Below's extreme demands for patience and tolerance remain right through to the game's mysterious ending. But despite its assured aesthetic and the initial pleasures of discovery, Below will eventually turn into a slog for all but the most committed of players.
After five years of waiting, though there are some frequently fantastic examples of sound used to further the tone and aesthetic, a similarly plentiful amount of contradictory design choices and unnecessarily tasking moments leaves BELOW with many rough edges.
I wanted to love Below for its amazing art, stellar sound design with echoing chambers and atmospheric music, and clever, inspired environmental storytelling. But their light isn’t bright enough to shine through all the darkness of the hunger, instant death, and corpse run mechanics, which actively get in the way of enjoying the world and the combat. Below simply leans too hard on roguelike and crafting elements, which create an urgent pace and conflict with its more admirable design ideas.
The survival nags are annoying, and the grinding for a safety net feels like a busy chore, but the overall combination of stylized graphics and soundtrack create an incredible universe that begs to be experienced. You need serious tenacity and perseverance to see the sights, but they are wonders worth seeing.
The fact that there’s no real map, no signs to point you in the right direction, and no book of recipes for important items to craft makes Below feel very personal. That feeling can also make dying feel very devastating, especially at lower floors, which can inspire a decent amount of ragequitting.