Developer / Publisher – Well Told Entertainment
Price – US $34.99 / CAN $46.99 / EU €34.99 / UK £29.99
Release Date – October 31st, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing
Store Links – PlayStation, Meta, Steam
This is The Foglands, a Roguelike shooter set in a dystopian future on a strange planet where you play as a runner, tasked with gathering resources and stopping a giant monster from destroying your settlement. Where Roguelikes seem to come out every other week let’s see if The Foglands can stand above the rest and give us something special, shall we.
At the game’s onset, you are treated to an optional tutorial which I do recommend playing as it does explain some of the games unique mechanics and introduces the world in which you’ll be exploring. Basically, you live on a planet where humans (and other creatures) were forced to live underground and because of this, supplies are rare. Venturing out into the foggy depths are Runners, people brave enough to fight the beasts hiding in the shadows and thanks to a being who appears to be ‘death’ you are now one of them as he decided to bring you back to life whenever you die to try once more to defeat that great beast wrecking your home. Why has he chosen you…well that’s what you’ll have to find out.
While the opening stage and tutorial may explain some of the game’s mechanics, it doesn’t explain any of the roguelike elements which made my initial few runs a little confusing. There is a ‘tutorial’ option in the menu which does explain how it all works, but I did not even bother to check out that menu as I figured it was just a repeat or explanation of the original tutorial. Regardless, on each run you’ll collect scrap which can spent at vendors during that run or sent back up to the surface to be spent prior to your next go. You’ll also find runner keys which unlock cards or rooms available to find on your next run. Those cards will give you special buffs that can affect your health, gun and melee damage as well as offering up special abilities and powers to help make each run a little easier though if you die, any of these buffs will be lost. You’ll also get ‘ichor’ which can only be obtained by killing bosses or possibly appearing in a random chest which can permanently upgrade your weapons, health and abilities. Once I figured this all out, the game loop became much more apparent, but admittedly, my 1st few goes were nothing short of frustrating,
I neglected to purchase a weapon before my 1st trip into the depths and was forced to use my fists only which doesn’t work well at all thanks to incredibly poor hit detection in VR. Punching my way through the easy to kill imp-like monsters was relatively painless though I eventually died and had to start again. My next go went better though I ran into rooms that required maps to unlock them and ironically also got lost as each run is procedurally generated and I found it easy to get turned around and would love an actual map to tell where I’ve been and where I need to explore. What I also didn’t realize is how important it is to explore every nook and cranny as scrap, keys and chests can be hidden in some very tricky places and my best runs were always when I took the time to find everything. I don’t think the game does a good enough job at explaining the game loop and while I did figure it all out eventually, it felt like my 1st few runs were more wastes of time than learning experience…or maybe I’m just a little slow…I dunno
Regardless, once I did have the game loop on lock and started using my runner keys to unlock map rooms 1st followed by the other cards, the game began to fall in to place. Unfortunately, outside of the bosses, it was rarely challenging, even with just the base pistol. Enemies aren’t bright with each of the 3 realms you visit introducing new foes that can almost all be exploited in 1 way or another. The game is fairly generous with ammo so if I was ever getting overwhelmed by enemies, which was rare, simply backing up while unloading allowed me to avoid taking any damage while firing with near reckless abandon. At your waist are 4 inventory slots which are needed for your weapons and items and just isn’t enough for what the game asks and on numerous occasions I was forced to dump items I wanted to keep for items (like health) which I know I may need. When not fighting you’ll be searching for all that loot with some special rooms having items locked behind doors triggered by switches hidden in the area or involve a little bit of platforming to jump to areas that can’t be walked too. I enjoyed these rooms, especially the map room ones as these ones will reveal a little backstory about the world or some of the runners that came before you. The story here is fairly light and really is little more than informational tid-bits about the past, but given the unique world you’ll be playing in, I did enjoy learning a little more about it.
The first boss gave me some trouble on my 1st few runs though once I figured out a strategy to defeat him, he was never an issue on subsequent attempts. Getting to the 2nd boss was easy enough as, like I said, the regular enemies don’t offer much challenge and for the record, I was playing on normal mode, not story which makes the game even easier. That 2nd boss provided much more challenge and I died 3 times against her (twice by backing off a ledge) which just started to annoy me as playing the game again up to that point, exploring every corner to ensure maximum loot and seeing the same rooms over and over, just rearranged, became a chore and I was getting fed up with how repetitious and easy it all was. My 4th attempt saw me the victor and onto the 3rd realm where I cruised through to the end of the game and defeated the big bad worm. Where many roguelikes offer up a reason to try again, The Foglands just challenged me to go again with no new motivations save for I guess unravelling some of the story revelations during those first runs, but my want to know more about the story could not outweigh the fatigue I had from the game, and I have no desire to attempt any more runs.
That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it’s not and I am admittedly not the biggest fan of roguelikes but for myself, this felt very repetitious, even for a roguelike and I was also fighting a few issues along the way. Now, keep in mind that I did review this ahead of a day 1 patch so some of these issues may (and hopefully will) be fixed when the game launches and I will avoid the problems I know are being fixed by release day. There is a slow-motion mechanic that triggers at random which turns everything black and white and lets you be a badass for a few seconds except that you can’t as for some reason, in VR, when slo-mo is triggered, your gun now behaves like you’re holding it with rubber arms making shots near impossible and even reloading a challenge. There’s a bug when you duck that kept getting me stuck in the floor forcing me to toggle the duck button until I was unstuck. That 1st boss creates a barrier to trap you inside it while peons take you out, but on 2 separate occasion, I got stuck in the barrier while the enemies just picked away at me and before you say that maybe intentional, I was stuck for like 30 seconds while I was slowly beat down so if it is intentional, it’s one of the cheapest and frustrating ways to die in any game I have ever played. Grabbing at chests and lockers can be finicky and, in order to see what’s inside each container, you need to open them all the way, something I also didn’t realize until a few runs in as the items inside don’t appear until the door is fully open. You have the option of toggling the grip button so you don’t need to hold the grip button while holding a weapon, but for some reason, this also affects your off-hand so with the toggle enabled, you need to press and release and press again to let go of anything in your off hand be it grenades, knives or even to place ammo at your waist. Outside of that boss attack, the rest of my issues were easy enough to avoid or deal with, but playing through an entire run while accommodating for jank just doesn’t make for the best time and even if all these issues were fixed, it doesn’t really address just how repetitious and easy this can be, even with only 1 or 2 permanent upgrades.
The Foglands does look good though with some highly detailed stages and enemies. As the world is perpetually bathed in a light fog, draw distance will be a little shorter but given that the fog a part of the environment, I never took offence to it as it did add to the overall mystery of every room. The game can be a little dark at times and dynamic lighting adds a nice level of realism to the exaggerated and cartoonish art style. Each of the 3 themed stages are littered with abandoned areas and items giving each stage its own unique flare and I really enjoyed the art design on display. For those wondering, outside of a drop in resolution from flat to VR and the reprojection used in the headset, which I barely noticed, the game looks just as good no matter which version you play. The entirety of the game has a western-steam punk feel mixed with a little bit of sci-fi which I really enjoyed with some of the set pieces I stumbled across being quite fun to walk through.
With that western themes comes a soundtrack that seems to match full of twanging guitars and banjo’s that really fit the aesthetic. Spatial audio is on point and the voice acting is solid leaving me with little to complain about when it comes to the overall presentation.
Ultimately, I think your love of Roguelikes will determine if The Foglands is for you. The story, while intriguing is fairly shallow and relies to heavily on repetition, which I know is a roguelike standard. The problem is that, excluding the bosses, it’s too easy and demands too much time to find all the items to make that run a success. I played for almost 7 hours with my final run clocking in at almost 2 and a half so there is a decent length game here assuming you enjoy exploring the same rooms and killing the same enemies without much in the way of challenge. Depsite how long it took me to beat the game once, I wasn’t exactly having the most fun making that $35 asking price feels a little high for what is ultimately just another roguelike.
Well Told Entertainment provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!