A Long Way Down is still in early access but is a fun and challenging mix of turn-based dungeon crawling and deck-building card battles.
A Long Way Down is a deck-building roguelite game developed by Seenapsis Studios and published by Goblinz Studios. It released in Early Access on Steam on January 17, 2020 and I was fortunate enough to be sent a key from Goblinz after playing some of their other recent games – Legend of Keepers and Sigma Theory: Global Cold War. These are great games in their genres, and A Long Way Down is one I recommend for fans of deck-building games, but perhaps wait until further patches or release to see the final product. Seenapsis have just released a large content update adding the third world and various bug tweaks, as well as adding a much sought-after feature, the ability to save partway through a dungeon run (thank the gaming gods for this!)
You play as Sam who has died recently and wakes in Limbo. Speaking to a character called Ma’Bri, she explains his soul has not reached its destination yet and is preparing his funeral rites. She gives him a set of cards and guides Sam in their use against the forces of the Dungeon Master who presides over Limbo. The website describes your ability to choose between sins and virtues and guide Sam to the light or the darkness. Your morality choices will influence your perception of the dungeon and the way you will enjoy or suffer in it. I haven’t reached the new third world yet, but so far I haven’t felt too much of this moral influence. Perhaps it becomes apparent later in the game. Either that or it is too subtle for me to notice.
The tutorial does a great job of teaching you the two main gameplay mechanics of A Long Way Down. The first mechanic is a turn-based dungeon crawl scenario. The levels are randomly generated, and the playfield is tile based, however not all tiles are spawned. You can see tiles ahead of you, then a gap to the next group of tiles. There are monsters on some of the times, treasure chests and campfires on others. You pick up a deck of tiles that you can place in gaps to connect your path forward. The tutorial requires you to escape the dungeon and you have limited movement squares per turn. Once you connect your first piece, your first monster and the second gameplay mechanic comes into play.
Combat is turn-based, utilising a limited deck of cards, up to a max of 15 at a time, of various spells to take down the monster. On the left you can see your health, buffs/debuffs and your current active cards. On the right is the monster‘s health, buffs/debuffs and the card they will play next. This allows you to strategise how best to counter that monster’s next card. You have three action points each turn and your starter deck is simple with some buffs, heals and damage cards, each with a cost of 1 action point. Each card shows you it is element, and if your current weapon is the same element, you will gain bonuses. The cards also show whether they target you, an ally, or an enemy, and whether the spell is strategic, defensive, offensive or a hybrid.
Once you defeat the monster, you are rewarded with different items depending on the difficulty of the monster(s) you fight. Initially you receive new spell cards, weapons/armour and powder, which can be used to upgrade your items/cards. Weapons/armour come with their own unique spell cards too, which gives you a bit of variety to play how you want to play (staff for mage spells, sword for damaging spells). Whatever health you had left at the end of that fight is carried through your run. A good strategy here is to try to save your heal spells for the final moments of the fights. You can also run over campfire tiles which gives you 50 hit points, however it may mean running into more monsters while you have lower health. There were a few times where I risked running to a campfire and had the Dungeon Master spawn monsters around me which overwhelmed me and I had to reset my run.
Moving further through the level, placing more tiles down, the Dungeon Master has a turn as well, sometimes altering existing tiles by way of turning them so a wall blocks your progress, adding a new tile that may mean monsters can now reach you, or destroying a tile to block or hinder your progress. You always need to keep the DM in the back of your mind when you are planning your tile layouts. Once you complete an area, you’re taken to a sort of middle ground that lets you access the armoury to swap out items and spells in your deck. You can also portal back to a previous level if you want, and I see this as being useful to grind for powder which is used to upgrade items/cards. There is a definite need to grind as it’s costly to do upgrades, particularly epic to legendary level, but it would be a hard grind given the time it can take to complete some levels.
You can very easily run out of tiles to use, and in one instance in my play through that happened which meant I had no way to progress the quests, so I had to quit and restart that run. It was frustrating but it taught me to be liberal with the tiles I find and look for more tile stacks. Each dungeon level has a primary objective as well as secondary objectives. Sometimes the primary quest was an easy one like kill 6 monsters whereas others are “kill this specific monster” or loot the big chest. Secondary objectives are optional sidequests and I rarely did them all. The one time I did try to complete them all was the time I ran out of tiles and had to reset my run.
Whether you reset a run or if you die, you will lose all items/cards gained during that run. This can be quite punishing and super frustrating, especially as you get further into the game. The last boss run of the first world took me 5 attempts at 45-60 minutes per run. In the most recent content update, Seenapsis did add the ability to save partway through a run and thank the gaming gods for this ability! It is a bit clunky though, as it requires you to quit the game which saves the game. Then you must go back in, and it reloads to that save. I would much rather the ability to just save the game and then carry on straight away.
There is also no way to reload a save game when you are in a run and realise you’re not going to win, either due to running out of tiles or not having enough health to tackle more fights. I realise that having a save/reload feature almost negates the whole roguelite genre, however in a game like this where you can lose 45-60 minutes of gameplay with no option other than to start again, it would go a long way if we had some form of checkpoints or save/reload on the fly. That being said, I did get a great sense of achievement when I finally defeated the first world’s boss.
As the time of writing this review, there are three worlds to explore, each with different biomes, mechanics, and monsters. You can recruit two more characters into your party and outfit them with their own items, but you share the same deck of cards and are still limited to four turns for the party. This meant I just kept using my main character Sam but had to keep healing the other party members. I am not sure what to suggest here to make the other party members more useful in combat. I also didn’t change my spell card deck much once I settled on a strategy.
I swapped out a couple of new cards to try them out but tried to keep a good balance of defensive and utility spells, while focusing upgrades on my heals and direct damage cards. The first upgrade costing 75-100 powder depending on the card, then the second level of upgrade was a big jump to 400 powder. Items were a similar jump, with the first upgrade costing 100 powder and the next costing 1000. It was definitely worth upgrading my primary weapon which was a sword with an earthquake spell. Upgrading it meant the earthquake hit all enemies instead of just one, which was a welcome change.
Overall, I gave this early access game a 6.5/10. A Long Way Down is still in early access but is a fun and challenging mix of turn-based dungeon crawling and deck-building card battles. It has some good gameplay elements that would be even better with some slight tweaks. There are also other systems, like fighting with companions, that does not make too much of a difference in fights other than extra hitpoints. I am hoping these systems will be further fleshed out over the game’s development. It is worth having a look if you are a fan of deck-builders, though I would recommend waiting for the next content update or release to get a more complete experience.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by the publisher. A Long Way Down is available in early access now on Steam for AUD25.95.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis