Enter the Gungeon

Enter the Gungeon is a game I do enjoy quite a bit. However, I’m so deeply conflicted as to some very basic design principles the game uses, that I can’t really recommend it in good conscience despite some of its good points.

On the surface, this is a gorgeous game with great sound design. And I think a lot of people will be won over by that enough to get something out of the game. And that’s fine. But this is by far, by leaps and bounds, the most RNG-dependent roguelite I have ever encountered.

When things are going well, when the game sees fit to give you guns that feel good to use, the gameplay on offer here is a treat. You get to participate in these cinematic-feeling gun battles, flipping around, kicking over tables and sending explosive barrels rolling into crowds of enemies, hammering away with your guns. It’s good stuff. And the boss battles can be truly intense, stand-out examples of great bullet hell design. On the flipside, when the game doesn’t give you good guns, it becomes a far worse and more tedious slog than even the worst runs in Isaac.

The main problem here is that enemies are bullet spongy, and bosses particularly so. Coupled with a vast selection of guns (of which, less than half are fun to use, and most of the good ones are locked away behind a shop unlock system), and you have a recipe for a massive slog, particularly in the early game when you don’t have much unlocked. Just trying to consistently get past the first floor to unlock the gun shop was a tedious nightmare of dead-end runs.

I’ve played the game long enough now to see some good runs. I’ve pulled the lever on the slot machine enough times to see that there’s good stuff on offer here, from time to time between hopeless runs spent plinking away at enemies with little to no indication you’re doing anything to them. Every so often you’ll get a big laser beam or a prototype railgun or a crystalline machine gun or something. Those are great runs, because the way those guns feel to fire makes up for the fact that enemies don’t really react to being shot in a satisfying way, and some of the good guns have high enough damage to make up for the crazy amounts of HP everything has. When it’s clicking, this is a really great game.

The problem is, when it’s not clicking, there is nothing you can do but die and pull the lever again.

There is a lot to love here. But I question whether it’s worth the price of admission, and whether it’s worth the tedium of dealing with it when it’s not going your way. There are a host of roguelites on the market these days, and most if not all of them deal with RNG in better ways than Gungeon does. EtG has no real mitigating factors for dealing with bad runs, nothing that can help to smooth the curve. And for that, despite its stellar highs when the RNG is being nice, I have to say I can only recommend it provisionally, to those who are willing to put up with some truly boring, frustrating between-times.

The fixes are simple: keys need to be cheaper to buy in the store, or chests need to not be locked. The list of guns should be pruned to reduce the number of bad ones in the item pool. And the game desperately needs some kind of RNG mitigator on par with Starward Rogue’s shop inventory reroll, or Isaac’s D6. Without these things, though, it’s a slog.

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