Preview: The Last Oricru
The Souls genre has been around for well over a decade, first introduced with Demon Souls in 2009. What once was an obscure PlayStation 3 exclusive became an entire genre, with many studios putting in their ideas of what a Souls-like can be. Titles like The Surge, Hellpoint, and the newly released Dolmen put a sci-fi spin on the experience, while games like Bloodborne put a dark and organic mutagenic nightmare into the ordeal. With a release date fast approaching and having played the game at PAX East in Boston earlier this year, I had a chance to take one last look at The Last Oricru before launch, and it’s a safe bet this will be one of the most enjoyable co-op experiences in recent memory.
The Last Oricru is a souls-like that can be played in either single-player or co-op. A Souls-like, The Last Oricru takes place in space on a partially formatted planet, isolated by the rest of charted space. The game infuses elements of science fiction and fantasy. It’s a world with magic and swords but no ray guns. There is armor and kingdoms, and even Rat people, but no spaceships or interstellar travel. Then, you, the player, arrive, emerging from stasis. Who you are and why you are on the planet aren’t the only mysteries to uncover. The fate of the planet, and the two warring races, is entirely dependent on your decisions as a warrior. Each choice made brings you closer to unraveling the truth about this conflict and yourself.
The Last Oricru comes from Studio Gold Knights, and marks their first big release. For The Last Oricru, the studio lets loose its more imaginative and creative side, placing players into a unique fantasy world. When making the game, the team wanted to create something lighter, more fun, and enjoyable in the Souls genre, as the team felt that the genre doesn’t always have to be dark and brooding. The first impression of The Last Oricru is indeed the more vibrant colors. My demo took me through a besieged fort, wrapped in steel and concrete, all to a vista of an orbiting planet in the sky. It was quite the sight and would have been an awe-inspiring moment to enjoy if all hell wasn’t breaking loose.
The demo was even better than the first. While single-player is still enjoyable and rewarding, The Last Oricru excels in co-op. During my first play-through of the demo, I was allied with Rat Like aliens, known as The Ratkin, the opposing side of the ongoing conflict with the Naburo, a race of human-like aliens. The demo focused on survival or elimination of the leader of The Ratkin. The decision is up to the player, and one choice can have many outcomes.
For the first part of the demo, I was on the side of the Ratkin, trying to protect the leader. Playing alongside me was Tobias Stolz-Zwilling, serving as public relations for the game. Having played with him before, I knew what to expect. One player would be the swordsman, complete with shield and blade, and the other would be more of a mage, with a staff that wields immense magic power. However, as video games oftentimes do, there was a genuine surprise to be had.
During my demo, Tobias demonstrated the fire attack ability with the staff and how incredibly rewarding co-op can be. Wielding a magical shield, Tobias encouraged me to shoot a fire spell at him. Nervous for friendly fire, it struck his shield but deflected into an oncoming enemy, incinerating the foes to a satisfying crisp. Coupled with the amazing particle effects and the general frenzy of combat, he had a blast taking down enemies. We were also able to identify and tag enemies, ambushing them with impunity. Throughout our time, there was good verbal coordination and the thrill of victory.
For the last half of the demo, we proceeded with the same mission, but now we were on the other side of the war, the side of Noburo . The armor is different, and so are the weapons, but the same tremendous co-op play remains intact. In this part of the demo, the biggest difference was using magic to heal as well as harm. Tobias used a healing beam that, when connected, healed me in combat but had an unexpected use. When an enemy is caught between the two points, they take significant damage, allowing the player with the swords to finish off the hapless foe. It was a joy to use hidden tricks like this that were only available in the co-op.
The demo concluded with facing down the Ratkin leader. With the eyes of the Queen watching, the goal was to eliminate the leader in combat, proving allegiance and loyalty. However, as the Ratkin have been fighting for their independence and have hinted at not giving into malevolence, there is a choice that can be made. Fighting the Ratkin Leader was the typical fare of a boss fight. Fight, dodge, heal, use the shield and, in the case of my demo, coordinate with my partner. With the Ratkin Leader downed, players must choose: Kill the leader or spare him. Each choice has a consequence and can shape the outcome of the game. For the demo, I chose to spare. The Rat King is grateful for following honor and flees, while the Kingdom is disappointed. Such a choice will open opportunities to one faction but deny an opportunity for the other. With that, my demo was over, but I came away with something special: the thrill of couch-co-op and playing in the same room as the player.
In this age of online play, sometimes you forget what it is to be in the same room as a best friend, a significant other, a sibling, or even a stranger and work together in a video game. Being online has been essential, especially in this day and age, but playing co-cooperatively brings feelings that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. The laughs, the cheers, the coordination of efforts, all that can be done online, but in couch-co-op, it becomes incredibly memorable and special as you can feel and remember the good, rewarding sensations co-op gameplay can bring. As I write this, a certain sci-fi shooter axed split-screen co-op after promising it for years, and bureaucracy aside, it made me sad for the players that won’t be able to have that unique experience slaying aliens together in the same room.
What The Last Oricru is looking to do is to bring a solid, challenging Souls-like, but to reach out to every player, especially those that have a friend they can count on in the heat of battle. In each of my sessions with The Last Oricru, I had a great I'm playing with Tobias, laughing and fist-pimping with every rewarding win in battle. It’s my hope that, as we get a better handle on COVID-19, more and more players will gather together and fight together, whether for the Rat People or the human Kingdom.
The Last Oricru launches today for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Steam.