I’m usually not a big fan of procedural generation in games. While I’ve obviously spent my fair amount of time exploring planets in No Man’s Sky and clearing out ships From Other Suns with friends, typically I’d prefer a hand-crafted experience that is higher quality that I can play once and remember fondly, than replaying a game over and over with a hodge-podge of similar levels. But then a game like In Death comes along.
In Death is really something special. If this game were not in VR it’d be an entirely unremarkable and boring bow and arrow shooter with light procedural elements, but since it takes place inside of VR, it’s dramatically enhanced. The premise is simple: the kingdom of Heaven is overrun and in ruins and it’s up to you, an angelic bow and arrow being, to swoop in and clear out the tainted medieval castles to restore balance.
In Death takes heavy inspiration from classic roguelike games in that every time you play you start from the beginning and work your way through the layers of the world. There are no save points and each time you die, the layout, enemy spawn points, types of enemies, and more are all shuffled around. Similar to The Persistence, it really does feel like a different experience each time.
Obviously the walls, floor, objects in the environment, and textures all mostly look about the same, but the paths you take and even the enemies you fight will change. Instead of totally randomizing things, there is a progressive element to what you unlock.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is so solid that it’s just a blast to play on a moment-to-moment basis. While exploring the castle you have your basic arrow for shooting, but then you can also shoot a teleport arrow or toss a teleport shard to move around the environment. There are artificial movement options as well in the settings if you want to turn those on. But frankly, the teleportation was such an integral part of the gameplay and fit the setting, it’s all I really used.
Once you get your bearings and get the hang of the arrow trajectory and physics, it’s the best VR bow and arrow I’ve seen to date. I was able to get headshots from way across levels and fire off a rapid volley of arrows that archers in Skyrim or QuiVR would be jealous of. There’s a cross bow too, but everyone knows a bow and arrow are way cooler.
In addition to your bow you’ll find a bunch of special arrows either scattered around the world or for purchase at one of the currency checkpoints that enable things like scatter arrows, fire arrows, and more. You can also summon a shield on your non-dominant hand to block projectile attacks like other arrows. If enemies close in on you for melee attacks (and they will, often) you can also bash them with your shield to make room or use the teleport shard to quickly move out of the way.
Using the game’s achievement system, In Death will slowly introduce new changes as you progress and get further. For example, if you kill enough of the first few enemies, you’ll start to see new ones like knights with giant kite shields to block your arrows. You’ll unlock new abilities and even new regions to explore as well. This is a great mechanic because instead of feeling defeated and frustrated when you die, you feel excited to see what’s new the next time you play. It’s a game about dying a lot without the frustration of having to start over.
However, that being said, In Death is punishingly difficult. You’re gonna get swarmed, bosses are going to wipe the floor with you, and you’ll die a ton. Death is in the game’s title, after all. But it never really feels unfair — just super tough. The difficulty spikes could be smoothed out more though, because as it stands sometimes you’ll cruise through a level and then suddenly get bombarded and die before you have a chance to realize what happened.
And the game’s biggest issue, other than recycled assets and difficulty spikes, is the lack of melee combat for your player. All you can do is shield bash enemies — but since so many enemies rush you directly and try to surround you, it feels a bit silly to stand and shoot an arrow at their face in point blank range. I’d have much rather been able to stab with a shard-like dagger or a sword that I can grab off my back in those moments.
In Death is a fantastic bow and arrow shooter that manages to stay fresh and challenging even after a dozen hours or more of gameplay. There isn’t much of a plot to speak of, but the procedurally generated level layouts and constantly evolving gallery of enemies and arrow types means the more you play and the farther you get, the more diverse and challenging the game becomes. As long as you don’t mind a hard fight that’s going to beat you down and kill you over and over, In Death is absolutely a surreal journey worth taking.