City of Brass should be a game I love. It’s a rogue-lite, it has a neat Arabian Nights theme, and the game is made by former Bioshock developers. It feels like the recipe for success, which is why I wanted to play this game. Well, I played it, and now I am here to tell you that this recipe isn’t as successful as I hoped. This is City of Brass, and one of my wishes is for a better game.
Out in the desert is a mythical city full of treasure, and you are a thief ready to snatch it all up. Life isn’t that easy though, as for the city is also filled with cursed enemies and traps. It is up to you to take as much treasure as you can while trying to survive in a city destined to kill you.
From the way I described the plot of the game, it should be no surprise that there isn’t much a story to talk about here. You are here to take as much money as you can, and that’s about it. The game does a little bit of world-building at the beginning of the game, but it’s nothing worth writing about. The best part of this game story-wise is the setting, as a cursed Arabian city past its prime is a lot of fun to be in. Out of all the games I have played with a lack of story, though, City of Brass is the one I wish had a story. Fully diving into the story of how this cursed city came to be as well as a story revolving around the main character as they navigate the city could have been a great story to tell, but it is one not found in this game. City of Brass is a gameplay game more than a story game, but I wish there was something to sink my teeth into.
Most rogue-lite and rogue-like games are gameplay-heavy anyways, so I can’t say I’m surprised by the lack of story. What that means for me, however, is that the gameplay needs to be worth it, because it is the one thing this game has. Unfortunately for this game, the one thing it has isn’t so great either. The game does have some unique mechanics that are fun to play around with, but the game also has its fair share of frustrating mechanics as well.
It doesn’t take long for you to find the word “traps” somewhere in the description of this game, which is both a prominent feature in the game’s level design as well as the most frustrating element in this game. Levels are filled with a wide variety of traps that range from spikes coming out of the floor to poison darts and even bounce pads that don’t even damage you but are always in front of doorways and make it really hard to enter the next room. Each level is littered with so many traps, it can often feel like there are more traps than enemies. While traps started out as a cool way to kill enemies, they soon became a frustrating annoyance, and I eventually started to dodge traps more than attack enemies. The traps in this game made me constantly look at the ground and felt like cheap ways of losing health.
You can’t talk traps without talking combat, which is where I think the best part of the game is. In this game, you have a sword in one hand (or a different weapon depending on what character you choose) and a whip in the other. The sword combat is nothing worth talking about, but the whip makes the combat shine. With the whip, you can daze enemies, trip them, push or pull them, and even whip rings hanging from the ceiling to swing around. Combining the whip’s abilities with traps shows just how creative combat can be. I did eventually hit a point where I didn’t care about creative kills and just wanted to kill enemies, but the whip is still good for that as well. The one complaint I have with combat has to do with controls, as for I think the character moves too slow and the whip controls have to be incredible precise; but even with those issues in mind, the whip is still a fun tool to use.
Keeping on the topic of combat, I found that the game has a good level of enemy variety. The game has four different themed areas, and each area has its own set of enemies. There are enemies that attack with sword, archers, charging enemies, magical enemies, and more. Learning the different enemy weaknesses gives the gameplay some variety, which is something the game lacks. What isn’t so great are the bosses, which can be found at the end of each area. All of them, including the final boss, are incredibly easy and take no time at all to kill, making me question their existence in this game. Still, they only make up a tiny portion of the game, while the common enemies make up a vast majority.
All of this ultimately leads to what you do in the game. City of Brass is all about picking up as much gold as possible. Treasures can be found all over the place, and it is all for the taking. The ultimate question is, then, what you do with that gold. Unfortunately, the answer is not that much. In each level, genies can be found selling various things. With money, you can buy weapons, disable traps, recruit a skeleton friend, buy insurance, and buy health. While there are various things to buy within the levels, I found it surprising that there is nothing to buy outside of the level. There are no permanent upgrades or new items to buy, and it ultimately made the concept of trying to get as much money as possible for me pointless. What’s worse is that the only objectives in each level is to pick up money and leave, which resulted in the gameplay feeling repetitive pretty early on. What’s even worse than that is the fact that I never felt the need to buy new weapons because none of them felt meaningfully improved over the base weapons. As a result, I often found myself blazing through levels not even worrying about money or killing enemies just to get to the end.
The only two things that could draw me back into playing again are the character level and trying to find every item in the game. As you play, you level up, which unlocks new characters and modifiers. The modifiers, which are basic things like more or less health, more or less enemies, and others, adds some variety to the gameplay. They became a major help when I started to become tired of the game and just wanted to see the end, in which I strapped a bunch of positive modifiers to myself and got to the end pretty fast. The different characters also add variety to the gameplay, as for each character has their own unique weapon and traits. Also, trying to 100% complete the game by finding every item is something worth doing as well if you are looking for an excuse to keep playing the game. At the end of the day though, different characters and modifiers still cannot save the game from becoming monotonous.
In conclusion, City of Brass is a game that could’ve been great, but ends up being frustrating, repetitive, and empty. While there is something to be said about the game’s combat and Arabian setting, the frustrating amount of traps and repetitive gameplay makes the game hard to play, and the lack of upgrades makes it hard to come back. It’s not the worse game I have ever played, but there are far better rogue-lites out there.