There is something to be said for the beauty of a post-apocalyptic world. Whether it’s cities overrun by wildlife or repurposed relics of technology, from Fallout to Guns of Icarus there are always marvels to behold in any environment. However, Diluvion might well have beaten the lot of them, and it’s one of the most promising games of 2017 so far.
Set in a flooded world of derelicts, sea monsters and submarines, you’re given the option to pilot a steampunk submersible about the oceans in search of new horizons. Every crewman recruited will have their own story, you’ll be forced to map by points you recognise, and everything from air to food will need to be rationed.
Now, many of you are already thinking the same thing: Isn’t that just Sunless Sea? Well, the answer is yes, the two games are very similar, but it seems as if Arachnid Games used Failbetter’s creation as a guideline for their own work, while at the same time sticking to their own story. This is far more steampunk than cthulhu, and while it simply cannot beat Failbetter in terms of writing or atmosphere, it comes close, while also amping up the more active mechanics.
While combat here is methodical, there are more opportunities to outmanoeuvre, outrun and strafe enemy vessels, while also pausing to order about your crew. It’s more akin to the old Star Trek Armada games in this regard, as you divert power about systems and change orders at will, giving the player more direct control over how they fight. While it might still be extremely stats based, it nevertheless permits a few opportunities to demolish a more powerful foe. In addition to this, the nine submarine classes on offer are extremely diverse in terms of design and capabilities, and no ship handles in exactly the same way, meaning you have room to tailor your gaming experience.
What’s most notable however is the exploration Diluvion offers. There are more caches of items, more lost treasures and far more encounters to brave across the ocean, until you can still be running into new items dozens of hours into the game. While you’re hardly tripping over such opportunities and there are long stretches of bleak silence, there is always a sense of life and vibrancy to this world. This is further enhanced by the constant risk of death, as your submarine can only take a few knocks at a time, and without the usual hand-holding you can bump into something which will utterly overpower your tiny sub. You are always at risk, but you are always rewarded for finding ways to beat the odds.
Unfortunately Diluvion often manages defeat itself thanks to some very notable blind spots. Rather than permitting some control over your fate, many later game aspects seem to rob you of resources you desperately need, artificially ramping up the difficulty as a result. The lack of checkpoints means that you can lose hours of gameplay at a time, and often for the stupidest of reasons. Chief among these is a particularly irritating bug which can abruptly stop you docking with ports, meaning you can survive countless engagements only to starve to death because the game actively screwed you over. Plus the controller is the only way to go with this one, as the mouse interface is a complete joke.
This is ultimately going to be the marmite of 2017’s indie video games. Some will love the lore, the thematics, the design and the slower, methodical pace of the title. Others will tear their hair out in frustration at the obtuse controls, odd bugs and sheer frustration factor of the late game limitations. Still, while it desperately needs a few patches in places, the beauty of this utterly stunning world will likely keep calling you back for more. If you’re a fan of FTL, Sunless Sea and the like and have a penchant for Dark Souls style suicidal conflicts, give this one a look.
DILUVION / DEVELOPER: ARACHNID GAMES / PUBLISHER: GAMBITIOUS DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT / PLATFORMS: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW