We got our first look at the turn-based roguelike Stoneshard (opens in new tab) back in 2017, when it was still very early in development. It appeared to be a retro-styled cross between Diablo and Darkest Dungeon, blending loot-focused hack-and-slash through randomized isometric dungeons with a complex injury system ("profoundly punishing" is how Austin described it) and a need to manage pain, intoxication, phobias, and sanity.
A 2018 Kickstarter (opens in new tab) was extremely successful, raising more than $100,000 on a $30,000 goal, and a couple of years down the road publisher Hypetrain Digital has dropped a new trailer ahead of a release on Steam Early Access next week.
Interestingly, despite more than tripling its Kickstarter goal, the developers said that the scope of the game hasn't been significantly expanded.
"We didn't extend the game with any extra features to avoid feature creep—instead, we focused on polishing the originally promised ones," they explained. "At the same time, we revised our initial vision of the game, deciding to deepen some RPG elements and focus on immersion."
Another aspect that changed after the Kickstarter is the setting, which was moved from "classic high fantasy" to low fantasy inspired by the Middle Ages. "We also completely revised the approach to creating content and game mechanics—everything that we do in one way or another works to convey the atmosphere of a believable and moderately realistic world," they said.
The old school graphics in the trailer strike me as a little bit at odds with the grim subject matter. It looks borderline cute in spots, but that impression goes away in a hurry when you're half-dead and forced to choose between trying to make it to the exit while crippled by agonizing pain, or hitting the pipe (again) to gird yourself while hoping that the adverse psychoactive effects aren't doing too much long-term psychological damage. (Hint: They probably are.)
A demo, Stoneshard: Prologue (opens in new tab), is available on Steam (the old demo on Itch.io is gone) and while it doesn't have the scope of the full game it does provide a pretty good look at some of the complexities, and oddities, in store. Playing last night, I tripped a spike trap (twice, because I was too busy bashing barrels to notice what I was stomping on) that did a real number on me. I then tried and failed to disarm it, triggering it yet again. My legs were absolutely chewed to bits. I had no splints and nothing to make them, having wasted them on minor hand injuries earlier, so I applied healing salve—not very useful for broken bones, by the way—and sucked back every painkiller I had.
My intoxication level spiked, but I was mobile again—for awhile. Eventually the drugs wore off, my pain levels started to rise, and before long I was immobilized on the dungeon floor, too healthy to die, but too wracked with pain and delirium to progress. I would have succumbed to hunger and thirst eventually, but I didn't see much point in effectively clicking to scream in agony until that happened, so I gave in to the inevitable and quit the game.
One thing to note about the demo: Because it's relatively short, just a couple of hours in total, the developers didn't bother with a save function, so if you exit before you've finished, you'll have to start over again next time. It's randomized, so replays are worthwhile, but starting and stopping isn't an option.
Overall it was a little strange, but it also felt very true to the roguelike experience, and Stoneshard's complexity (along with simple matters of survival, there's a wide range of mundane and magical abilities to learn with no class restrictions, different enemies and factions to deal with, and "no hand-holding") is intriguing. I'm looking forward to having another go at it. Stoneshard will debut on Steam (opens in new tab) on February 6.