Jaykstah Needs Food, Badly: Gauntlet™ Slayer Edition Review

Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is the fully updated, final version of the Gauntlet game that was released in 2014. Slayer Edition is the 2.0 update, which revamped gameplay, combat, and progression, and introduced itself to the console ecosystem. Arrowhead’s contract with Warner Bros. had expired, and so they are no longer developing the game further, but it still has a lot to offer for new and experienced players alike. Here’s my review of a 3-year-old arcade dungeon crawler in 2017.

Game: Gauntlet™ Slayer Edition |  Release Date: September 23, 2014 |  Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios  |  Publisher: WB Games

My game reviews are split into multiple rated sections with an overall rating listed at the end. 

What is Gauntlet™ Slayer Edition?

If you are already familiar with other Gauntlet games or have already seen gameplay of this one, feel free to skip this section. For everyone else, here’s an explanation of what Gauntlet is all about so the rest of the review makes sense: Gauntlet is an arcade hack-and-slash dungeon crawler known for its myriad of enemies, distinctive characters, and gameplay ranging from casual couch play to intense and unfair difficulties. As all Gauntlet games have held a lot of the same tropes, as tradition this 2014 installment does the same while allowing for more variety in play. You have a choice between Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf, and Wizard, all with their own styles of combat and abilities. Warrior and Valkyrie offer impactful melee attacks to tear through hordes of lesser enemies and giving Valkyrie powerful defense while Elf offers much greater speed and precision tailored to the takedown of more important enemies and leaving the rest to Wizard, who has a set of 9 spells which are called by button combinations. Each character also has slots for a weapon, relic, and potion. Weapons allow a special attack with a cooldown and this ability is dependent on the choice of weapon. Relics offer special abilities or buffs that can be very powerful once upgraded but have an extended cooldown. Potion abilities are extremely useful and can be the most powerful tool in a character’s arsenal, but since only a finite amount of potions are available per level players are forced to conserve them for more important moments. Gameplay overall involves slaying a path through dungeons filled with many types of enemies that include one-hit-dead lesser monsters who flood from spawners, more powerful mages and occasional mini-boss type necromancers and liches. After a handful of levels, there is a boss battle before progressing into a new set of dungeons with new scenery and tougher enemies. Gold is also collected throughout levels to purchase new potion abilities, weapons, and runes, as well as upgrading runes and getting into the fashionable cosmetic items. Gameplay is also sprinkled with charming character dialogue and snarky remarks by the narrator.

Now that you are familiar with the game, we can move on to my ratings from ~15 hours of Gauntlet™ Slayer Edition experience as of writing this article.

Interface (7/10)

With a game presented in an arcade-like fashion, such as Gauntlet™ Slayer Edition, one point of importance is the intuitiveness and accessibility of the interface. This category refers to various menus outside of gameplay as well as other options a user would be scrolling through.

While this game does a pretty excellent job keeping things concise, there are some aspects of the menu layouts that I don’t enjoy. Starting with the good: for the most part, the menus are intuitive enough and clean of any unnecessary text or flare while still being stylized to fit the Gauntlet aesthetic. It is split up into rectangular buttons or boldface text that clearly points users towards what they would want, such as various game modes or settings. It is also very usable with both a controller and a mouse, which is definitely an upside as this is a PC game first and foremost. There is also adequate description when needed, such as for the various items to equip in the nicely laid out lobby screen. A help/tutorial menu is also available and gives apt descriptions of game mechanics along with screenshots, but is a bit too vague when referencing alternate abilities available through items that aren’t part of the default loadout.

My issue comes mainly with the frustration of which menu items are available at which time. When you are in the lobby screen, map, or other screens in-between the lobby and the main menu, there is no way to access the settings menu. This is frustrating because it forces the user to either exit a lobby that may be formed already in order to change game settings or wait until they are in-game to do so. Arguably a larger frustration, though this may be implemented by design, is the lack of a way to access the Masteries screen in-game. Masteries are rewards earned for completing challenges with small rewards given through incremental completion. I mostly play endless mode to grind masteries anyways, so not being able to view mastery progress anywhere but the main menu is quite irking.

Graphics / Visual Presentation (7/10)

This isn’t the most beautiful game out there, not even by 2014 standards, but it does have a charm to it. The textures and shading techniques are nothing to write home about but do their job perfectly fine without being too overboard or distracting. While I do wish there were a bit more ambient occlusion and more eye-candy shaders, it isn’t an eyesore by any means. The lighting throughout levels is atmospheric enough, but some smaller rooms do become a bit too dark for comfort.

The cracks begin to show on lower end systems though. I mention that this isn’t an amazing looking game by any means, however, the optimization isn’t quite up to par. While the Bitsquid engine used does offer flexibility in some regards, despite not being the most demanding 3D game out there it does struggle to run on integrated graphics. Most of the time spent playing this game has been at my desk on my main rig, but having to turn graphics down and lower the resolution to the minimum in order for it to run on a laptop packing some mid-range integrated graphics (a laptop which also runs games such as Warframe without a hitch, mind you) is disappointing when looking for some hack and slash action on the go. Anything higher than 800×600 on the lowest possible settings only grants an average of 30fps with frequent drops. I’m not saying that every developer should cater to Intel HD, but a top-down game with textures that aren’t of the highest fidelity and lacks intense volumetric lighting effects or other demanding features should be able to run on a midrange laptop just fine given proper optimization. Even disabling shaders and other more advanced features in the game’s config file doesn’t net much gain.

There are other small issues in terms of visuals such as a camera bug that occurs when progressing to the next room while a larger enemy is stuck in the previous room. This doesn’t happen very often at all, but if it does occur it does become a nuisance until reaching the end of a level and forcing the camera to reset.

Gameplay + Progression (9/10)

While the presentation of this version of Gauntlet does have its faults, gameplay is king in an arcade dungeon crawler. Combat is definitely the showcase here. Each character has their own style of attacks ranging from the hack-and-slash bull-rushes of Thor the Warrior to the complex button-combo spellcasting of Merlin the Wizard. There’s a playstyle for everyone here, and Slayer addition separates potions into their own attacks and has equippable weapons that change some of a character’s available skills. Even a simple melee-based character can venture into AoE and buff territory via potions and relics that grant extra special abilities. Compared to other Gauntlet games, the customization and building aspects allow for much more flexible playstyles and adds to the experience while not being too complex as to take away from the arcade nature of the game.

Multiplayer is also a key aspect of any Gauntlet game, and Slayer Edition doesn’t disappoint with options for both couch co-op to online parties that also allows the creation of public lobbies to match up with randoms online. There are 3 difficulty options available, and while Hard isn’t too bad while playing solo, the difficulty and amount of monsters that spawn scale with the amount of added players in a party to add to the challenge. Even moving from 1 to 2 players in a Hard mode campaign seemed significantly more challenging as spawners and stronger enemies have even more health than they normally would at high difficulty. No matter what difficulty is desired, there is a certain joy in joining up with some friends and fighting over gold or yelling at Elf for destroying Warrior’s much-needed food.

Overall the combat is immensely satisfying and is a great deal of fun even while auto-piloting endless mode. Speaking of which, the gameplay itself does have some faults in the mix. Some main complaints about Slayer Edition stem from the changes occurring between the old version of the game and the Slayer Edition rebrand. These include making relic abilities (equippable powers that are extremely effective) cooldown-based rather than potion-based allowing for more frequent use. Another mechanic, skull tokens, allows for respawns which used to be earned via chaining kills (larger combos) but are now earned over time by getting any type of kills. Despite these changes that have made the game somewhat less difficult in some regards, it is a ton of fun via the combat and character building regardless and still offers a challenge at the higher range of endless mode and later in the campaign.

Soundtrack (8/10)

The sound in this game is pleasant to listen to and adds to the overall feel of the game. It isn’t anything crazy or revolutionary but adds just enough flare to be worthwhile. Opening the main menu starts up a more orchestral version of the iconic “Song A” from Gauntlet on the NES, which immediately gets the Gauntlet mood going. Throughout gameplay, there are basic yet interesting orchestral tracks that quietly hum along in the background of the slaughter.

Since this category is addressing audio, it should be made abundantly clear that the narrator’s remarks and the characters’ witty and impulsive remarks really draw me in.

DLC / Microtransactions (9/10)

With a quick-play game such as Gauntlet, I would hope that intrusive DLC and microtransactions would be a non-issue. Luckily, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. There is only one DLC, which is the Necromancer character. No microtransactions to get more gold, no premium currency. The only reason this category has a tick in is that the necromancer character is $5. While it is a very interesting character to play as this seems like a lot of shekels for one playable character while other Gauntlet games had many more characters to unlock without being paid.

Overall (8/10)

While there are some minor flaws left in the game, assumingly because development has already ended and there will be no more updates, it is a great bit of fun overall. The combat is satisfying and new ability mechanics add variety and character building that hasn’t been available in the previous installment. Adding players for couch co-op and the inclusion of an endless mode just add to the amount of fun to be had. Points were taken due to minor issues and annoyances, but from my own experience, this is a definite recommendation for a great time in an arcade hack-and-slash action game that will keep even those seeking punishment pressing restart to fight through hordes of undead and magical creatures once again.

And remember… don’t destroy food!