When my colleague, PC Gamer staff writer Morgan Park, checked out Gloomwood's early access release toward the end of last year, he found it in an awkward position—the Thief/Bloodborne-inspired immersive sim was already looking like a winner, but there was barely any room to stretch your legs in its gothic nightmare. I'm here today to say there's a lot more meat on the bone now, it kicks ass, and it's definitely time to get into Gloomwood.
That early access dance is a tough nut to crack. I dove headfirst into Dread Delusion, a wonderfully weird mini-Morrowind, but I've had to really step back to avoid getting burnt out before its eventual 1.0 release. Meanwhile, my judicious avoidance of Baldur's Gate 3's long early access has left me fresh and excited for its imminent release, but I've had to do some catching up to figure out its unfamiliar (to me) D&D 5e ruleset.
I only sampled a bit of Gloomwood's first level, the Fishery, last October, and I'm glad I waited until now for my big early access run—the addition of the Tavern and Market District levels really makes it sing, and I feel like developer Dillon Rogers' vision for the rest of the game has fully come into focus.
Even though it's slightly older news, last December's addition of the Tavern is what really made me fall in love with Gloomwood. The Fishery felt like a classic open-ended immersive sim level, and the Mines are reminiscent of The Dark Project's spooky subterranean monster jaunts, but the Tavern just comes out of nowhere with a slice of the Amnesia series.
You're locked into the titular multi-story watering hole with some kind of goatlike pagan beast patrolling about. It usually—though not always!—sticks to the first floor, and the Doctor's pea shooter and snappy sword cane just aren't gonna cut it against Big Hoss. Over multiple attempts, I crisscrossed through this dense level, slowly unraveling its various locks and clues until I finally secured the late inkeep's prize (and surprisingly historically accurate) folding shotgun.
I sourced a conspicuous exploding barrel from the attic, lured that horny bugger into a trap, and kablammo—not even Black Peter Jr. over here could stand up to all that powder and buckshot. I was later tickled to find that you can also lead the beast under the tavern's dumbwaiter and squish it to death, or even find a backup key to the exit and sneak past the thing entirely. Amnesia: The Bunker, one of my top games of the year, was beaten to its own winning schtick of "Amnesia, but an immersive sim" months early by a one-off level in another game.
I've barely made a dent into the brand new Market proper so far, which feels like a cross between a Deus Ex hub or one of the more open-air Thief levels with the grisly gothic abattoir of Yharnam from Bloodborne. That diversity of form is something that's really stuck with me about Gloomwood: it's a surprising, varied, "greatest hits" of all the coolest level ideas that have come out of the immersive sim genre, packaged in Gloomwood's own excellent gothic atmosphere.
Speaking of greatest hits, the Market update finally introduced Gloomwood's take on a Resident Evil 4-style, pack-a-day habit-having, surreally omnipresent merchant. This charming chap also comes complete with a cozy safehouse and serene safe room music to make for a nice contrast with the bloodshed outside.
The update also includes a teaser of what's to come: a map of the various districts we'll be visiting in the city. With four more discrete zones, and even some sealed off portions of the Market left to see, what's come so far may barely be half of what Gloomwood's eventual full release has to offer.