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‘Let it Die’: Our first take

‘Let It Die’ is a free-to-play ‘Dark Souls’ that’s all flash and no finesse

Let It Die aspires to dish out greater punishment than its combat supports.

Let It Die has the aesthetic and narrative seeds necessary for greatness, but they never grow into anything of substance. Your primary contact in the game’s world is a skateboarding grim reaper named Uncle Death, a character you’ve glimpsed if you’ve seen any marketing for Let It Die. Uncle Death has many pairs of cool sunglasses and an awesome accent, and he calls you “senpai” — “out of respect, gamer to gamer” (that’s a quote).

After playing Let It Die for a while you might find yourself wishing that Uncle Death was in a better game.

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Let It Die sends you on a quest to climb the Tower of Barbs, a modern Tower of Babel that sprouted in the wake of the apocalyptic “Earth Rage” of 2026. That quest is itself a video game that you’re playing on the Death Drive 128 system inside a divey Tokyo arcade. Uncle Death guides you in both the game and the game-within-the-game, while characters like the Hitler ‘stache-sporting vendor Kommodore Suzuki and the pole-dancing Mushroom Magistrate inhabit the in-game hub world you call home.

From that hub, a tricked-out train station, the possibilities are staggering. You can venture into the tower by escalator or elevator, depending how high you’ve climbed previously. You can give blueprints to the Kommodore or buy mushroom stew from the Magistrate, manage items in storage, receive a daily gift from Uncle Death, or warp back to the arcade to start new missions or chat with the resident pro gamer, Meijin. There’s a giant freezer where you can switch characters, pay Uncle Death to retrieve dead ones, and send your avatars out to hunt down other players. An animatronic subway cop welcomes you to the Tokyo Death Metro, an asynchronous multiplayer hub where you can raid other players’ stations for treasure and rank.

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The sheer number of choices in Let It Die is absolutely overwhelming, especially as the game continuously throws new features at you over your first several hours. The crazy aesthetic will keep fans of Suda 51/Grasshopper’s games going, maybe indefinitely, but like Suda’s other games, there’s not enough under this flashy surface.

Uncle Death has many pairs of cool sunglasses and an awesome accent.

Most glaringly: Let It Die’s combat isn’t even close to deep enough to support how incredibly punishing this game is.

Let It Die takes a “survivalist” approach to equipment: You use whatever you can scavenge, and it usually breaks shortly afterward. You can scavange blueprints and materials to your station, allowing Kommodore to craft longer-lasting weapons and armor for a price. Using weapons raises your proficiency with them across characters, providing one of the only tangible measures of progress besides the climb up the tower itself.

Let It Die aspires to Dark Souls-like punishment, but its combat is more reminiscent of Dead Island, which is definitely not a good thing. All those weapons have just a single attack, which you’ll spam relentlessly, plus a strong attack that charges up over the course of battle. Dodge-rolling is all but useless, and the best way to play defensively is to simply back up slowly and hope opponents miss their strikes. Succeeding against multiple foes is prohibitively difficult, and not in the fun, I-feel-like-I’m-getting-better-at-this way that fans cite when discussing Dark Souls, but in a soul-crushing why-am-I-even-doing-this way.

Death comes all too frequently in Let It Die. When one character dies you can go retrieve it by returning to the tower with a new one and defeating its now-violent corpse — called a “hater” — or by resurrecting on the spot using in-game currency that you may eventually start having to pay real money for (Let It Die is free-to-play, after all, even offering a monthly subscription service with access to a better elevator).

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That’s the rub: when you die in a “Souls” game you might lose some experience, but little else, and you always feel like you’re improving. In Let It Die you lose all the items you’re carrying, and you might eventually have to start coughing up real dollars to keep going. That may have been an acceptable system if it felt like Let It Die was treating you fairly, but deaths often come at the hands of chaotic mobs of enemies or foes that are dozens of levels more powerful than you — often sent after you by other players and standing directly in your path

Fatigue and despair will set in the tenth or twentieth time you get crushed, when you feel like there was nothing you could have done to save yourself. All the hilarious side characters in the world can’t make that funny.

Or maybe it can — Let It Die has already attracted a loyal fanbase who clearly love the pain the game dishes out alongside its high-fives and inside jokes. Let It Die’s whole package — Grasshopper’s inimitable signature style — really is fantastic. Still, even the game’s fans (on reddit, Twitter, and even in DT’s gaming Slack channel) admit that the combat isn’t what it should be. So what are you investing in, in exchange for this punishment? A Skinner box with a stylish sheen? Not good enough.

Highs

  • Signature Suda 51 style
  • Great writing and characters
  • Lots to do

Lows

  • Simplistic, boring combat
  • Prohibitively punishing
  • Confusing microtransaction economy