Being a merchant is hard work in the world of Moonlighter. Especially if your name is Wil. Wil runs the eponymous store in a town on the outskirts of a rather strange set of dungeons. The people here love the artifacts and items from the dungeon, using them for everything from decorations to cooking to clothing. Can you run a store in the day and go dungeon crawling at night?
The weirdest moment for me was the fact that the game’s trailer, which seems to show the introduction to the story and your character, is not in the game itself. All that stuff about your parents and your friend and working in the store until your parents die and leave it to you? Missing. I find it odd because that was part of what drew me to the game in the first place.
Down in the dungeons you look for things to sell in your store. Items don’t show their inherent value when you collect them, so it is up to you to find out what things should sell for. Luckily Wil is really good at reading his customers to help you with prices. When looking at an item in your store, a customer will have one of four reactions: they will see you are selling an item for below its value, and snap it up; fairly priced so they will buy it; slightly overpriced which will upset them but they will buy it and so overpriced that they just walk away from that display of goods. This sounds like a lot to keep track of, but thankfully the game has a journal that keeps a listing of every item and what reactions were tied to what prices so that you can adjust prices for the next customer or next time you sell items. It also helps when your bag gets full and you need to know what to drop to make space for important items for crafting new gear. Thanks to your tiny inventory you will be choosing items pretty often, as the normal teleport out resets the dungeon you are in and the one to return to where you were is rather pricey.
Moonlighter sounds like a great idea on paper and for the most part, it is a really fun romp that sadly gets bogged down the further you go.
Smooth animations, jumpy frames
Another thing that attracted me to the game was how smooth the animation was. You leap out of the way of danger or over a pit, then slash the enemies up while dodging their attacks. It looks great, but far too often the game grinds to a shuddering crawl for no discernable reason. It didn’t seem to be tied to the number of enemies on screen, or any special effects, it would just slow down for one room and be okay in the next.
Moonlighter sounds like a great idea on paper and for the most part, it is a really fun romp that sadly gets bogged down the further you go. At first, you are filled with a sense of wonder, collecting every scrap, checking every corner of a room. You upgrade gear and feel like you are tougher and do more damage, but the further you go the smaller the gains become and eventually you are spending ludicrous amounts of money on gear for little improvement. I battled most against the first boss until I got used to the dodging patterns and a good weapon. After that, the big end dungeon bosses became easy to beat. Until I got to the final boss, who just throws everything you have learnt out of the window. Up to this point, all the big bosses have been large, slow-moving monsters with patterns to learn to avoid damage. Then the final boss is a tanky, fast-moving enemy that rips through your health with attacks that have a larger hitbox than the animation of the attacks.
Then the final boss is a tanky, fast-moving enemy that rips through your health with attacks that have a larger hitbox than the animation of the attacks.
Ho hum, ho hum
This would have been okay if this was the first thing that felt like a chore. The four dungeons of the game might have some thematic differences but they all follow the exact same rules of generating them and working out how to solve them. Each dungeon has three levels before the boss. Each level has a fountain to restore some health and the fountain is on the path towards the way down. Each dungeon has a place to fall down with a chest that teleports goods back to the Moonlighter or waves of enemies for extra loot chests. You do all this to get more expensive items to sell if your shop, to afford the ever more ridiculous prices that the blacksmith charges to make new gear, even though you bring him all the materials too.
With a bit more variety to keep things interesting, this could have been a great game. But it is let down by following the same patterns for too long, framerates slowing down to a crawl far too often and a lack of meaningful upgrades or utility to spice things up. Making your way through to a boss that finally breaks the pattern but is an unfair fight just feels like a final kick in the teeth. Maybe I can beat him with a different weapon? Pity I will have to run all four dungeons several times for the parts and money to get something new that might not even help me beat the boss.
Some variety, like potions to overcome certain damage types or dungeons with varied design rules or even just getting the quests from NPCs earlier on in the game would go a long way to making this a gem. As it stands with constant framerate dips, too little variety and overpriced gear this game starts off fun and just peters out into monotony. Which is a pity, because there is so much to love here.