For the demo, I decided to stick with the default character. Partly because they have a built-in second life (which I haven't lost yet, thank you very much), and partly because the vanilla character is always the best way to gauge a new roguelike. My arsenal includes a standard aim-and-shoot full auto gun, a fireball area-of-effect attack, a ricochet shot, and a basic teleport-style dodge. Imagine if Risk of Rain's Commando and Huntress went to bullet hell boot camp, and you'll get the idea.
Gatekeeper strikes a delicate balance with its bullet magnetism. Abilities feel intuitive to land, but you can't simply blindfire into the crowd and expect success. Enemies range from slow-moving golems and sentient obelisks to homing droids, and the key to victory lies in kiting enemies while prioritizing targets. I'll take down stragglers with my trusty gun while saving my big abilities for juicy crowds, triggering all the items I've collected along the way. Some of my favorites so far resemble the ones I loved in Risk of Rain: enemies dropping explosives upon death, seeker projectiles activated by attacking, setting enemies ablaze, and more.
One aspect I particularly appreciate in Gatekeeper is the significance of leveling up by collecting XP. It's reminiscent of Vampire Survivors, where you choose boosts to your HP, damage, regen, movement speed, and cooldown reduction. These stats, in turn, influence your item preferences. As you progress, you also upgrade your abilities, increasing their area of effect, adding additional effects like burn damage, and more. Your entire kit evolves beyond the items you stack up. So far, I've been pouring all my resources into enhancing my fireball ability, and I have zero regrets.
The game offers a satisfying variety of objectives. In the time it took me to defeat one miniboss, I've defended charging totems from waves of incoming enemies while gracefully dodging fiery hazards, collected and deposited ancient keys like a master archaeologist, and endured challenging horde modes with set kill counts. The levels may lack verticality, but their design complements the flow of the game, ensuring that the important elements—items and enemies—are always clearly visible.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Gatekeeper is its delightful soundtrack. No one can quite match composer Chris Christodoulou's synth-heavy lullabies, but the game's drum 'n bass beats pulsate through my ears even as I write this, with the demo paused in the background, beckoning me to jump back in and inevitably meet my demise. Gatekeeper may not be the most groundbreaking roguelike I've ever played, but it handles a captivating combination of cool ideas with finesse. It has undoubtedly secured a spot on my wishlist, eagerly awaiting its Q1 2024 launch. (You can also try the free prologue version, which boasts nearly 3,800 "very positive" reviews on Steam and provides a similar experience.)
Now, let's take a moment to talk about a co-op roguelike that has exceeded all my expectations. Developed by indie powerhouse Klei Entertainment, known for their work on the beloved game Don't Starve, this gem is an absolute must-play Steam Next Fest demo. Trust me, you won't want to miss it.