I didn't expect to enjoy Let It Die. I've only tangentially played and enjoyed the games of Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51. While I've reviewed a Dark Souls game and played the original Demon's Souls, those games aren't quite my cup of tea. And even though I'm fine with free-to-play mechanics on the surface, I find that the implementation can go awry.
Still, here we are. I like Let It Die enough that I was playing it before this review was a thing on my docket.
Let It Die is a free-to-play, PlayStation 4-exclusive action RPG developed by Grasshopper Manufacturer. Combat is similar to From Software's fan-favorite Dark Souls series, based heavily around stamina, enemy telegraphs, and punishing missed hits. It's single-player for the most part, though it has online hooks that intrude here and there. Let It Die is also free-to-play, meaning you can download it on the PlayStation Network right now and give it spin if you so desire.
It's an odd beast of a game. The visual style of it is pure Suda 51, even if he didn't direct the game himself. The tutorial kicks off with the player picking their avatar from a host of toned semi-dead models on a train. From there, you're met by Let It Die mascot Uncle Death, a skateboarding grim reaper with a scythe and old-school fake 3D glasses. The game takes place in 2026, in section of Tokyo separated from the island only to be pierced by an enormous tower. At the top of the tower is some shiny treasure everyone wants.
This vision of Tokyo ping-pongs between gaudy decadence and abject ruin. It's a showman's world of shiny gold and flashing lights, married to forgotten streets and rotting tunnels. I think it might mean something, but mostly it's a place for Grasshopper to fill quirky characters, like a lady who is aroused by mushrooms or the shop-owning Fallout Hitler. (That's not his name, but it is what I call him.)
You start on the first floor of the tower with a fresh character, fighting your way to the top of the tower. The game's enemies drop weapons, armor, and money; the game gives you a freebie, but otherwise you have to kill if you want to eat. This isn't a "play until you die" roguelike, though that will happen. Every few floors, you'll find an elevator back to the safe area, where you can deposit items, buy power-ups and gear, improve your stats, and get ready before heading out again. You're supposed push out out from here, using the elevators to push farther into the tower.
As I said before, Let It Die's combat is like Dark Souls, but it's much easier and harder at the same time. Fighting is a bit clunky, but it has a solid rhythm to it and against a single enemy, you'll likely triumph. Problem is you'll usually be up against multiple enemies. In that case, it'd best to simply dodge around and let them finish each off because friendly-fire is a thing. In fact, this is necessarily, because some larger groups can pretty much stunlock you to death if you're not careful. You'll run into bosses on certain floors as well; they're wildly inventive in look, but largely break down to some simple attack patterns.
I should also call out the odd inventory system that uses the Dual Shock 4's Touchpad to switch between and use items. Unfortunately, cramming these options on the same button can lead to issues where instead of throwing an exploding item, you eat it, thus killing yourself. It has become somewhat of a meme in the Let It Die community, but it's an annoying control choice.
Then there's one of the online hooks: Let It Die populates certain floors with the undead version of other players, called Haters. These enemies sport the look and gear of a dead player and can range from easy kills to murderous roadblocks to your progress. This is nominally a good concept, but veteran players have been known to troll new players, by taking their high-level characters, dying on purpose in the early floors, and leaving a high-level Hater to stomp your fresh fighter. Combine that with Jackals, random high-level enemies that pop up if you stay on a floor too long, and you never quite know what you're going to see around the next corner in Let It Die.
When you die from a Jackal, boss, or enemy, Let It Die throws you for a loop. This is when the free-to-play aspect rears it head. See in other games, your character is just that. All of your effort and hard work goes into a single avatar.
In Let It Die though, you need to put that idea aside. When you die, you have three options, switch to another character in your freezer, pay to revive your character with kill coins, the game's currency, or revive your character right where they died with Death Metals. Death Metals either cost real money, or you'll get some from your daily free cache.
Early in the game, the problem is your second or third characters have no gear. So you have to fight your way back to where you died with less items than you had in the first place. Let It Die wants you to have a stable of characters ready instead of a single avatar.
In fact, all of your characters are disposable, because as you reach certain floors, you'll gain new fighters that can go beyond the level 25 limit of your first batch. The repeats over and over again, so basically every chunk of floors you need to switch out your entire team to build a new higher-level one. You're ultimately not tied to any one fighter or group of fighters in the long-term.
So, if you're playing for free, you need to build a number of characters up. If you lose one, you switch to another, hope you can find your own Hater, kill them, and that character comes back to life. If you break out the wallet through, Death Metals allow you to bring your character back to life right where they died. You can use this to essentially brute force certain encounters, dying and coming back with full health, while whatever you were fighting is still wounded.
Sure, you can play for free, but Death Metals are simply easier and more convenient. Given everything I've outlined above, it's very easy to fall into a harsh negative feedback loop in Let It Die. This is staved off in early floors, but a bad set of pulls will leave you with nothing.
What started as a hard fight can becomes next to impossible when your best weapon breaks - weapons in Let It Die break all the time - leaving you dead. You fight your way back on another character, but then they die too. It can become a hard hole to dig yourself out of, and that's when the free-to-play mechanics taunt you to spend real money.
The things that can kick off that feedback loop are many. Those high-level Haters are one thing. Jackals are another. There's some bosses out there - hi, GOTO-9 - that are particularly evil. Let It Die is sometimes just fiendishly evil and cheap. God forbid you run into a Hater with a gun.
If you can get past the frustration or if you're good enough that it never comes up, Let It Die is a great roguelike. There's not much like it out there. It makes you want to keep playing, despite some of the roadblocks it throws in your path. It's not an amazing game. Let It Die is a bit clunky, a bit cheap, and it feels like it's reaching for your wallet at higher levels. Despite that, it's good, clean fun.
The Nitty Gritty
- Lasting appeal: If you're into it, Let It Die can keep you playing for hundreds of hours.
- Visuals: This is a stylish action game. The hub area is a delight. Unfortunately, some of the levels feel rote and boring.
There's nothing out there quite like Let It Die. This action game offers Souls-like combat, 40 floors to tackle, multiple paths to tackle, and a host of gear to make your own oddball fighter. The free-to-play mechanics are reasonable until you get to higher levels, where a death spiral may leave you looking for your credit card. It's not perfect, but Let It Die is damned fun.
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