Horns erupt across the amphitheatre, the crowd bays for blood, and your heart pounds intensely. Across the sands, men glare at you with murderous intent. They will make sure the crowds wish for blood is fulfilled, and its your job to dissuade them of this notion. All you have to do is survive, and to do that, the weapon in your hands is your only ally. The arena beckons to ‘We Who Are About To Die’.
Gold, Gold, Gold
We Who Are About To Die [Steam Link] is a gladiator roguelike RPG where you control a gladiator thrust into a perilous future, fighting for gold, glory and survival. Your gladiator starts with a random backstory, such as a slave or former soldier, and these backstories have various bonuses and effects. Some give you more starting equipment, others more stamina, but each bonus has a trade off – this could be less gold earned or a lesser ability to please the crowd.
There are two primary resources that you’ll earn from your various bouts; these are gold, and fame. Gold is primarily used to purchase new equipment, ranging from bedraggled spears all the way up to impressive two handed hammers, as well as for additional services such as buying training equipment in order to improve your skills between fights. Gold is a resource that, until the very late game, you’ll always want more of and can never have enough – its very important to earn as much as you can, as quickly as possible, but the more profitable contracts also generally confer much risk
Fame is the second resource you’ll gather each fight, and is used for many things, including but not limited to rerolling the matches you get to choose from, expanding the amount of options in the shop, and ordering in specific types of items for after the next fight which you can then purchase if you wish. Fame isn’t a resource you’ll need to be as much of a spendthrift with, but saving up large amounts is useful as you can trade for addition gold or try and bribe for favour with the various sponsors in the game, amongst other things.
Weapons, Weapons, Weapons
In We Who Are About To Die, there are also the sponsors to worry about – each fight you take has a sponsor, and surviving that fight will generate goodwill with that particular sponsor, but also reduce favour with the other 3 sponsors you neglected for fight for – this leads to a balancing act where you will need to balance who you fight for, in general. You can just instead opt to fight for the same sponsor each time, potentially gaining more rewards in events, but you also will have difficulties with the other sponsors causing troubles for you here and there, such as reducing your fame from a future bout for instance.
Your gladiator earns skills over time, either through combat in the arena or via training outside of it, and these skills have various effects. There are various weapons types – each has it’s own associated skill that increases weapon speed, and hence damage. There are also movement skills, increasing how quickly you walk and how quick you can rotate on the spot to meet a new threat. Probably the most important skill is stamina – your character will use a lot of stamina if blocking with a shield, wearing heavier armour or using two handed weapons (or you just spam the attack button a lot), and improving this over time is important as you advance further into We Who Are About To Die.
Speaking of weapons, We Who Are About To Die has plenty of them. There are a broad variety of weapons to use and stamp your own particular brand of murder with, ranging from common weapons such as swords and spears to the exotic, such as bardiches and tridents. Some do slashing damage, other do blunt or piercing, but all need to be wielded effectively to actually hit the enemy. Some weapons have longer reach, and controlling the range of any engagement you take is important. As an example, some of the maces I used did blunt damage, which would bypass enemy armour to a degree which didn’t have resistance to blunt; these same maces had a smaller reach as they were stubby, so I wanted to get in as close as possible to my opponent and try and time the swings to hit when enemies opened themselves up for an attack, usually when they were trying an attack themselves. This was doubly hard to do if they had a shield, but often the shield could just be destroyed, and the damage piled on. Longer weapons like spears would require you to try and keep the enemy at more of a distance in order for you to be able to pile on the hits. Weapon balance is a bit skewed towards maces and hammers in my eyes, but the AI is very proficient at using spears and tridents as well. A balance pass to make other weapons a bit more viable would be appreciated.
An Awkward Situation
The control system in We Who Are About To Die is what will be make or break for many people – WASD is used for movement, as standard for most games on PC today, but your characters responsiveness is dependent on their stats as mentioned earlier. Left mouse button is used to attack (with ctrl making it an overhead and alt an underhanded attack), and dragging the mouse in a direction will cause the weapon to make an attack from that direction. Against unshielded opponents this isn’t quite as important as they only have their weapon to block with, but against shields you’ll need to work out what angles of attack are best to try and bypass the shield. If you hold the button too long however, the attack will be telegraphed too much and the AI will block. Blocking uses both of the same mechanics; with a shield (or your weapon if shield less) pressing the right mouse button will block the direction you’ve moved your mouse to. During all of this, you also need to keep your mouse cursor as close to the enemy your facing as possible, in order to maximise chances of hitting/blocking – this system is very awkward to begin with, and remains so even later on for me. I suspect that those who get good at the game will love the system, but for the more casual player it will be quite the hurdle to overcome.
The enemies you will face in the We Who Are About To Die are other gladiators, in a dizzying array of equipment which you yourself can eventually purchase and use. They run the gamut of weapons – from maces, to swords, to polearms and so on, and will be wearing a variety of lighter and heavier armour, but it is only humanoid opponents that you’ll face. Unfortunately, there aren’t any beasts as in the ancient arenas of Rome, so you won’t see any wolves or elephants and so on just yet. One of the unfortunate problems of the humanoid enemies is that they also seem to have unlimited stamina – whereas my own character can barely string together a few attacks, or dodge enemy attacks, the enemy AI can dodge to their hearts content and will just keep swinging away at you. It does feel very unfair at times, even with a character that has heavily levelled up stamina.
Panic In The Arena
The arenas you fight in range from huge gladiatorial amphitheatres and coliseums all the way down to more personal spaces, such as a back alley in a city or a nobles house. There are a nice range of arenas to butcher your enemies in, and some even have special hazards such as swinging logs that can be both hazard and opportunity. I’m impressed with the variety of arenas – some are in barbarian camps, others in more Greco-Roman inspired areas – but some are definitely better than other. The grand coliseum, in particular, I found awkward as enemies (or me) would get stuck on ledges and be easy targets, just stuck in place and not doing much.
The graphics in general for We Who Are About To Die are pretty impressive, considering that the entire game is made by a single developer (this is mentioned everywhere if the game I swear!). The visual design is great, even if the fidelity is lacking in some areas, but the main area where the design falls down a bit is animations. Limbs contort in ways they shouldn’t, attacks just don’t seem to hit at times as swings go off at odd angles compared to where you’ve put your mouse – I really feel that this is a portion of the game that feels a bit off and needs a bit of work. The sounds design, both for music and sound effects, is good but not great, and does the job decently overall; a particular highlight for me is the heartbeat when you’re entering the arena, rapidly climbing until the horn sounds – it’s a good touch. On the other hand, some more music would be a good addition in future if possible.
We Who Are About To Die is a good game, and for those with the will or the skill to master the control scheme and learn some of the intricacies of the game, there is a very compelling adventure to be had here. For the more casual player, however, the difficulty, some jankiness and niggles here and there may tar the experience somewhat. Hopefully, over time and once the game leaves early access with more content and tweaks, it can live up to its full potential.
We Who Are About To Die launched into Early Access on PC via Steam on November 14th, 2022.
Developer: Jordy Lakiere
Publisher: Jordy Lakiere
Disclaimer: In order to complete this Early Access Preview, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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