Apparently my crew doesn’t think that fighting a giant skeletal bird snake alien in a parallel dimension using pyramid lasers is worth commenting on.
I mentioned the randomness of loot spawns earlier and it’s entirely possible for these objects to double-spawn on top of each other (had that once) or spawn in such a way that the docking station clips into the geometry of another object, making it either unreachable (had that a few times) or forcing your ship to clip into the blockage, causing you to immediately take damage when you release (had that twice). This is especially frequent when trying to dock with moving objects like the wandering merchants, who have a habit of swimming straight into a wall and staying trapped there, grinding the hull of their ship against the stone.
I also mentioned how frustratingly bare non-essential environments are, causing me to get lost for several hours (not having any quest markers or clues) in the third zone, so much so I discovered an entire chasm wall that was simply missing. Seeing as I had no quests or markers or indication that the game really did end in zone 3, I thought I could force my way to the next area by diving, but nope, I’d just found a massive hole in reality that pooped me into the void. Maybe the designers weren’t actually expecting anyone to go down there, which only begs the question of why that whole useless maze exists in the first place.
So I guess we’re playing the Stanley Parable, now
My framerate would frequently lock itself below twenty frames for no discernable reason, forcing me to quit to the desktop and load it up again. It wasn’t a specs issue – the game would run perfectly smoothly for the most part – but every now and then something would flip out and the game became a slideshow until I rebooted it.
But all of those pale in comparison to the bug encountered during my first playthrough, when upgrading my ship from tier 2 to tier 3, then purchasing another tier 1 ship for kicks caused my entire inventory – supplies, weapons, maps and upgrades – to be vented into the void, leaving me with nothing but the default kit before autosaving. I stopped playing for four days after that, and it was only a stubborn determination to see the end of things that made me start a new game from scratch. As it happens, I encountered a variant of the same bug later in the game, losing my maps but not my inventory. So please believe me when I say I wanted to like this game, because God Damn, no-one should be expected to continue playing after permanently losing seventeen hours of progress to a single bug.
GIVE ME BACK MY STUFF
SUMMARY: And that’s that. An incredibly promising concept, story and vision let down by over-ambition and corner-cutting. It doesn’t feel good to say that I regret playing something, but given that I got maybe three or four hours of truly quality playtime out of an overall frustrating and dreary thirty hour experience, I really wish I’d filled my time doing something else.
Diluvion is available now on Steam.