Born from the work of the members of Digital Sun, Moonlighter is one of those small gems that captivate the public from their first presentations. On the occasion of GDC 2017, we were also charmed by this rogue-lite combining exploration, combat, loot, inventory organization and haggling. The final result, after our test sessions, is it still bewitching? Verdict.
A UNIQUE CONCEPT
Expect to be surprised by trying Moonlighter, because it’s not a classic Rogue Lite, but a hybrid between store management and dungeon exploration. Players embody a young merchant, Will, who also happens to be a part-time adventurer (though not so good at it at the start of the game). With his big backpack, our hero will go explore the 4 dungeons that adjoin the small village in which his shop is based. These famous dungeons, newly reopened, have given a new life to the small city, which attracts more and more adventurers eager for glories and riches. These new residents are all new potential customers who will be interested in the finds you have brought back from your expeditions.
Indeed, throughout the game, NPCs will come and buy you all kinds of equipment, objects, monster residues or other precious stones that you have seen fit to bring back. As much as you’d gather everything you see, your backpack is not infinite and it will be necessary to make decisions as to what you will leave on the way, according to the value of the treasures at your disposal. What you need for the craft of weapons and armor or what your customers will ask for through small quests will therefore be preferred during your runs, with objects that you consider expensive only coming second.
Structurally, the dungeons are fairly classic: three “stages” that are randomly constructed, secret rooms, chests and hidden objects, a swarm of monsters to face and a boss waiting for you to reach the end. We will successively explore the Golem world, the Dungeon of the Forest, the Desert and the mechanical dungeon. A fifth door, which we will not talk about to spoil nothing, will conclude the epic in fifteen to twenty hours depending on your progression speed and your talents as managers. Still in terms of fighting and exploring the dungeons, players soon notice that the gameplay is quite rigid, based on attacks and movements on 2 axes, and the fluidity quickly show its limits. In order to overcome this little desire for dynamism, the developers have thought to add several types of weapons and a roll element that can be used to stylishly dodge the few attacks that will reach you.
Let’s be clear, fights are not the heart of Moonlighter. Unlike its peers, the game is based on a triptych of gameplay, each of which weighs as much in the success of the player. As said before, there will be a bit of fighting in the dungeons, some bargaining at Will’s store, however there will also be a very important part of the game, focused on the management of the inventory. The latter will very quickly turn you into an optimization machine since many of the objects that you find in the dungeons will be cursed. These curses take many forms, and sometimes require you to place the items in different parts of the bag, but they can also be more restrictive and destroy the item that is close to the cursed object when returning to the store. Others, will be more practical and will send the items directly to your store’s chest once recovered, or cancel a curse of a nearby object. You will quickly learn to deal with all these constraints and get used to moving objects around in your backpack. To remember the value of an item or find out if it is useful during your exploration, Will has a small notebook that will allow him to record the totality of the selling prices and the data relating to the popularity of the items.
Once back at the Moonlighter, Will will be able to sell his valuable finds, and you will have to set the prices that you believed are right based on your past experiences. At this level, the little notebook of our hero automatically records the reactions of your customers to your rates. The first step is the fixing of a call price, not based on any data. It will often be too low or too high, and will allow you to lower or raise the price until a favorable response from your customers. If your price is too high, and customers still buy the object because it has a high rating of popularity, then it will come down the next day. It will therefore be necessary to sell your stocks by taking this popularity and demand into account and fixing the prices on the fly, adjusting here and there according to your needs in gold coins. Because yes, you will need this money to expand your store, bring in other more or less useful traders, or craft your weapons and armor to hold out longer in the dungeons and defeat their bosses.
The concern for the formula, although original and refreshing, is its mechanical repetitiveness. Every part of the game, whether it’s fighting, inventory management or the merchant part, runs out of steam quickly enough and boils down to repeating the same actions without changing too much. Thankfully, the game constantly introduces new elements and characters to keep things interesting and always give players something to look forward to.
Moonlighter started from a great idea, mixing dungeons, fighting, loot, sales and management. Though the game doesn’t exactly offer a challenge later in the adventure, it remains a feast of originality and freshness.