Don’t shoot the food!
In 2014, Arrowhead Game Studios took a page out of a dead necromancer’s guidebook and resurrected an arcade favorite, Gauntlet. The game, like previous iterations, was a fun and frantic four-player dungeon crawler with four unique characters and 12 levels. Fast forward a year later, and Arrowhead Games has cast a massive update-spell on their already-excellent title. Gauntlet: Slayer Edition, which is also now available for the PlayStation 4, is an aesthetically superior version of the base game that morphed trivial nuances into brand-new gameplay elements. With the addition of new modes and enemy types as well as a revised campaign, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is as great a co-op experience as the series has ever been.
Gauntlet: Slayer Edition follows four renown-seeking adventurers on a quest through dozens of dungeons, hordes of enemies, and plenty of turkeys. Tricked by the greedy wizard Morak, the adventurers must fight and recover the missing pieces of the Sword of Tyrfing. Only then will the turkey-happy war party find their chance to escape and defeat the corrupted wizard. Gauntlet‘s premise is as simple as they come. The small narrative, nonetheless, at least sets up why the adventurers are in the Gauntlet.
Before the massive update, the Gauntlet campaign had players running around a hub area before each mission. In this hub, players could test out their skills and attacks and also purchase upgrades, relics, and stylish armor for their characters. With Slayer Edition, players now make purchases in the character select screen. The campaign hub has also been morphed into a map. The map change is still as simple as the hub area in regard to choosing levels, but the aesthetics better reflect the Gauntlet and the adventurers delving deeper and deeper into the dungeon’s core. There are four types of levels sprinkled throughout the campaign: 1) general dungeons have the players fight from point A to B, 2) endurance levels tests a party’s skills as they battle wave after wave of baddies, 3) the Grim Reaper Sprint dungeons have players running away from death itself through procedurally generated levels, and 4) the boss battles spell a fun challenge as well as the end of a specific section. Gauntlet‘s level variety is welcoming every single time players launch the game, especially in the other modes.
Aside from campaign, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition features two extra modes, Colosseum and the brand-new Endless mode. The Colosseum, like the endurance maps, challenges all adventurers to survive through six waves of increasingly intense hordes of enemies. This mode also serves as a daily challenge; players are rewarded some gold and one of many sweet capes for completing the daily Colosseum. Endless mode is Gauntlet‘s epitome of replay value. Taking a war party farther and farther through the Endless Gauntlet is always satisfying, as the difficulty greatly increases throughout. There’s nothing like beating that one extra level you and your party couldn’t get through the last dozen times. Thankfully, Endless mode does support a checkpoint system that saves progress only after beating a certain amount of level. This easily curbs any frustration of having to start Endless mode from the very beginning every single time.
There are four playable characters in the base game players may choose from to romp and stomp through all the dingy dungeons: Questor the Elf, the fast, agile archer who can attack with great speed, drop bombs for an area attack, and snipe enemies; Thor the Warrior, with his mighty great axe, is the straightforward bruiser of the group; Merlin the Wizard, whose flurry of different elemental spells can be mixed and matched to survive any situation; and finally, Thyra the Valkyrie, the hard-hitting tank whose shield can bounce off even the most strenuous attacks and whose spear can rip through several enemies at once. Each character is fairly unique in their play style, and players are never punished for switching between characters.
As players progress through the game with their favorite character, they may upgrade everything, from the wardrobe to the weapons. Before, most of the upgrades were purely for aesthetics. In Slayer Edition, weapon upgrades now actually change a player character’s attack. Merlin’s frost shield may shift to an invisibility cloak, and Thyra’s shield throw can be switched to a radial lance attack. The potential combinations—not only from one character but from across four—bring a much-needed change from the previous version, where using the same attack patterns throughout hours and hours of dungeon crawling built a stale experience. Slayer Edition slightly tweaked its combat, creating a much more fresh experience players can look forward to as they play. Gauntlet is meant to be played over and over, and the different characters and upgradeable arsenal spell an avenue of extra fun, especially when played with friends.
Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is a co-op game through and through. Fighting legions of orcs and hell spawns, delving through caverns for piles of gold, and shooting the cooked turkeys when a party member desperately needs the pick-me-up are intensely epic moments that happen only in multiplayer games. While the single-player experience technically has everything multiplayer has to offer, it’s a solemn experience. The camaraderie of multiplayer, even in random games with novice players, spells so much more fun than its single-player counterpart. Gauntlet is almost a different game.
There are fewer negatives to discuss in Gauntlet: Slayer Edition, as Arrowhead Game Studios’ massive update addressed the issues of the previous versions. The boring and lackluster environments found in the crypts, caves, and the underworld are now spiced up and look extra devious. The superfluous upgrades before Slayer Edition now add some depth to a character’s arsenal. I am saddened that the insane difficulty and its golden turkeys were nerfed into just a regular hard mode, but the challenge of Endless definitely pacifies any brave dungeon crawler’s angst for a challenge. Gauntlet is as fun now as its release a year ago. Slayer Edition is an upgrade worth its weight in turkeys, and in Gauntlet, that may just be worth more than gold.