Oblitus

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Connor Ullmann for PC, originally released in 2015.
In Oblitus, you play the role of a diminutive warrior named Parvus (which is Latin for “small”), who has no memory of his past, and no notion of what he is meant to do… except for a voice that he hears in his head, compelling him to seek out a certain area. And so, with his spear and shield in hand, Parvus ventures forth into a dangerous landscape filled with powerful and terrible creatures.


Oblitus is a roguelike, and every death returns the player to the start of the game. (Actually, even success returns the player to the start of the game, although there are artifacts to be discovered that lead the player toward a true end.) Many modern day roguelikes slowly unlock new and more powerful abilities that make it easier for the player to eventually complete his quest, but that is not the case here. The only way to make further progress is to gain an understanding of your enemies and the environment, and develop the skills necessary to survive.


Parvus has a high 3x variable jump, as well as a dodge roll, and jumping after a roll allows him to reach great distances. The warrior is armed with a spear and a shield, both of which may be freely aimed in any direction, independently of movement. The spear may be thrust forward for short jabs, or thrown to hit enemies at a distance. However, once thrown, the spear does not return to Parvus’ hands for several seconds, leaving him temporarily unarmed. The player may speed up this process by physically retrieving the spear, assuming that he can safely reach it.


With the risk of missing an intended target, you may wish to stick to thrusts, particularly when facing the game’s many agile and fast-moving creatures, most of which can kill you in just a few hits. Players may also touch torches to temporarily add a fire effect to the spear, or toss the spear through the flames to ignite it, causing additional damage to enemies.


There are several possible spear upgrades to be found, including a permanent fire effect, and the ability to instantly retrieve a spear that makes contact with an enemy. Per roguelike conventions, effects are stackable, so players are free to sport fire, ice, and explosive upgrades simultaneously, allowing them to toss a spear that explodes on contact, freezes enemies in place, and burns them with fire… a particularly satisfying outcome, especially given the player’s relatively weak status at the start of each session.


The player may use the shield to block attacks or to parry, allowing the player to follow up a successful parry with a quick spear jab, which is useful against shielded enemies. Knowing when to block, parry, and perform a dodge roll is required in order to survive even the earliest of environments. Killing enemies does restore a small amount of the player’s health, but it’s not nearly enough to allow the player to push his way through with brute force. Generally speaking, the player will want to avoid taking damage at all costs, as a few unanswered strikes are all it takes to send him back to the start of the game.


The game takes place in a large open world, and the player is free to go wherever he likes, provided he can survive the journey. Exploration can be rewarding, but it is also quite dangerous… fighting your way into some hidden alcove may simply reveal a tough enemy rather than a great treasure. In addition, although the general construction of the world remains consistent, there are minor changes to the landscape between sessions, as well as changes to the placement of enemies and items. As such, side paths may not exist from one playthrough to the next, and an area that once held a weapon upgrade may contain a monster instead.


Upgrades come in three forms: Scrolls contain ability enhancements, such as higher jumping, the addition of a downward strike, or a shielded dodge roll. Scrolls can be found in a number of areas, although you’ll never know what they do until you pick one up. The second upgrade type comes in the form of specific objects in the environment, which appear roughly the same place in each session. These include various elemental effects for your spear, such as fire and poison, as well as light and heavy armor.


Finally, there are upgrades that can only be obtained by killing boss creatures, and these have a more significant impact on gameplay, making the player character stronger and able to damage enemies more easily. Players can also find floating bodies – which look very much like Parvus – that may be collected for a full health restore, as well as a slight increase in the player’s maximum health, making them a very valuable resource.


While the player is free to tackle the world as he chooses, defeating all of the game’s bosses isn’t strictly necessary for completion. In any given session, the player only needs to seek out an NPC named Mudd and kill the boss that Mudd names. Once this is done, the player will earn the soul of that creature, which he may then bring back to Mudd in exchange for the ability to travel unharmed into the final area, called the Under.


The Under is accessible from the start of the game – appearing directly under your feet each time you start a new session – but going into the area without Mudd’s protection causes your health to slowly drain away. This area contains more powerful enemies, as well as the final boss. It is left to the player whether or not he wishes to explore the rest of the world and defeat more bosses in order to arrive at the final encounter with as many upgrades as possible.


The game’s unstructured format leads to some confusion during early playthroughs, as the player will not know how to access certain areas or how to handle certain enemies along the way. However, this initial confusion supports the game’s core design, which requires that players become more skilled in order to make progress, rather than slowly unlocking more powerful abilities that allow them to make progress by attrition in future sessions.


By exploring the world and defeating enemies, the player gains a better understanding of the geography, enemy weaknesses, and the placement of upgrade items. For instance, giant shielded enemies may seem impossibly difficult when you first encounter them, but repeated playthroughs allow the player to defeat these creatures with only the knowledge gained on how to best attack them (strike below the shield, or throw a spear at its head), and when to dodge an parry.


However, there are some challenges that rise from basic navigation… For starters, there are a number of climbable objects, including ladders and vines. Unlike most other video games, these objects can appear at angles and even hanging under ceilings and other outcroppings. Grabbing one of these objects automatically places Parvus on the climbable side of the surface – which is occasionally a bit jarring – and attempting to attack an enemy while climbing yields varying results based on the position of the spear (spears cannot be thrown while climbing). Reaching the top of a climbable surface causes Parvus to fly high into the air, which may be used strategically to reach a distant platform, but it makes navigation somewhat haphazard.


The game’s visuals are created in a stark illustrated style with a robust lighting system that drastically alters the coloration and mood of each area, and it tends toward darkness and foreboding. This is supported by a heavy synth soundtrack, reminiscent of 80’s sci-fi and fantasy films, which is designed to make the player feel a bit uneasy. However, the game’s aesthetics are also the biggest issue when it comes to environmental navigation…


It is extremely difficult to tell which objects occupy the background, foreground, and midground layers. Often, what appears to be a solid platform, climbable rock, or impassible wall is actually a background element that appears to occupy the same plane as the player. There is very little difference in the lighting of these objects to allow the player to quickly separate the background from everything else, making navigation initially troublesome, and learned only by repeated playthroughs.



2D CRED
Oblitus was developed by Connor Ullmann, who has previously developed mostly Flash-based titles, with Seedling, an action-adventure title in the vein of The Legend of Zelda, being his most substantial prior work. Connor was a student at the University of Michigan when he began work on the game, and he took some time off to work on the game exclusively. Music for the game was composed by Josh Whelchel (The Spirit Engine 2), David Saulesco (Eternal Daughter), and Kristin Naigus, and sound effects were provided by Hyperduck Soundworks, which also worked on Dust: An Elysian Tail.



The game was published by Adult Swim Games, which also published Super House of Dead Ninjas, Völgarr the Viking, Fist Puncher, Super Comboman, Westerado: Double Barreled, Rise & Shine, and Rain World.

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