It’s Fire Emblem, without all the anime and self-seriousness.
The following review is of Pit People was completed while the game was in Early Access. At that time, a score was provided. In the wake of the full release, we have re-evaluated aspects of this game and updated below the original review.
Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been too keen on turned based strategy games like Pit People. Perhaps it’s my age, or maybe my tastes have just changed. Either way, I actually jumped at the chance to give Pit People a go, especially after discovering that this was a new joint from The Behemoth, the folks behind the beat-em-up Castle Crashers.
From the outset, the connections to Castle Crashers is clear as day, as the art design and even setting feels very similar to what Crashers was for the team. While it feels like repetition for a bit, the sketch-like style is just way too inviting. Thankfully, Pit People also deviates from the mold in terms of gameplay. As I explained before, Pit People is a strategy game where a party of maximum 6 characters face off against an opposing force in turn based battles on a grid.
If you’ve been playing Fire Emblem Heroes, this is instantly familiar. The normal setups are all here: swordsmen, heavy units, ranged units, healers, etc. Where most games use a square based grid, Pit People uses hexagons, which creates more of a 2.5 dimensional view as opposed to a top down view. Parties can be any combination of units, and a single unit can be indicated as the “leader,” which lends them a buff. Depending on the stats of the unit-which can be modified by equipment, more on that later-different ranges and movement options are available. Other factors come from the maps themselves. Obstacles are placed variously to try to create strategic advantage; but most of the time it just keeps units from moving in straight lines for a little bit. There seems to be the implication that weather may also impact maps, but at the time of playing, I didn’t experience any of that.
While I know that hearing “Early Access” leaves a taste of a poorly slapped together alpha project, Pit People actually has quite a bit going for it in terms of content. You’ll start in the game’s story mode, which is the lighter part of the experience. For what it is worth, the introduction to the game’s setup is one of the better highlights I’ve seen this year, as The Behemoth’s humor kicks in right away and is properly deployed. Short version: a cosmic teddy bear (really) collides with the earth, breaking it into the grids used for battle and leaving society in a strange mix of medieval sensibilities and Mad Max aggression. While I am not a personal fan of putting stock into time spent, the story mode at the time of the first release only ran for about an hour. While that does sound very thin, it is still filled with humor and the game’s map is still open after the cut off. Here is where Pit People opens up with what it really has to offer.
The adventures of Pit People can navigate the world around them, coming across various random encounters. Fighting these encounters is beneficial for two reasons: first, there is an extensive loot system of equipment that also serve as cosmetics. All of the items are, according to the developers, balanced in advance, but are pretty ridiculous looking. Things like old memes and references can be worn as helmets, various weapons aren’t really weapons at all, and more. There are always encounters and missions to be had, even if they don’t advance the story, and the loot grinding always brings a new laugh. The second is just as important: certain characters can trap enemies and you can take them back to your own homestead and recruit them. This is the way to build up your party of different members of abilities.
You’ll need all of these before stepping into the titular Pit. Here, players can go up against computer enemies, play together in co-op (even on PC), or play online against others. Rewards can be picked up here as well. The team has promised rankings that will yield extra rewards, even if you’re not the top. The multiplayer is just combat, but it is fun to go up against other bizarre creatures and teams. While there was some brief lagging in places, there were no disconnects in the matches I played. I feel like either this or the loot hunting will be the main thing drawing players back into Pit People, though I myself can only play so much multiplayer.
Thankfully, The Behemoth are not some sort of two-bit wanna be developer. They’ve been in this business before, and have already proven to be committed to making sure Pit People reaches its full potential. Between me receiving the review version (before the launch on Steam) and now, the game has seen two major updates and various fixes and balances throughout. They are also very active out on boards and in the Steam Community page getting feedback regularly. Normally, this wouldn’t be noteworthy, but these guys are selling an intentionally unfinished game. Being able to feel confident in the purchase is huge, and I believe this early community support is a major step in the right direction.
It’s difficult to actually place Pit People on a scale of recommendation. On the one hand, there’s a very solid foundation for a great game. On the other, that great game isn’t quite here yet. A huge point of contention is going to come down to whether or not you’re willing to pay for the frame of a game. What I will say is that I’ve played a lot of finalized products that don’t feel as complete as what The Behemoth has managed to output so far. There are far more pros than there are cons, even if that con is a huge one.
Looking at the grand scheme, it doesn’t look like Early Access-style games are going anywhere. If that’s the case, Pit People is a gold standard in exactly how to do this right and deserves celebration as such.
UPDATE: Pit People entered full release on March 2nd, 2018, just a little over a year after its Early Access debut. Through that time, The Behemoth have taken great care to polish off what was already a great experience and succeeded gracefully. The game now includes the full story, a brand new world, and even more challenges. What is very striking, however, are the various quality of life improvements. While menus were not problematic in the past, they have been optimized significantly. The over-world remains mostly unchanged, but now has side quests to undertake while already out on adventures. Additionally, audio has been improved and includes more background voices to give the world more life. This is even better than I would have guessed back when this review originally ran and as a result have opted to increase the review score (originally an 8) to reflect the improvements.
Developer: The Behemoth
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Released: January 13th, 2017 (Early Access), March 2nd, 2018 (Full Release)
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