Klei's new co-op brawler makes a strong first impression in early access

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Image for Klei's new co-op brawler makes a strong first impression in early access
(Image credit: Klei Entertainment)

I like a game that chucks me into the thick of it with minimal preamble: Just beat me up! I'll learn! Klei's new co-op brawler is one of those: You can handwave the NPC welcoming committee who tries to explain the controls and just start swinging a hammer at forest monsters within seconds. My kind of game.

I've only played about an hour of Rotwood, which released on Steam in early access today, but for $11 (even less right now since it's on sale), I'd already recommend it to my friends. They've invested as much in lesser games just to have something new to play in co-op, and I've even been enjoying Rotwood as a solo game.

Rotwood's roguelite structure is typical of contemporary games: In the first biome, you hop between 2.5D forest glades, bashing away at the enemies in each before moving on to the next, which might contain more enemies, a shopkeeper, or a surprise. After clearing a room, you're sometimes rewarded with a new power. These are minor bonuses at first—move faster when you enter a room, shoot a projectile after every three melee attacks—but as in games like Slay the Spire and Risk of Rain, you get more and more OP as you stack on synergistic powers and upgrade them. By the time I reached the first boss, the first heavy attack I used in a room dealt 500 damage to every enemy. 

To complete an area and unlock the next one, you have to fully traverse it in one life, which includes defeating a miniboss and boss, and you only get one health potion to use along the way (unless you find a way to refill it). It's easy to keep the basic bug-vegetable forest enemies at bay by spamming light and heavy attacks, and they generously telegraph their attacks so you can dodge roll out of their way, but you eat a lot of damage when you're hit. It's not extraordinarily difficult, but it only takes a few lapses of attention before you're cooked, and there are unlockable difficulty levels.

When I started to discover combos, I probably made things harder for myself by going for imaginary style points. There's a great attack called "golf swing" where you dodge roll in one direction, and then immediately spin 180-degrees and swing your hammer (the starting weapon) like you're trying to send whatever was behind you moonward. Chaining 15-plus attacks to clear a room with a single string of button presses feels nice.

Except for the "press F8 to send feedback" message at the bottom of the screen, Rotwood doesn't feel especially early accessey—at no point did I encounter a big under construction sign or placeholder asset. I go back and forth on whether I like the muted colors and rounded cartoon forms of Klei's signature art style, but either way it's distinctive and readable, and I like that the customizable player characters are cute without being cutesy. 

A 2D character fighting forest monsters with a hammer.

(Image credit: Klei Entertainment)

Where it seems like Rotwood's unfinishedness will present itself most acutely is in its length, but it's hardly just a prototype. Rotwood's early access version includes four biomes, with mini-bosses and bosses, and four weapon classes. Klei estimates that mastering those presently available weapons and locations will take "10-25 hours."

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More of everything will be added throughout Rotwood's one-to-two year early access period, says Klei, and the developer will also increase Rotwood's price as it makes those additions. Rotwood is currently $11/£9.29, and has been slightly discounted on Steam for the launch. 

I tend not to go in for early access games—why not let everyone else do the beta testing and just get the 1.0 version when it's ready?—but Rotwood is made to be replayed, so it's the sort of game I could see filling up on now, and then coming back to in a year or two when there's more stuff.

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.

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