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When the Light Dies combines bullet hell, survival and Vampire Survivors — and it’s moreish as heck

When the Light Dies
Image: Electric Monkeys and Secret Level Studios

We expected a true Vampire Survivors-like from When the Light Dies. You know: autofiring, and weapons that get more and more ridiculous as you go on. That’s not what When the Light Dies is. Instead, you start with just one simple gun and… well, that’s about it. The emphasis here is on surviving a harsh dark night with nothing but a lantern to light your way.

You’ll unlock upgrades in When the Light Dies in the same way you do in a survivors-like: each enemy you kill drops experience, and as you pick it up you’ll quickly gain levels. After getting a special ability — which is something like a grenade that can be launched every so often, or a 10-second boost to your damage or resistances — you’ll then be able to choose from upgrades such as fire rate, armour, health and the number of bullets you can fire at one time.

There’s nothing game-changing then, like balls of fire that encircle your character or maces that powerfully whip out at foes every few seconds. But being more grounded than other survivors-likes out there makes the smaller upgrades in When the Light Dies feel more meaningful. An upgrade to your critical damage can make all the difference. And firing two bullets at one time instead of two can be the catalyst that sees you power through to the end of the night.

The big difference here, though, is that you’ll be responsible for firing your gun yourself. Bullets are, thankfully, unlimited, but you’ll need to reload regularly, meaning every few seconds you’ll be momentarily unprotect. Perhaps the biggest danger in When the Light Dies is the darkness. The oil in your lantern doesn’t last forever, and the campfires you can light around the map will fade out after a minute or two.

When the Light Dies screenshot
Image: Electric Monkeys and Secret Level Studios

More oil can be found in treasure chests and boxes dotted around the map — but whether you can reach them is another story. When you’re in the darkness, your sanity rating will drop quickly, and without sanity, enemies become tougher. Not to mention they’re harder to see in the dark — especially when you’ve got small rats chomping at your ankles.

Related: 6 best games Like Vampire Survivors on PC

Doing well in When the Light Dies, then, is a balancing act. You’ll want to stay near a campfire, and you’ll want to use your lantern sparingly, only when you need to. Moving between campfires can be fraught, especially when you don’t know how far away the next one is, but it’s often necessary. You’ll need to weigh up whether looking in a chest for loot is worth it. There could be something you need in there, but it could also just be a waste of your time.

You’ll gain experience for every enemy wave you manage to survive, and experience can be spent on permanent upgrades. You can quickly unlock a second inventory space, for example, allowing you to carry two lantern refills, or a health pack, or a book to restore your sanity. You’ll also be able to unlock new weapons, and map markers that point the way to the next loot chest and campfire.

When the Light Dies screenshot
Image: Electric Monkeys and Secret Level Studios

The problem is, there are three different types of currency in When the Light Dies. You’ll need to survive to level two, and then level three, in order to earn all currency types. There’s a huge jump in difficulty between levels, and unless you have level three currency, you’re limited as to the amount of upgrades you can unlock. You’ll likely find yourself having a huge amount of the most basic currency but not being able to do anything with it.

It doesn’t stop us jumping in and trying — and trying — to progress further through a run. We’re yet to survive past level two’s boss, meaning we’re still locked out of that level three currency. But we’ll keep pushing on, and eventually we’ll have just the right balance of upgrades to see us through to the finish line.

Still in early access however, there are plenty of changes still to come to When the Light Dies, which we expect are going to affect the balance and overall progression of the game. Developers Electric Monkeys and Secret Level Studios expect it to remain in early access for approximately five months, during which time more abilities, weapon types, upgrades and story elements will be added. There’ll also be a “meta progression” system which will allow players to increase their stats between runs — that alone could really change the game.

We’re looking forward to seeing how When the Light Dies turns out in its eventual version 1.0. But it already feels fully fleshed out. Even if all its systems aren’t quite in place, this is a game well worth jumping into. If you like the idea of a survivors-like with more of a focus on survival, this one’s for you. And it costs less than a fiver: what’s not to love?

When the Light Dies is available now on PC via Steam.

Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.