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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: Ink Stains Games


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Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Stoneshard'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 18, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Stoneshard is an open-world roguelike RPG with immense tactical freedom, an in-depth caravan management system and hardcore survival elements, set in a devastated medieval world.

Stoneshard is an old-school roguelike. You move your character around dungeons and overworlds in a turn-based fashion, trying to find loot and new abilities while managing your food, hunger, thirst, and countless other resources. It's not particularly new, but it feels like an attempt to modernize many roguelike elements, which can sometimes feel convoluted. The user interface is clear and lists things in easy-to-read ways, which is a big advantage over a title like Angband, which has a learning curve to read the screen. You need the clean user interface in Stoneshard because you'll probably die a lot.

Stoneshard can punish you hard. Serious damage can cause your limbs to be damaged and require splints so they don't get worse. Pain can overwhelm your character unless you use painkillers, which are toxic and can harm you unless you use antidotes. Hunger and thirst need to be managed, but fortunately, it doesn't seem too difficult if you're smart about supplies. Enemies can hit remarkably hard, and figuring out how to minimize the amount of damage you take is essential to surviving. Basically, if you get into a fight in Stoneshard and you don't pay close attention to what you're doing, prepare to get your face pushed in.

The nice thing about Stoneshard's tutorial is that it quickly throws a wide variety of builds and options at you. You're given almost instant access to spell books and skill books to experiment with various abilities in a fairly safe way. The game can (and will) kill you in the tutorial if you don't pay attention or take things for granted, which makes it a really good tutorial for this sort of game. You go through a well-designed beginner's dungeon with some good instruction via text boxes and general area design. Even roguelike beginners should have a strong idea of the basics before they're done.

Stoneshard's preview build still has some flaws. For one thing, the difficulty curve is well off the mark. Rather than punishing, it becomes slow because you are forced to inch along slowly to avoid getting wrecked by an enemy who's too strong, too soon. I hope the difficulty curve is corrected quickly; rather than the fun moment-to-moment management of resources and risks, it feels unfair in an unengaging way. The game doesn't need to be made easier, but the difficulty curve should be more balanced, so the pacing doesn't nosedive once you're out of the tutorial.

There's a lot to like in this early build of Stoneshard. It's a standard roguelike in a lot of ways but is accessible, easy to play, and contains some lovely sprite artwork that makes everything easy to read — a welcome relief from some of the most esoteric games in the genre. The title has everything it needs to be a delightful addition to the roguelike lineups, and the flaws that we saw had to do with balance rather than anything systemic. Stoneshard recently entered Early Access for the reasonable price of $15 if you're interested in giving it a try.

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