Being a hero ain't cheap in shopkeeping action RPG Moonlighter

Moonlighter is so good that in the time between now and when it comes out—early 2018 if publisher 11 Bit Studios is correct, and god I hope they are—I guarantee I'll play a game vaguely similar to it just to tide me over. It's part top-down, 2D action roguelike and part shopkeeping sim. For the most part you're either exploring a dungeon or selling things you found while exploring a dungeon, so that tide-me-over game will probably be Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, which also serves as a useful comparison.  

Here's the setup: you are Will, owner of the Moonlighter item shop located in Rynoka village. Around 70 years ago, five dungeons popped out of the ground like daisies and there's a whole bunch of mysterious stuff in 'em. Merchants and heroes flocked to the dungeons way back when, but now the gold rush has died off and most people avoid the dungeons on account of the deadly creatures and dwindling treasures inside. But not Will. He's a merchant who wants to be something more, so he moonlights as a hero, braves the dungeons, and sells what he finds while keeping the best stuff for himself. 

My demo begins with me waking up in a cozy bedroom in the back of my modest item shop. It's daytime, so I can either open my shop and sell some items or head straight to the dungeons and explore. No matter what I choose, time will pass and it'll become night. Days are flexible but I can't sell items at night until I hire a part-timer, plus monsters are more difficult and yield better drops in the dark, so night is generally lootin' time. 

I only just started, meaning not only do I have very little to sell, I'm not sure what I might want to keep for myself. So, I decide to make a break for the dungeons, suiting up before I go. There are five weapons in my storage box: a pair of fast gauntlets, a sturdy sword and shield, a long spear, a hefty greatsword, and a taut bow. Every weapon feels good but I only can equip two at a time, so I go for a balanced loadout and pair a sword and shield with a bow. My sword's basic attack is a slash and its special move lets me block. My bow's basic attack is a rapid shot and its special move is a charged shot. 

The knights attack slowly but they hit like trucks, and some can only be hit from behind. I have to fight every enemy in different, interesting ways

Suited and booted, I step out into Rynoka planning to make a dash to the dungeons, but I can't help but stop to take in the sights. Moonlighter's pixel art is dripping with detail. The silky banner draped over my item shop flaps in the breeze as I get to grips with the controls and dodge-roll around town square, its richly detailed cobblestone flanked by billowing maple trees. A clothesline hanging from a nearby cottage wriggles in the wind as stray leaves and colorful birds gently float by. Yep, it's a beautiful day for dungeon-crawling. 

I can only enter the golem dungeon for now. It's the first dungeon, and once I clear it, I'll unlock the second, then the third and fourth until the fabled fifth dungeon is pried open at long last. Each dungeon consists of three floors and a boss room, and while the boss is the same each time, the floors are procedurally generated. I love how this system ties into the story: past heroes never even made it to the second dungeon because tackling different floors each time made it virtually impossible to plan ahead. As I slash and block and shoot my way through golems, I find notes left behind by these past heroes. Most of them are depressing, but they still help distract me from the monsters lurking around every corner.  

Moonlighter's weapons are all fun to use, but it's the enemies that really elevate combat. I start by cleaving slimes and blobby things in half, but I soon encounter tougher fare like turrets and stone knights. Some turrets are stuck in place and fire single shots, some move around and fire sweeping lasers, and others fly and can only be hit when they land after attacking. The knights attack slowly but they hit like trucks, and some can only be hit from behind. I have to fight every enemy in different, interesting ways, all while negotiating hazards like pits and sticky ooze. Combat is difficult but methodical, more like an old Zelda game than The Binding of Isaac. Each floor is a marathon and every room is an exciting brawl, especially the ones where the exits only open once you've killed everything inside. 

I run into two problems shortly after I make it to the third floor. First, I'm out of health potions. If I die, I lose all the items in my inventory, and I'd like to avoid that. Second, my inventory is full. You can increase how many items you can store in your shop but backpack inventory is locked to 20 slots, and Moonlighter forces you to make careful use of them. Some items can only be placed in certain rows, some curse the items adjacent to them, some become the items adjacent to them, and some can even send items back to your shop's storage. Knowing what items to keep and how to arrange them is critical to a good dungeon run. 

I'm out of gas, so I spend a few hundred gold to activate my teleporter and return home. It's a one-way trip, but I'll unlock a Diablo-esque two-way portal before long. It's nighttime now, so I stash my loot and prepare for round two, trading my sword and shield for a spear, which I come to prefer thanks to its awesome advancing charge. My second trip to the golem dungeon goes more smoothly—partly because I know what to expect, but mainly because I was able to use some items and gold from my first trip to upgrade my gear with the help of the town blacksmith and enchantress. By investing in the town and clearing certain requirements, I can get other helpful NPCs to move to Rynoka Terraria-style, and it seems like that should be a priority. 

Evidently I just sold some kind of primo first edition hardback for peanuts. I'm tempted to raise all my prices out of spite

I wake up the next morning eager to sell yesterday's haul. I can only showcase four items at once until I upgrade my shop, so I set out the shiniest items I have, assign a reasonable-sounding price to each, and open the shop to the public. Pricing is tricky because while materials like tree roots and iron bars have clear uses and descriptions, items like golem schematics and gold runes are more abstract. Thankfully you can wishlist gear you want to craft so you always know what items you need for yourself. 

Customers slowly trickle in and appraise my wares, and to my dismay, a barrage of frowny faces appears over their heads. Apparently everything is too expensive. Well, screw you too, customers. I worked hard to get those rare, no-doubt priceless thingamajigs. You think you're gonna find thingamajigs of this quality just lying around?

Unphased, my customers start to leave, so I begrudgingly lower my prices. My wares are actually selling now, so I replace them with new items as shelves open up. Something catches my eye when I list an ancient book for 200 gold. An old man wanders over to it and, rather than a frowny face, an ecstatic smiley face with gold coin eyes appears over his head. Evidently I just sold some kind of primo first edition hardback for peanuts. I'm tempted to raise all my prices out of spite, but I put on my best merchant's smile and close out the day.

I managed to sell enough random bullsh—I mean priceless treasures to afford a new pair of pants and a fresh batch of potions, so I stock up before heading to the dungeon a third time. Then a fourth time, and a fifth. Suddenly it's been a few hours. My shop is twice as big, I'm decked out in full iron platemail, my spear is sharper than ever, and I'm finally at the first boss: a really big golem. A really big golem with a penchant for AoE, to be precise. I promptly get my iron ass handed to me and am spat out in town square, sans items. I didn't even put a dent in the shop upgrades, let alone the dungeons, and quite frankly I want some revenge. So, like I said, I can't wait to moonlight again. 

Austin Wood
Staff writer, GamesRadar

Austin freelanced for PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and has been a full-time writer at PC Gamer's sister publication GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover-up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news, the occasional feature, and as much Genshin Impact as he can get away with.