Karnage Chronicles Review: Co-Op Dungeon Crawler Prone To Repetition

Karnage Chronicles is now out of Early Access. Does this VR dungeon crawler hold up years after initial release? Find out in our Karnage Chronicles review!

Despite having braved the wilds of Early Access and survived unscathed, Karnage Chronicles seems to be flying a little low on the radar in the PC VR scene. True, it sticks close to Vanishing Realms in tone and gameplay, but you’d think a meaty dungeon-crawling campaign with up to four-player co-op would be enough to raise an eyebrow.

If not, allow me to raise it for you, because there is enough to Karnage Chronicles to warrant a look, especially with a friend or three.

On paper, there’s a lot to love; Karnage Chronicles offers a fantasy world of ghouls and goblins with the expected, swiftly-dismissed lore and, more importantly, a winding series of corridors littered with fiendish foes off all shapes and sizes to slay with gradually improving gear. There’s a significant amount of content to Karnage Chronicles – I’ve spent six hours hacking and slashing my way through its really rather pretty world and I’ve still got plenty to go back to. Not only that but it’s impressively polished, with lush vegetation decorating complex caverns and grueling, imaginative enemy designs.

Even with a scope bigger than most VR games, though, you might still consider this something of a lite dungeon crawler. There are only two classes to speak of and only specialties in swords or archery to separate them. Even then, whichever class you pick, your secondary weapon will cater to the other weapon type to make sure you can still snag out-of-reach enemies and fend off swarms in close proximity.

Having released in Early Access a few years ago, you might expect the game’s combat to be pretty simple and, well, it mostly is with a few appreciated intricacies. You could survive most encounters with the dreaded sword waggle, but melee action definitely responds better to more considered, heavier swings and, right from the start, enemies are miraculously — and annoyingly — good at last-minute arrow dodges. Plus there’s a welcome dash of strategy, like shooting an enemy in the leg to momentarily slow them down and deal with closer foes. It’s pretty standard VR fantasy action — and I would have loved to have seen a more experimental mage class — but it does have its own little quirks to enjoy.

What raises Karnage Chronicles above a lot of other VR dungeon-crawling adventures, though, is its attention to detail. On top of the excellent visuals, there are really nice touches like having to pull arrows out of hands when you’re hit, and levels are peppered with occasional variety like puzzles or some surprisingly fun boss fights.

Even with those considered, though, Karnage Chronicles’ long stretches of minion murder can get repetitive pretty fast. The vast majority of the game boils down to running backwards while firing arrows in an attempt to separate enemies from the pack and picking them off one-by-one. Plus developer Nordic Trolls is fond of cheap tricks, like spawning enemies from behind in areas you’ve already cleared to surprise you in the middle of a fight or simply piling the odds overwhelmingly against you. It’s forgivable right up until the game starts dropping exploding mushroom people on your head without warning, creating sudden and frustrating trips back to the moderately-paced checkpoints.

The more difficult the game gets — and it gets difficult pretty quickly — the more of a slog this becomes. Deep into the second level I really began to tire of the endless shooting gallery, especially when so many smaller minions became so adept at either blocking or dodging my arrows.

Plus, progression in the game is tied entirely to the loot system, meaning if you kill a bad guy and don’t get any money or extra items, you really don’t benefit. When I reached the second environment, I immediately bought the best bow I could find, but I didn’t get a better one for the entirety of the rest of the level, meaning my main weapon was only inflicting a tiny amount of damage by the end of the level and there was nothing I could do about it. It would have been nice to see a leveling system that boosted your chances even incrementally to help fuel the big chunks of gameplay between upgrades. That guilty draw of pushing on in hopes of better loot is ever-present, though, even if upgraded bows and blades only change in look and not feel.

All of this makes co-op practically essential to the Karnage Chronicles experience. Even with increased enemy numbers, the game feels much more manageable and alive with a friend and, with support for up to four players, there’s no denying that this is one of VR’s most robust cooperative experiences. If you have three other friends looking to kill hours together inside a headset, then the game’s an easy recommendation. I did encounter some issues with lag while playing; mainly that players joining the host might experience a very minor delay between their attacks being performed and them landing, however, which is something to be aware of.

Karnage Chronicles Review Final Impressions

Karnage Chronicles impresses with its wealth of polished content, offering hours of rock-solid VR dungeon-crawling action that really comes alive if you have a friend or three to play with. Ultimately the game’s combat is too simple, its progression too sparse and its tricks too cheap to stave off repetition but, if you’re wanting to form a Fellowship and wage war with your friends, you won’t find a much meatier option than this.

Karnage Chronicles is available on SteamVR and Oculus Rift now. For more on how we arrived at this score, check out our review guidelines.

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