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Foregone aims to be the next brutal 2D brawler, but it's not a roguelike

Deep in the laboratory, a new enemy that looks like a Bane cosplayer teleports next to me, slamming into the ground and knocking out half my health in a single strike. I scramble to unload a quick series of sword strikes before he disappears. I roll to the side this time when he warps back, finishing him off with a shotgun blast. Unfortunately I rolled too close to a pair of sword-spinning goblins, forcing me to jump into a stream of bullets from a nearby minigun-wielding soldier. I curse as my body is vaporized, showering the ground with hard-earned gold and crystals and sending me back to the outpost to try again.

Death is a frequent and frustrating occurrence in Foregone, a challenging 2D action-platformer out on the Epic Game Store's version of Early Access this week. At first glance Foregone looks eerily similar to Dead Cells with its lovely pixel art and fast-paced combat, but it's neither a roguelike nor a metroidvania. "There are many Rogue- and Metroid-focused 2D games out there," says Michael Hammond, who showed the demo at PAX South. "We wanted elements of those genres, but also to do something different."

You don't unlock new weapons as you do in Dead Cells. Enemies have randomized loot drops, including daggers and swords as well as shotguns and armor. In lieu of procedurally generated levels, I progress through a series of handcrafted biomes, from forests and caves to laboratories and temples. Dying doesn't reset the world or my character, but drains a portion of the precious currency I use to upgrade loot (gold) and purchase new passive skill buffs (crystal).

After a nightmarish opening teasing future events in a ravaged world, my quest begins with little fanfare for storytelling or world building. The Arbiter is a futuristic supersoldier sent to liberate the tech-savvy city of Calagan against an invading army, which mostly translates to running through hallways and caves fighting soldiers and monsters.

(Image credit: Big Blue Bubble)

From the beginning I can double jump and dodge-slide, but movement feels a bit slow and floaty, and the slide never goes as far as I want it to. I can equip a melee and ranged weapon, and the Early Access build includes six different possible weapons, three melee and three ranged, as well as armor and accessory slots, all of which can include randomized Diablo-style properties like +11% plague damage or +14% health. 

Each weapon feels different, with their own tempo and unique combo animations. The dual daggers have short range but attack rapidly, culminating in a fun little spinning cartwheel of death. I found my groove with the bigger, slower falchions. Their hefty wind-up and huge damage output paired nicely with the equally slow but powerful shotguns. Ranged weapons auto lock-on to the nearest enemy, keeping the action moving. On the flip side, gun-wielding enemies also benefit from auto-aim, making these enemies particularly nasty and a frequent source of my untimely demise.

Weapon properties synergize with passive skill buffs and active abilities. Passive buffs are closer to Path of Exile's skill tree than Dead Cells' game-changing mutations, increasing health, attack speed, critical chance. Adding +4% health is a minor change, but the more active trigger effects, like spreading a damaging plague when hit, are noticeably effective. I can also equip up to two active abilities (out of a pool of five available in Early Access) including a damaging dash, a high-powered overdrive, and a barrier shield. Instead of operating on cooldown timers, abilities and my equipped ranged weapon gradually refill and recharge with every attack and kill, favoring a methodical, offensive playstyle.

With few weapons and abilities my options are limited, but it's fun to experiment with the highlights. A long-range bow has a chance to tether enemies, damaging them whenever they move, while a rapid-firing pistol with a chance to paralyze proved highly effective against those little sword-spinning bastards. My falchion and shotgun comboed well with defensive abilities like barrier and the passive skill of plaguing my enemies when I take damage—which is often.

I'm a veteran of challenging 2D action-platformers like Dead Cells and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Foregone was rocking me back on my heels by the third hour. Death is more than an inconvenient loss of currency—it also shunts me back to the outpost, where I can spend gold to upgrade loot, purchase more skill traits, and swap out active abilities. To get back to the action I have to start over at my last waypoint, which can be terribly unforgiving. 

Without randomized levels or enemies, it becomes an annoying slog to repeat the same level configurations multiple times, especially when up against big boss battles that demand repeat trials to learn their patterns. Foregone does at least alleviate some of its repetition issues by including unlockable doors. Venturing into an area to find a keypad to open a door on the critical path is part of the normal gameflow, but thankfully doors stay unlocked after death, speeding up future runs.

In its current Early Access incarnation, Foregone can't yet compete with Dead Cells' more diverse enemies, weapons, and playstyles. The early level designs provide a varied mix of claustrophobic corridors, expansive vertical platforms, and secret areas, and the sci-fi theme sets it apart from most other 2D action-platformers. Though most of the loot drops are trash, I'm itching for more weapon options, and the late game teases a drastic shift as the Arbiter must contend with a new undead threat called the Harrow. 

"Our goal is to have double the game time [which is currently about 5-6 hours] and additional features and gameplay modes, like new game plus, as well as new weapons, enemies, bosses, and skill trees in the final version," says Hammond. "We're also going to be looking to the community for enemy and weapon balance and potentially features we haven't even thought of yet, which is part of what makes Early Access so exciting." Foregone will be available via Early Access in the Epic Games Store on Feb. 27 (and next year on Steam following the one year exclusivity).