Diluvion: The Good, The Bad, and the Oh So Pretty

I had been watching this crowd-funded indie game for a long time, eagerly awaiting its release. Well, that release finally happened, and now that I’ve finally had a chance to play it I thought now would be a good time to do a review and see if the game truly lived up to its promises. In many ways the game met my expectations spectacularly, but unfortunately there were a few technical shortfalls that make me hesitant to give Diluvion a solid recommendation.

To give you guys a quick refresher: Diluvion is an open world survival/exploration game set in a universe where some unknown cataclysm has frozen the surface of Earth’s oceans and forced all of humanity underwater. Now, everyone survives amongst the decaying ruins of their once-great civilization, huddled in cramped pressure capsules struggling to survive on scant resources. In this world submarines are the only practical form of shipping and transportation, and submarine crews are busy either trading, raiding, or scavenging the ruins for valuable salvage to keep themselves and the rest of humanity alive. While all of this day-to-day bustle is going on, sub captains and their crews daydream about being the ones to find an arcane mythical artifact in the deepest parts of the ocean, which legends say was left by a goddess to help usher humanity back up to the surface.

Before going any further, I’d like to admit I have a few biases going in to this game – I’m a big fan of submarines in general, and a lover of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), which Diluvion is allegedly inspired by. Further, I’m also a big supporter of slower paced games that emphasize exploration over excessive action. Both those things helped paint Diluvion in a far better light when it came to forming my personal opinion.

With the disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at some of Diluvion’s strong points. For starters, the game does a great job of conveying the “feel” of traveling and exploring a deep ocean. By that I mean the environment is fairly restricted in its visibility, and that only gets worse the deeper down you go. In fact, at especially deep depths you’ll likely find yourself unable to freely navigate at all, instead having to rely on regular ping bursts from your sonar in order to see where you’re going. Your ship is also deliberately slow even at full throttle, which helps give the impression you’re traversing vast distances. While many gamers are going to find this frustrating, I loved that restricted visibility and it greatly increased the immersion factor for me.

Anybody who’s used to contemporary “party” based RPG mechanics will also appreciate Diluvion’s crew-management approach to managing your stats. Put simply, your ship has several discrete departments on board such as your helm, sonar, and gunner stations. Each department can be manned by one or more crew members to strengthen or weaken its respective stats. Crew members can be hired at many of the inhabited settlements you dock with or rescued from various derelicts and wrecks you find during your exploration. Further, each individual crew member has his/her own stats that can be trained up with the use of medallions, which you can salvage from the depths or buy from local merchants.

While the game environment and the basic mechanics are solid, Diluvion does have some pretty serious drawbacks. The most glaring issue is the developer’s insane choice of control mechanics. Take for example the basic piloting of your ship – in most games when you’re presented with a vehicle such as a plane, spaceship, or submarine the W and S keys control your pitch (meaning, whether you dive or climb), while the A and D keys control your lateral steering. Not so with Diluvion – for some reason the default controls are mapped so that W and D control your throttle, while dive/climb controls are pushed off un-intuitively to the Q and E keys. This has come back to bite me several times when I’ve been in the heat of battle trying to take evasive action and instead accidentally ordered my ship to a dead stop. While it’s true I can simply remap the keys I still find it frustrating that they’re arranged this way by default.

Diluvion also suffers from some bad game balance issues. While you’re out at sea your ship has to manage several critical resources, such as food and your supply of air. Both of these resources get consumed incredibly fast, especially when you’re maintaining a large crew (which increases the consumption rate). While air will get automatically refilled for free any time you dock with a structure, food much be purchased at an exorbitant price or, if you’re extremely lucky, you might find a few scraps of it in a wreck.

There were other detractors too that I don’t have room to go in to in this article, such as the overabundance of ocean currents on the game map and the confounding decision to rely on old-school save points in order to store your game progress. Suffice it to say the general mechanics of this game need a lot of polish.

I do want to end this review on a high note, however, and point out that this game is just plain PRETTY. Diluvion uses a unique visual style wherein exterior environments are rendered in 3D while interiors switch to a flat “cartoony” aesthetic. While I’m not a big fan of the style they chose for those 2D shots, the 3D environment is simply breathtaking. The undersea landscape is surprisingly varied thanks to brightly lit flora, epic-scale ancient ruins, and the hodgepodge cobbled-together look of the steel pressure capsules that now house the human race. All of this works brilliantly with Diluvion’s Verne-esque aesthetic and makes a visually compelling masterpiece of game art.

Long story short – There’s a lot of promise to Diluvion, especially if you’re already a fan of that particular visual or gameplay style. However shoddy gameplay mechanics and other annoying issues very seriously detract from even the most easy-going gamer’s enjoyment. Ultimately I’d say IF you like slow-paced exploration games and/or steampunk, then keep an eye for when Diluvion goes on sale. If, however, you’re a more mainstream gamer then you may, unfortunately, want to go ahead and sail past this one.