The age of Pathfinder videogames seems to be upon us. Following solid CRPG Kingmaker and its sequel Wrath of the Righteous, just recently we saw the announcement of action-RPG Pathfinder: Abomination Vaults. And joining the party very soon, from the same developer as Abomination Vaults, is Gallowspire Survivors—the biggest divergence from the tabletop game yet. Launching in Steam Early Access on September 14, it combines the setting of Pathfinder with the gameplay of Vampire Survivors.
After picking one of three classes (the classic Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard), you're dropped into a dark dungeon full of undead endless swarming towards you. As in Vampire Survivors, your attacks are automatic, big sweeping strikes or far-reaching projectiles that are determined by the weapons you pick when you level up. The goal is to find the best combinations and buff yourself up as much as possible, to give yourself the strongest chance of surviving the game's eventual boss fights.
A few hours with an early preview build reveals Gallowspire Survivors is certainly more than just a Vampire Survivors clone—it's full of tweaks to the formula inspired by the tabletop game.
Treasure chests that can improve your weapons and abilities spawn regularly around the map, but often far from your position, forcing a trade-off between speeding between them or staying put and focusing on farming as much XP as possible from monsters. You even roll a d20 to see what you get out of them.
Each class has their own special ability, charged up in battle and perfect for dropping when things go south—from the Fighter's protective shield wall, to the Wizard's time stop spell. Points earned from runs can be used to level these up, along with several passives that help differentiate the three classes more and more as you go.
Boss fights feel like more than just a chance to test your DPS against a big target. During a battle with a towering skeleton general, I'm forced to learn his attack patterns and dodge his charge move to succeed, evoking the feel of a more traditional action-RPG encounter.
Other additions—like magic potions that provide buffs in combat, and the ability to bring a companion with you to act as your sidekick—further help to give the game its own personality, one that reflects more the fantasy adventure of Pathfinder. There's definitely charm to that, but after my time with the game I am left thinking there's plenty of work still to be done during the Early Access period.
Right now there's just not quite enough depth to the mechanics to keep you coming back for "one more run". Weapons and abilities are functional and satisfying, but there's not much sense of finding unexpectedly powerful combinations, or building them up to the kind of wild fireworks shows you get towards the end of a Vampire Surivors run. Once I've picked my four weapons early on, things feel much the same for the rest of the run, and I'm yet to find any way of combining or evolving weapons into new forms.
The treasure chest mechanic has me questioning the best strategy, too. Because you advance from stage to stage by killing a set number of monsters, it seems to me that the optimal play is to try and do so as slowly as possible, dodging away from large groups to give yourself as much time as possible to hunt treasure chests for extra upgrades. If so, that's really not embracing the horde-slaying strengths of the genre. It's possible I'm misinterpreting how the mechanics interact, but if so the game could stand to be a little more intuitive about how best to approach its dungeons.
Gallowspire Survivors has a ways to go to compete with Vampire Survivors, or other fantasy takes on the genre like the already very fully-featured Soulstone Survivors. But it's definitely got some adventuring spirit to it already, and hopefully with some player feedback during the Early Access period, it can grow into a more fully-realised Pathfinder campaign.