“Oh, fantastic. I love a good dungeon crawler. All those enemies to kill, rewarding me with epic loot and experience… wait, what? Gauntlet: Slayer Edition has no experience nor character levelling… and no loot whatsoever? What kind of sick joke is this?”
That was my initial reaction to loading up Gauntlet, which immediately presents itself to you as an obvious Diablo-esque dungeon-crawling RPG. That is, if Diablo had all of its much-loved core mechanisms ripped right out of it. No character upgrades? No gaining experience or levels? No loot? I managed to put my disappointment at the dissipated prospect of finding epic weapons and becoming a badass level 70 to the side though, and once I did, I realised Gauntlet has a lot to offer in its own right.
Gauntlet, originally released on PC in 2014, is a rehash of a classic games series, first appearing in arcades some 30 years ago in 1985. Although it’s obviously had a major graphical overhaul, the general premise of the game remains the same: make your way through a series of dungeons and kill a lot of monsters. Appearance wise, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the new Gauntlet and Diablo III. Its top-down isometric view coupled with the dark and looming environments feels immediately familiar. That’s about where the comparison ends though, because although Gauntlet is a hack ‘n’ slash dungeon crawler, it takes a very different approach to Blizzard’s beloved epic.
Rather than a vast world to explore, Gauntlet is divided into short and snappy levels to progress through. There’s a variety of level types: the majority have the typical aim of travelling from point A to B, but some are a case of killing hordes of enemies, whilst others – my least favourite, may I add – require you to fight your way through to the exit whilst Death is perpetually chasing you. Whilst there is no loot to speak of, in this game money talks. Levels are littered with gold, and lots of it, and your success upon completing a level is measured by how much gold you’ve collected. Your hard-earned coinage is used to buy new weapons and abilities for your character. The more expensive weapons aren’t exactly “higher level” though; you never feel like your character gets much tougher or hardier, but unlocking weapons and working out which loadout works best for your character is ultimately the key to being successful at the game.
One play through of the campaign mode is pretty short: it takes around five hours – depending on how decent you are at killing monsters, that is. If you’re a wuss like me and decide to tackle the game on Easy mode, you’ll probably not have too much of a problem, but Normal and Hard present quite a challenge, so expect to die – a lot. It may be worth it though: the payoff for braving higher difficulties is receiving more gold in return. There are four characters to play through, each having their own individual selection of upgrades, and individual coin stash: the money you earn playing as a Wizard is kept separate from the money you earn as your Warrior, for instance. The play styles of each character are rather different, with each having distinctive attacks and individual strengths and weaknesses. Despite the short campaign, it gives plenty of replayability as playing through with another character does feel markedly different.
Aside from the campaign, there’s also the Endless mode – which is a fight-’til-you-die type scenario. You’ll make your way through various levels, seeing how far you can get. It’s pretty fun, but doesn’t feel all that different from the main campaign of the game as the levels are pretty much identical. The other mode on offer is Colosseum, which grants a different challenge every day. This short mode is more of a battle arena, where you have to survive a few waves of enemies to be granted with a reward of gold and a new piece of clothing for your hero.
Gauntlet is very much designed with multiplayer in mind. Up to four people can play at once, either locally or online (or a mixture of both). The multiplayer is seamless, with players being able to drop in and out whenever, and is the preferred way to play the game. Playing with others adds an extra layer of fun to the game, as all gold finds are shared between each player, so you have the option of holding back and letting others grab some cash, or be greedy and grab all you can (and indeed, the game calls out the “greediest player” at the end of each round). You’ll probably find if you’re too greedy, your online compadrés will quickly abandon the fight, though…
Whilst most enjoyable in multiplayer, I played the majority of the game in single player, and it was still a worthy experience. For a few hours of simple mindless hacking and slashing, you can’t really go far wrong with Gauntlet: Slayer Edition. However, it is the simplicity that holds it back from being an essential title: it just doesn’t have enough depth to keep you hooked for a long time. While some people will enjoy playing through the campaign with each character to buy the most expensive weapons and equipment for each, most will find that one run through is enough to have fully experienced everything the game has to offer. As much as I can appreciate the game in its own merit, at the end of the day it’s just hard to overlook the fact there’s no loot or character levelling system.