Equin: The Lantern (PC) Review

By Renan Fontes 04.01.2018

Review for Equin: The Lantern on PC

Roguelikes, by design, are a double-edged sword. Their very premise limits what they can accomplish as a videogame, while opening a door to possibilities seldom present in other genres. Permadeath is a staple, procedural generation ensures no two play-throughs are alike, and design emphasis is aimed almost exclusively towards the gameplay. As strong as these perceived strengths can be, however, it's also just as likely for these key features to hold a game back. Permadeath can dampen the feel of character progression, procedural generation can take the place of thoughtful and meaningful design, and a lack of story or context can lead to a very disconnected game world. With two sides of the sword to fall on, where does Equin: The Lantern land?

Much of what makes a good roguelike is applicable to any other genre. Good level design, balanced difficulty, and rewarding gameplay are all universal design philosophies that can make any title good. Where a roguelike starts to differentiate is in its two major genre staples: permadeath and procedural generation. While it may seem backwards, permadeath is the easier concept to pull off. All a developer needs to do to make permadeath work is make sure that death never feels cheap and progress can be made back reliably. Procedural generation, on the other hand, flies in the face of traditional level design.

Equin: The Lantern, like most roguelikes, takes place in one large procedurally generated dungeon. No two floors are the same, no successions of floors are the same, and how a player progresses will differ with every playthrough. Procedural generation allows for an infinitely fresh experience. In theory, the idea of offering a changing challenge is a good one, but countless videogames have proven that tight level design and attentive development help them hold up to repeat play. Of course, the same can be said for a random approach to level design, but poorly implemented procedural generation can easily kill a title. There's no point in keeping things fresh if some runs are destined for failure.

Screenshot for Equin: The Lantern on PC

For Equin, procedural generation is about as standard as it gets. Sometimes floors will be a breeze to get through, other times they will be more than happy putting an end to an otherwise good run. It's a balance that isn't exactly ideal, as inconsistent difficulty seldom is, but there is a key reason outside of procedural generation that keeps the level of difficulty all over the place: stamina management.

While some floors will undeniably be harder than others, stamina plays quite a large role in whether or not a floor will be challenging. Walking and interacting with items are free actions, but fights can drain stamina rather quickly. The workaround would naturally be to avoid fighting as much as possible but, as this is an RPG, it's important to constantly be leveling up as fleeing is not an option during boss fights and bosses will most likely be the primary cause of death. Thankfully, while battles play out in a standard, turn-based, Dragon Quest-esque fashion, they are triggered by bumping into enemies, á la Earthbound.

Screenshot for Equin: The Lantern on PC

It seems trivial, but a lack of random encounters means stamina won't be wasted outside the player's control. Occasionally, enemies can sneak up from the corner of the screen as the map doesn't show the whole floor layout, but this isn't so frequent that it becomes a big problem. Since just about every action in battle requires stamina to perform, it is fortunate that enemies have their own stamina meter. Once levelled high enough, enemies will die on-screen and reward experience simply by bumping into them, helping keep stamina consumption to a minimum.

Levelling also leads to class changes. At the beginning of each run, players choose from five classes: Warrior, Thief, Wizard, Cleric, and a Cultist who is unlocked after discovering 50% of all the items in the game. At levels 4, 7, and 10, a character's class will improve with a pleasant visual change to signify the upgrade. Although levelling certainly helps make progression easier, real progress isn't going to be made without properly gearing up.

Screenshot for Equin: The Lantern on PC

Like with most roguelikes, intelligently utilising random drops is what's going to lead to victory. Simply equipping items in a nonsensical fashion and neglecting to heal are sure-fire ways to die before even getting 20% of the way through the dungeon. Missing occurs quite frequently in battle, so it's important to stay as healed up as possible.

Occasionally, floors will have random events or effects occur to spice up the gameplay. For the most part, these are fairly harmless and can be ignored, but certain effects, like the reversed controls, can be incredibly frustrating to deal with and not in a way that feels rewarding. It is worth mentioning that there's an unexplained system where the titular Lantern changes colours in the top right of the screen every now and then, but what exactly each colour does seems to hardly matter. Apparently, this mechanic is tied closely to the "rules" of Equin and players are meant to learn how to play during each colour, but there's too little detail to make total sense out of it.

Screenshot for Equin: The Lantern on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Equin: The Lantern certainly isn't a bad roguelike, but it does come across as rather confused in regards to what it's trying to achieve as a videogame. The main Lantern system is totally unexplained and stamina as a concept, while good overall, can lead to moments where it feels like it was implemented for difficulty purposes over gameplay ingenuity. The RPG elements are all fairly standard, inventory management is simple enough, and the five classes do add a degree of replayability, but the randomness of the procedural generation is what really makes or break a run. It's entirely possible to run through several floors with minimal enemies, but all that means is that the player won't be properly levelled or geared for higher floors. More than anything, Equin is stuck in a miasma of genre conventions with unique mechanics that barely scratch the surface of true individuality.

Developer

DXF Games

Publisher

DXF Games

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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