Striving for Light: Survival might sound like a strange name, but it might just be my new favorite action roguelite. Striving for Light: Survival is a new game that’s been in early access this past year from German developer, Igniting Spark Games. You can find the game on Steam. Keep reading to learn if you should drop a few bucks on this hidden gem.
The game’s core concept is that it has taken the fast twitchy action of a game like Vampire Survivors or Brotato, and combined it with the ever-expanding skill tree of Path of Exile. The prospect is simple and easy to grasp, but hides a mountain of depth beneath the surface. It’s going to be hard to avoid comparisons to Vampire Survivors, being that it’s the best game in the genre right now. But being quite honest, SFL: Survival manages to offer a decent indie take on the genre’s conventions.
What is the gameplay like?
In a word? FAST! You get into a run by picking a character and their two starter weapons. One will be a melee weapon, and the other will be ranged. You get two basic attacks, and then it’s time to make the first real choices about your build. When you pick skills, you want to make sure you’re paying attention to the weapons you choose at the beginning. There are a couple dozen different weapons, and each one has a pretty cool effect. You will unlock new ones as you play by doing things like unlocking a large number of the same skill.
Next, you pick a map, which is just a small square zone that spawns a certain series of enemies per map. Each phase of a run is broken up into frenetic little chunks of chaos and bloodshed, and it’s tons of fun. Every time you complete a 30-to 60-second loop, you get a chance to pick a couple of skills on the tree. This is where your build really comes together. For example, I made a totally busted minion build using a minion focused weapon and picking Projectile and Minion nodes on the tree.
As you unlock a new skill, the skill tree adds new nodes; each one pulling from the combination of basic skills and your chosen bonus skills. You get things like Weapon and Projectile Damage or Attack Speed by default, but the more unique skills come in the form of things like Swirl: which increases the range of your projectiles and changes how they operate. There are a lot of choices here, and you’re almost guaranteed to have a bad build at some points. That’s entirely OK, and all part of learning how to play this great little game.
As you level up, you will need to be careful in how you pick your skill, but not too careful. Every so often when you kill Elite or Boss enemies, you will get Shards. You can use these to remap your skill tree connections, reroll the bonus given by an unused node, or even refund a previously used node to get that skill point back. You will also want to pick up Hearts and Light Fragments as you play, these are how you heal and gain XP as you slay foes.
What I like
As someone who puts a lot of time into Path of Exile and Vampire Survivors, this game’s aesthetic is my jam. I love the idea of fusing these two games together, and I can see myself putting some time into it in the future.
The combat alone is surprisingly fun. You need to constantly be dodging to avoid the torrent of enemies heading for your face, and it’s both incredibly easy and fun to do. The fast-paced hack-and-slash along with the skills is a potent combination.
And speaking of skills, the way the system has been designed is like crack. The randomized nature of the skill tree means you can’t plan too far ahead, and have to consider your choices more, adding to the challenge. It also makes for a great feeling with you reroll a skill and get exactly what you want.
The variety of skills is randomly chosen, giving you plenty of options as you play through the game. The ability to customize your skill tree by adding elements to it at the beginning of a run is a nice choice. Combining that with the encouraged replayability of the map and weapon unlocks is a huge boon to this game’s fun factor. When you complete wave 20 on a map, you have a choice. You can continue into a much harder Endless mode with your current build, or reset your progress for a new build. This also unlocks the next Tier of that map. This encourages you to take on more challenging maps for better rewards. You better bring your A-game though!
The art itself is very simple but still appealing. Being a two-person team, the accomplishment of creating unique enemy and effect designs is commendable. Igniting Spark Games definitely succeeded at the basic level of making it easy to distinguish what kind of enemy you’re facing.
There is one thing that will be an issue with the art design choices made in Striving for Light: Survival. We’ll talk about that now, along with the other issues I had during the game.
There are some issues
This game is pretty fun and has a very tight gameplay loop for a simple indie title. It’s clear that the pair behind this game is dedicated to making a highly polished and fun experience. Still, there are a few things that should be improved.
Clarity of attacks is a pretty big issue. Despite the fun and frantic action of dodging around the small maps, the ability to actually see when you’re about to eat an attack could be improved. A red outline will usually try to denote an incoming attack, although this is all too often lost in the mess of later stages. Also, the charging attacks that some enemies use will pose a real problem for melee builds because of this. You will find yourself often running headlong into enemy attacks and scrambling to find a Heart pickup.
Controller support is a bit hit-and-miss. Though the inputs work by default, remapping the buttons isn’t possible in the in-game menus. The only inputs listed in the control settings correspond to mouse and keyboard controls. When you spawn into a map, you will get an on-screen prompt telling you what to do, but it will be a minor annoyance for some users. Being unable to remap controller layouts excludes some users who need that option, like disabled gamers who often use that feature to create custom control schemes. Luckily, the controls by default are fairly intuitive, my wired Xbox controller was easy to pick up and use.
The enemies don’t track towards you, which given the small nature of the map is both a good and bad mechanic. In a game like Vampire Survivors, the large and endless maps require nearby enemies to track the player. But with the limited and tiny maps in Striving for Light: Survival the enemies spawn only when you get close, and they stand in place. This requires the player to constantly hunt down targets while chasing the loot from slain foes. It’s a potent and addictive mixture, but it can be a bit infuriating if you’re working with a sub-optimal build. And remember those issues with attack clarity I mentioned earlier? They can rear their ugly head in this instance as well. While you’re dodging through the pack with a melee-based build, you’re almost guaranteed to get hit by an attack you can’t see.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you’re a fan of the game concept at all. Despite it’s problems, there’s a ton of fun to be had here for just $5 USD. You can find the game on Steam. It’s even 20% off right now, and has a free demo. There’s literally no reason why you shouldn’t check it out.