World of Horror Early Access Review – or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Praise Azathoth

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The thing at the door rumbled as Haru took a final drag on his cigarette. His hand trembled. Sweat and blood dripped from his nose onto the dusty floorboards of that decade-shrouded manor. The searing pain where his right eye had been wasn’t so bad now, and the bleeding slowed to a trickle after he’d cauterised the socket.

“̷͓̘̊͛Ẏ̸̢̩̞͕͙̹̏̋̌͒̒ö̸̝̯͑Ṷ̶̝͍̃ ̵̺̮̹̼̓̀̔͋h̷̨͎͎͖̃͒̔̑A̶̦̱̖͂́̇͗̓͝ͅv̵͍͊͊E̷͓̊̈́̉̍̚ ̴̡̨͖͍̼̗̆̌m̷̝͔̽̏̿̀E̴̩̤̝̯̐̎̉t̷̖͍̂̐̒̀̀̕ ̴͙̲̬̉̚W̶̨͓͙̞̋̆̄̕͜ḭ̶̧̼͖̂ͅṬ̴͉̖̪̳̈́͛͒̽̑̚h̵̨̖̳̝͐̓͂̚ ̴̪̯̙͈̀̀͝Ä̴̺͇̱́́͐ ̶̢͓̳̜͑̎̈́̀ͅt̵̙̂E̷̻̔̇̓̚r̵̯͙͗̏͑̆R̴̮̈́̊̏͐ï̵͎B̵̲̌͋͒b̵̧͈̀͌̕L̶͖̙̅̒͂͛̍͘ȇ̵̮̜͔͛ ̷͎̪͙̊̀̀̏̔̒F̶̨̢͍̠͓̋̑̊̀̾͝a̷̝͓̻͋̐͆T̵͎͎̉̿ȇ̶͚̙̆́̋̒,̷̥̑͌̔͝͝͝ ̷͎̪̹̣͔̚Ḭ̷̬̞̥͑̆̈́̑͊͘ņ̷͖̭̝͓̳̍̈́S̷̪̰̠̋̕ę̵͙͚͚̟͘͠C̵̙̱̎ẗ̸̛̩͍̜́̔.̸̧̩̖̝͇̎̐ͅ”̷̬̤̻͎͐̎͠͝

The heavy door shook on its hinges as the thing’s arms(?) battered and scraped at its lacquered surface. Haru didn’t flinch.

“Takes one to know one, creep.”

He weakly flicked the still glowing butt of the cigarette onto the pile of crumbling books he’d dumped in the middle of the study. The bone-dry pages sizzled, then burst into flame. The thing in the corridor screeched and pried under the door with a withered pair of six-fingered hands. The heavy mahogany creaked as the door began to buckle.

Haru slipped the service revolver from his waistband, loading his last bullet into the cylinder. Now, the things he’d found in those foul old pages would never be known again. The flames raced up the moth-eaten curtains to lick the ceiling, and as the door finally shattered under the strain of the many-armed thing’s furious assault, he smiled. Then he turned the gun on himself.

This is World of Horror, a rogue-lite Text RPG about solving mysteries, battling eldritch abominations, and postponing the inevitable destruction of mankind. Playing it is basically like starring in an episode of Scooby-Doo directed by Junji Ito. It was created by a single developer (Panstasz) over the course of 3 years before he released it on Steam Early Access in February of this year. I won’t lie to you, I’ve sunk 30 hours into this game so far and I love it to death. Everything I’ve seen so far screams of passion and shows a level of polish very few Early Access indie games can boast of.

In World of Horror, you play as one of 7 different characters (depending on the game-mode) trying to uncover the evil eating at the heart of your town. You start in your apartment, which acts like a hub area where you can rest and choose from 5 randomly selected mysteries (there are 10 available so far), which you have to complete in order to progress the narrative. If I said any more than that, I’d be giving away too much.

Image credit: Ysbryd Games

Most of the mysteries take place in the Shirokawa Town world-space, which is made up of 9 different areas that you can investigate. You solve mysteries by investigating the indicated areas, triggering random events that provide buffs, debuffs, skill checks and combat encounters. This leads up to a final encounter that you have to overcome before you can shout ‘CASE CLOSED’ and scamper back to your apartment for a cold-shower and a tasty pack of overpriced cigarettes (both of which are VITAL to your survival in WoH).

There are 4 different playthrough options to choose from when starting a new game, sorted in descending order based on their complexity. The meat of the game is found in the fourth and most complex option, simply titled ‘(customize the playthrough)’. This allows you to choose your character, difficulty settings, background, card-sets, etc. You gradually unlock more of these options through completing in-game achievements, and more content will be added throughout the game’s development cycle up until the full release.

If it wasn’t already obvious, World of Horror is an explicitly Lovecraftian game, taking equal amounts of inspiration from the Cthulhu Mythos and the works of Junji Ito (namely his manga Uzumaki). It’s one of the few games in this horror sub-genre that creates an atmosphere of cosmic horror while providing excellent gameplay, without having to sacrifice one for the other. I’d describe the experience as stressful, but rewarding, as you’re motivated to juggle the multiple stat-mechanics while overcoming ever-more challenging encounters in order to uncover as much information about the mystery as you can.

Image credit: Ysbryd Games

Another thing World of Horror really gets right is its art and sound design. The 1-Bit art style, which can be recoloured with a palette set of your choosing (I recommend the set found in the options menu titled ‘Gothic’) gives the game a ‘cursed-retro’ vibe, complemented by the haunting neo-gothic chiptune soundtrack. It carries the same atmosphere that’s created by H.P. Lovecraft’s use of anachronistic language and diary entries in The Call of Cthulhu, except instead of feeling like a random schmuck who stumbled across a collection of forbidden documents, you’re a millenial zoomer who’s playing a cursed videogame on your dad’s old Tandy TRS-80 Personal Computer.

That being said, I have a few critical points. Once you’ve racked up 30 hours of play time, it becomes abundantly clear that this game is still in early access, mainly due to the amount of repeat content that you run into. The 10 mysteries that are currently implemented aren’t nearly enough to satisfy many repeat playthroughs, despite the trickle of unlockable content that exists for the random encounters in-game. The Endless game-mode benefits most from this, as it eschews the loose mystery-solving plotline of the game for an endless stream of encounters, but a wave-survival game mode is only fun for so long.

Once a Steam Workshop (or at the very least modding support) is implemented, the lack of vanilla mystery variety will be a moot point, but until then it should be a priority. Another area that I found lacking was the number of Elder Gods you could choose as your ultimate antagonists for each playthrough. Each Elder God adds their own challenges to the game, with their own rulesets and unique encounters, plus their own game-over screens. If anything, they should be much less difficult to implement than new mysteries, as they don’t require nearly as many new assets to be created.

Image credit: Gameranx, Ysbryd Games

Overall, I love absolutely everything about World of Horror. It really shines as an example of just how far a single auteur can take a labour of love in the indie game scene. I just hope it doesn’t get stuck in Steam Early Access hell for years, but the fact that it’s coming to PS4 and the Nintendo Switch later on in its development cycle seems to bode well. For the amount of polish this game has I’m perfectly happy with the £11.39 price tag, especially considering that more free content is coming to the game regularly.

I don’t think this is a game for everyone though. If you like high-stress high-reward gameplay served to you with a bleak atmosphere ripped straight from the pages of The Shadow over Innsmouth and Hellstar Remina, this is a game for you. In fact, if you also like Darkest Dungeon, Banner Saga, Hyper Light Drifter, or FTL, I’d happily recommend this game as well.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to praise the Old Ones.

“E̴̬̫͔̾͑v̷̻͍̪̂̆̽ȩ̵̙̖͝r̸̜̻̹͌̔͒ ̶̛͓̮̫T̴̺̩̃̑ȟ̷̠̱̖̈͠ḙ̷̍͋ḭ̴͍͉̅r̵̻̔̋̚͜ ̴̦͎͉̀p̵̲̣̈́̍ṟ̵̊̉́ǎ̵̯͚̯i̴̯̲͝ͅŝ̸̮̰͎e̴͕͇̓ŝ̷͎̲̌,̴̘͉͒ ̶̣̳̆̆a̸̠̤̘̕n̸͎̞̽̌̏d̵͙̼̲̿ ̶̳̉ȧ̸͉̫̩b̵̙̔̈́̋ǔ̷̟n̷̪̼̋̈̕d̶̢͓͒͝ą̶̛̼̪̈́n̸̰̲͌c̶̜̋̂͝ȩ̷̥̃ ̷̰͗͜t̷͕͖̓͋͠o̷̻̯̊̿ͅ ̴̠͔̺̎̌̃t̷̙̊̏̕ḧ̴̝̠e̴̤͝ ̶͚͍̋B̵̜̖̏͂ḷ̶͎̟̌a̵̭͎̺̽c̵̻̭͐k̶̼͎͌̒͋ ̷̡̲́̎̈ͅG̸̺̼͗̿͘ò̷̺a̴̭͉̳͊͒t̶̡̋ ̴͕̗́͂̔ọ̸͒̈́f̸̢͖͕͌͆̂ ̸̞͔̹͐t̶̜̝́̈́h̴̖̃̄̿ê̴͓̈́ ̴͓͈̝̃W̶̤͚̬̃̂́o̸͚̮̻̐o̴̥̜͈͑͋d̷̛̩̋s̷̤̓͝.̴̰̈́̈́͐ ̷̗̆͗I̴̧̩͗̐̑ä̷̻̆̔̍!̴̻͇́̋̈ͅ ̷̭̋̔S̵̛͉̼̒h̸̠̠̰̀̀u̶̞͋͗̿b̸̼̮͝-̴̞̍N̶̳̳̼̾i̸̢̦̦̅͛g̸̠̒̈̏g̶̡͚̐̋̏u̶̯̽r̸̡̭̰̓̈́̓a̵͑́ͅt̵̺̎͠ͅh̷͓̱̉͠!̶̤̣͚̇̉ ̴͇̳̔I̷̯͈͑̈́̋ä̶̺̋̊!̶̩̔̕ ̴͇̪͌͂Š̴͍͝h̷̖̙̄͂̒u̸̼̿͝b̶̨̤͍̀̂-̷͉͚͌̉̽͜N̶̜̈́ì̵ͅg̵̼̠͊g̵̙̘̻̏̋u̵͉̬͒r̷͎͇̄̃a̸̮̼̿t̴͕͒ȟ̶̙̋ͅ!̷͕̹͎̅ ̸͉̘̃͊̅T̷̺͇͎̀ȟ̸̳̣̞̋͂é̸̱̦̜̇͘ ̶̡̯̘̑̐Ḅ̸̡̟̃͒l̸̬̅̋á̶̡͑͝c̶̥͐͋k̴̪͕͋̕͝ ̴̧̢͉̿͑Ǵ̷̼̲̻̉ō̶͓͍͑ā̷͕̖͋͠t̷̙̽̍́͜ ̴̨̖̽͆o̶̠̐f̴̢̘̠̎ ̶̝̈́t̵̠̟̤̓͂̕h̸͙͖̩̊̌e̶̪̙͆̾ ̶͎̳͗W̷̤̬̩̎͆ơ̶̘̳̾̄o̸͛̈̌ͅd̷̲̗̔s̶̭͉̝̄̃͌ ̷̢͂̕ẁ̶̢͌i̷̦̐͝ṱ̵̋̕h̶̥̜̗̊͗̉ ̶͉̋a̷͖͓̽̈ ̷̻͂T̶̼̉̾h̶̡͍̏̃̚o̸͈̱͆u̴̲̓̾̉s̴͍͗ą̶͌̒̑n̴̰̏̋͑ď̸̟̖̄ ̶̗̐̈́Y̸̦̔̓̚ǒ̵͚͙̠̐ư̸̘̜̾̊n̶͉̾̾̕ĝ̶͉͔̻̀̈́!̶͈͙͓̂”

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