All of this sounds good on paper, and what players would expect of a classic-inspired, rogue-like dungeon crawl. And the groundwork is solid. The ideas (e.g. potions having hidden effects until you consume them, weapons that are crafted out of letters players find throughout the dungeon) are good, the aesthetic is appealing, and the game is easy to jump into and understand. But in actual gameplay, Brut@l fell flat for me. It’s really a shame because I certainly wanted to love it. I like so many of the ideas, but it was a bunch of small things that added up to this feeling of it being an average game.
While the game has four classes, each with their own different model, they’re all quite similar. All characters share the same skill tree, but start off each game with a different handful of skills unlocked (e.g. the Wizard has skills unlocked that make his mana pool larger while the Ranger has skills unlocked that make him better with bows). That, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except these skills don’t really make the characters feel any different. As in many a classic dungeon crawler, players are mostly running around hitting things (literally with their fists for a while). When I picked the Ranger, I thought I would be running around and hitting things with a bow, but I didn’t even start the game with one. In fact, the Ranger didn’t all that different from the Wizard. I never even got my desired bow; instead, I wound up with a sword since that’s the recipe happened to find and was able to build. I had a bow recipe, but I wasn’t able to find the last letter I needed to craft it. So, in the end, my Ranger felt more like a dude-with-a-sword. My Warrior partner was a dude-who-punched-things. This was disappointing, because when I see different classes, I expect them to feel different in these types of games. Yes, we unlocked more skills as we went, but none of them felt particularly exciting or particularly class-defining. Instead of your class defining your character, it felt more like the recipes you find dictate how you probably want to skill up your character. Since you never know what you’ll find, class selection feels a bit more like “what character model do you like more?” and “what weapon would you prefer to use if you can find a good recipe for it?”
I would have been able to forgive much of this disappointment had the characters still had ways to combo their skills together or help each other. Not so. As I like to say about many MMOs these days that have made everyone a damage dealer with few way to support their friends, the only real cooperation found here is people flailing around at enemies in a room… together. The other people in the room could be missing and the gameplay wouldn’t be any different. Certainly a level of character individualism is a good thing, but when a game says it’s co-op and the only real “co-op” is the ability to play with someone and I can resurrect them. Resurrecting your partner also actively hurts you (you sacrifice 50% of your health to bring them back to life).