While the Roguelike genre may have taken off with games such as Dead Cells or Enter the Gungeon, a newer and mildly more balanced genre is the Roguelite, basically, just a game where you can get upgrades and consistently make your character stronger while still delving into new and random levels every time you play.
The game featured in this Flame Keeper Review is a game I’d only heard about recently, but the concept grabbed me. I enjoy Rougelites and MOBA-style combat conceptually, but combining the two into a top-down action game may fix the issues I take with most games in either genre.
Unfortunately, Flame Keeper falls short of expectations in its current early access state.
Bottom Line Up-Front
Flame Keeper is a fast-paced roguelite with quick combat similar to a MOBA. Still, it falls short in polish and difficulty, generally being unfair and difficult to tell when you’re being hit or hitting things. In addition, though it’s in early access, the core concepts behind the game seem flawed.
Hot and Crisp
The game opens with a relatively pretty pre-rendered cutscene and then tosses you into normal gameplay, which hardly differs from that cutscene.
The visuals create a clean aesthetic where a few light sources shine in dark gray environments. This means that all the settings blend together a little too much, though.
The visual design of Flame Keeper tends to leave much to be desired; it’s an immaculate and straightforward art style, letting the glowing things be significant while the level itself is dark. The main issue with this approach is making all enemies, obstacles, and generally painful things dark.
The bright contrast of your character and the items looks excellent with the well-made lighting. However, this lighting could be applied to more than just your player character and the collectibles. Enemies and the ground should also be dimly lit to warn the player of threats more readily.
Overall, while the game looks nice, the visuals leave out a lot of cues that could be helpful. This is especially apparent when worm enemies have two missable, small, and quick alerts to tell you they’re about to deal around a fifth of your health bar while also slowing you down. It just leads to frustration more often than not.
Playing with Fire
I won’t beat around the bush; the gameplay of Flame Keeper gets incredibly dull.
The main gameplay loop is exploring small, “randomly” generated areas, finding a collectible, then bringing it back to where you spawned. You repeat this fetch-quest 3-4 times per level, and whenever you want, you can add your HP to the campfire to fuel it.
When you fuel the campfire, you’re at 1-hit kill range. Then there are worms with minimal visual or audio cues to indicate they’re about to attack, which means you can sometimes die with a minimal warning after going and doing your fetch quest. Half the time I died, I had no clue why.
Once you’ve fueled the fire and all the keystones are in place, you get to leave.
Unfortunately, this brings you back to a little village full of annoying rats that try and steal your health pickups all the time, where you can spend acorns you found in the level on permanent upgrades, as well as changing out bits of your move set for a price.
While there are many flaws to the primary gameplay loop, the movement generally feels excellent.
I wish the dash were a bit faster and easier to spam in quick succession, but a game like this with a character that moves quickly is uncommon. Likewise, the attacks feel snappy and responsive, and upgrading would be fun if it were more accessible.
While the attacks are quick and responsive, they aren’t varied. You get one special rechargeable move and have a heavy attack button, but neither of those is nearly as effective as just mashing your attack button on the enemies that can often feel like brick walls; this leads to the game becoming repetitive.
Part of the problem is the town itself not providing much value. All the upgrades take way too long to get, and there’s nothing in the way of temporary upgrades that could make your next run go smoother if you’re dying a ton.
So instead, it’s mostly there to add permanent upgrades to your character the next time you go to a later level rather than helping when needed.
The most significant advantage of choosing to be a roguelite instead of a roguelike is that it has systems to prevent player frustration.
For example, you could have the health orbs I collect to contribute to a secondary currency in the village, where I could purchase upgrades that only last for the next run, making it easier for me if I’m struggling on a specific section.
The game hardly takes advantage of being a roguelite, the level segments are highly repetitive, and it becomes incredibly apparent that there were only 2 or 3 unique level layouts for each segment. Given that you already have to do two levels that share these segments, you will always replay something you did if you die. A little random generation goes a long way.
The main gameplay section I enjoyed quite a bit was the Tower Defense portion at the end of each segment. These let you exchange health for defenses and get through waves of enemies trying to take down your torch, making it fun.
While I may have gone on quite a bit about my issues with the game, I did end up enjoying parts of it, and I do think with a few significant changes as well as loads of polish and fine-tuning, this could become a great experience, it’s just not there yet.
This Beat is Not Fire
The music initially left me feeling hopeful that I would love my time listening to it; I quickly loved the style they went for, a whimsical soundtrack vibe to fit a very animated and unique-looking game. The style and feel of the music are nailed, and I enjoyed listening to it when I first heard it.
While the soundtrack isn’t bad in isolation, and it’s going for the perfect vibe for this game, it gets repetitive quickly. It feels as if I am listening to the same 2-minute loop of music that barely ever changes as I play the game; it got to the point where I would mute the music and put on my songs instead.
The sound design is incredibly unimpactful; every hit has a cartoonish noise that doesn’t sell every hit and is usually too loud or compressed. And the game generally suffers from feeling like I’m hitting a brick wall rather than fighting natural enemies.
Overall, the audio design of this game feels like one of the biggest afterthoughts of this entire development. Hitting enemies can feel way too loud in my ears or like I’m hitting absolutely nothing. Also, the short song list per level you’d listen to for too long makes it an unpleasant listening experience.
Not a Perfect Match
The User Experience is generally one of the most important things to nail in any game.
While in-game, the HUD itself is unintrusive and looks quite lovely, the menus are all pretty clean looking, and most of the options you’d expect in a modern-day title are present and accounted for. This only really breaks down when you try to interact with these elements.
For some reason, you cannot access the settings menu mid-game; the game would instead force you to quit out to the title screen to do so much as change the volume levels.
I see no reason why this has to be the case, and at the very least, I should be able to change things like resolution, music volume, or fullscreen while I’m in-game.
There is no way to remap controls or make things automatic, so if you’re uncomfortable with the control scheme, you either have to change it in Steam itself or deal with it.
While most things in the game are simple and intuitive, many things, namely dashing, feel uncomfortable to do repeatedly on the keyboard and mouse.
Most of the UI is successful at achieving what it wants. Still, like the rest of the game, a few seemingly minor changes get annoying quickly when doing a full playthrough, stacking up and making the experience unpleasant.
Finding your Flame
The game, as a rougelite, is inherently pretty replayable. The classic appeal of going back to levels that change up slightly is still there; it’s just got quite a lot of frustrations and things preventing me from wanting to go back.
Even though I could tear through enemies with upgrades I got later, the game provides little reason to do so.
There isn’t much story in its current state; it’s mostly just a little cutscene at the start to motivate you, which, sometimes, is all you need.
The game doesn’t tend to go anywhere past where you begin it; it more or less feels like you’re replaying the first level with some more challenging enemies because everything looks and feels the same.
There are two biomes with three worlds with three levels each, which is a decent amount of content the developers promise to improve later. But, overall, you’re getting your money’s worth with this game, even if all the content you get may or may not satisfy your tastes.
One of the things going against Flame Keeper is the raw quantity of Rougelikes/Rougelites on the market.
You can almost always find games with tons of content packed in that are usually far more polished and, well, fun. Searching the rougelite genre on Steam should give you many results, but here are a few personal recommendations:
- Hades is probably the closest comparison out there to Flame Keeper. However, it also features action combat in an isometric perspective, a hub you can come back to with upgrades and tons of bosses, content, and floors to battle your way through, with far less tiring backtracking.
- Risk of Rain 2 is a 3D-action rougelite, just like Flame Keeper. It has been updated consistently for two years, features multiplayer, tons of unique and randomly generated content, and looks very pretty.
- Dead Cells is another roguelike about melee combat, similar to Flame Keeper. It’s a 2D game with a well-done pixel art style, where you delve into castles and dungeons, hunting for combat upgrades that feel similar to Dark Souls at times.
- The Binding of Isaac is one you’ve played by now, and if you haven’t, then why not? It’s just about the gold standard for the Rougelike genre for many years. It’s all about shooting combat rather than melee and incorporates RPG elements into its design.
Reflecting and Reviewing
While the game presents a lot of content for an early access title, as well as a few great ideas and a lovely aesthetic, the more minor issues and a few larger ones pile up and make it hard to give this game anything more than a 6/10.
It has potential, but I’d advise waiting to buy it until many of these issues get fixed since its current state is not great.
- A game that is fun at its core, with snappy combat and quick movement.
- Roguelite progression means you can replay it quite a bit before running out of new things to do.
- Early access means the game should constantly get new updates and might change for the better.
- The game is very unpolished, especially on the Audio and UX side.
- It is unfairly tricky due to a lack of helpful audio/visual cues and quite repetitive due to the main gameplay loop being a fetch quest.
- Early access means you could end up paying for an unfinished game that might end up abandoned.
Flame Keeper Review: FAQs
Question: What is Flame Keeper?
Answer: An isometric action roguelite, similar to Hades.
Question: Why is Flame Keeper in Early Access?
Answer: According to the Steam page, the game will be in early access for around a year to receive feedback while they develop more content.
Question: Where can I play Flame Keeper?
Answer: Currently, Flame Keeper is available on PC and Nintendo Switch and works excellently on the Steam Deck.
Although this review may have seemed like a load of complaining, I still played through Flame Keeper for 3.4 hours on both PC and Steam Deck and experienced most of the content. I got about half the achievements and enjoyed my time somewhat.