Sword of the Stars: The Pit is a roguelike game set in the science fiction universe of Sword of the Stars, a decent enough 4x strategy game. Roguelikes are generally single player dungeon crawlers, and The Pit is no different: your mission is to take your lone character down 30 levels of sci-fi dungeon to find the cure for a plague affecting the world. The conventions of fantasy seldom translate over to science fiction, so I certainly admire the programmers in taking a chance in adapting a fantasy genre over to science fiction. Of course, nowadays there’s a way to reduce the risk of developing a sketchy concept for a game: Kickstarter.
“The designers chose well in getting their money up front.”
The Pit was financed via a small Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is all the rage nowadays, and quite a few small projects have been successfully funded this way. Unfortunately, a successful campaign (where players pay in advance for a product) doesn’t by any means imply a successful game, and The Pit falls short of the admittedly little promise it had in going so far outside of what made Sword of the Stars successful. The designers chose well in getting their money up front.
The Pit has the player choose from three character classes, The Marine (starts with lots of weapons and a huge inventory), and two useless classes. The other two classes have better mental or agility stats, but the smaller inventory is agonizing, and the lack of good starting weapons is simply fatal. Character development is mind numbingly the same for all classes. Each level, you get points to modify your ability scores (which don’t affect the game much), and points to improve your skills. No matter your class, you’re going to improve your lockpick skill every level—lots of doors are locked, and failure to successfully pick a lock triggers alarms, leading to extra, hard, monsters to fight. You’ll also improve your trap skill; traps have a high lethality. Then you’ll improve pistol, as most ammo is scarce except for pistol ammunition, making it your go-to weapon for much of the game. Past that, you’ll have a point or two to sprinkle to get whatever skill tickles your fancy…but the key thing here is it doesn’t matter what class or level, that’s what you’re going to do.
Character development is weak, but the dungeon levels are at least sufficient. They’re randomly generated (mostly), with half a dozen or so rooms per level—a little small, perhaps, but with 30 levels in a dungeon it’s forgivable. Each room has the doors marked with what’s likely in it. For example, kitchens have drumstick insignia on a door; while you’ll generally want to explore every level before it’s nice that you have the option to not waste time picking the lock on a door to a room you don’t really need.
Combats are simple affairs. Most everything dies to an assault gun salvo, but you usually don’t have the ammunition to spare for that. Your trusty pistol fires two shots a round, killing many things before they get close. There are a variety of melee options, like blades and knives and fist weapons, although some monsters are so icky that a successful hit on them will end up doing harm to you and your equipment. Animation is serviceable, and a cut above the usual “bump into it until it dies” which is the standard for roguelike games.
Another standout, or attempted standout, of The Pit is crafting. There are many crafting and cooking stations in the dungeon, and if you have the right ingredients, you make a variety of useful things (like makeshift lockpicks, or advanced cures for various afflictions). Getting the recipes to make things is difficult, and you don’t get opportunity to experiment—you guess wrong, and everything you used is destroyed. So, you’ll want to carry everything you find as you travel through the dungeon; when you consider you’ll carry every weapon you find (since they break and there’s not enough ammo to rely on just one weapon), all the food you can find, all the ammunition you can find, all the armor you can find…you won’t have the room you’ll want for making things. After about a dozen dungeon levels, you’ll be fiddling with inventory as much as anything else. Feel free to just go to the forums and get a recipe list, which will help this part of the game greatly.
This probably would be considered a great game, a classic even, if it came out in like 1993. The biggest problem is I have is I recently played Dungeons of Dredmor, which does character development so much better and has far more interesting dungeons as well. The Pit isn’t terrible, but it just doesn’t have anything that isn’t handled better, elsewhere. I usually give cheap games a break, and The Pit is cheap (running around $10), but unless you’re a hardcore fan of Sword of the Stars, you’ll probably be better off buying lunch or something.