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The Land Beneath Us review: A great roguelike that revels in tactics

The Land Beneath Us review: A great roguelike that revels in tactics

The Land Beneath Us is a tactical and smart roguelike

The Land Beneath Us has somewhat caught me by surprise. It apparently flew under my radar, which, given my love for roguelikes, was a bit odd. I didn’t know anything about it until review codes started appearing. What’s lovely about this is that all of a sudden, I had a brilliant new roguelike to play and one that has consumed much of my spare time over the past week or so.

I’ve struggled to put it to one side.

Apparently, it’s based on Welsh mythology which has sadly gone over my head. It’s an odd but respectable choice given that the game takes place inside some kind of machine simulation and you’re guided through the game by an AI who drifts between all-seeing and very ‘UWU.’ It’s cute and often results in a grin while I’m playing.

I would have liked more of the Welsh mythology though as it’s an untapped vein of rich stories - from what I’ve read in researching the game. If I had to find fault early in this review, and to be honest there’s not much fault elsewhere, it’s that it’s not more brazenly Welsh. Subtlety can work when you’re dealing with Greek myth for example as it’s so ingrained into popular culture, but tapping into lesser known myths should be larger. Bash me over the head with it and teach me about amazing stories.

As I say though, it’s really the only fault I have, because when we come at this from a gameplay perspective, we have an engaging roguelike loop that feeds into the repetitive core of the genre. If we take away the sci-fi dressing, what we have is a reactionary roguelike, a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s not an action-packed affair like Hades or Dead Cells, you move via a grid and attack enemies when you butt up against them.

For example, each direction - up, down, left, right - has a weapon attached. When you move in that direction towards an enemy, the weapon attacks. It could be a sweeping sword or a pistol that shoots from several grid squares distance. These weapons, in roguelike fashion, can be upgraded and as you progress, more will be unlocked.

The key to this concept is that when you move, so do the enemies, usually a square at a time, though bosses are a bit more wild. Much of the time, you’ll be reacting to how they move, or trying to anticipate where they will move to or how they will attack. The playing field of each level is small and limited, so learning how each monster acts is a big factor.

You’ll make your way into levels that feel a lot like mini-dungeons, choosing paths out which are coded by icons, telling you what to expect. One exit might lead you to a pile of ‘soul’ which is a currency for upgrading our hero; you might find a room with gold that can be spent on items and upgrades; or there are rooms that can be beaten and will reward you with a new weapon or a charm.

Charms are buffs, or debuffs, for your character. At the start, you can carry only a few but as the game progresses past the first major boss, you’ll be able to equip more. These charms range in buffs from an extra 20HP to bonus damage when you’re hurt. They tend to synergise quite nicely with the weapons you’ll find and once certain characters are met, the charms can make or break a good run.

While I hate myself for the comparison, The Land Beneath Us feels like Chess in some ways. It’s often about predicting where you’ll be in several moves and how the enemy will react. Or, will this enemy use an ‘area of effect’ attack or simply square up to me? And, of course, you have to make sure you’re attacking them from the right side of your character.

The spear of Longinus, for example, heals you when you hit an enemy, so if you’re low on health, you’ll want to fight on the side you have it equipped. Similarly for any guns, you’ll want to make sure you’re a number of squares away before moving toward your foe to shoot them.

I love how tactical it can be, even if I’m not always the best at acting out my moves. I’m often too rash and storm in, swinging a sword or spear, not paying attention to a magic caster who will target me on the next turn, or I find myself stuck in a corner surrounded by enemies.

At least there’s a way out of that scenario as, via a later unlock, you get the ability to teleport around the arena. Of course, this is limited, but it helps get you out of a scrape, as do the abilities actioned by taking steps in certain directions like an old school cheat code, or a special weapon in Helldivers 2. Healing as an ability requires you to walk in a certain pattern before it can then be activated, as do other abilities, which brings in yet another level of tactics as you don’t want to heal and then end up at the feet of a beast.

All in all, The Land Beneath Us is a great, if slightly niche, roguelike. I say niche as it’s not all action, which some would prefer. While some rooms you enter will be defeated swiftly, larger crowds and bosses will slow down the tempo, so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. As I said above, I’ve been playing little else on my Switch and I always tend to find I get in the groove of unlocking new options and it becomes a playful obsession, trying to get everything done so I can batter the bosses. I’m still finding my way - I was never a great Chess player - but this will be a game I keep returning to over time.

Pros: Great pixel graphics and sense of humour, engaging roguelike gameplay loop and tactical challenge

Cons: Would have liked more mythology lore, slow pace might not be for everyone

For fans of: Crypt of the Necrodancer, Chess, Roguelikes

8/10: Excellent

The Land Beneath Us is available now on Nintendo Switch (version tested), PlayStation 5, Xbox Seires X|S, and Steam. Review code was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Dear Villagers

Topics: Hades, Reviews, Strategy, Nintendo Switch, PC, Steam, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X