Ghostlore Is A Decent Diablo ARPG With Southeast Asian Influences

Diablo has an inherent quality that I would refer to as ‘clickiness’; that is, how satisfying it feels to click on hordes of pixelated hellspawn and watch them explode into sludgy, gooey flesh. It’s partly what makes the game so alluring, alongside the compulsion to grind for and hoard as much shiny loot as possible, all as fountains of gold erupt from every undead carcass. Then you haul all this loot back to town, sell it for more gold, and return to the bowels of hell once more. It’s a rhythm that has been perfectly refined over the past two decades.

There’s a reason this routine has become a genre now: it taps on our inclination for progression, customisation and accumulating as many treasured artefacts as possible. The giddy exhilaration of picking up a rare weapon after hours of farming is unmatched—some of these even go for real, actual money in Diablo 3’s auction house. And underpinning the Diablo formula is the sprawling skill tree and the ceaseless potential for customising your hero; no two heroes can be said to be exactly the same, even if they belong in the same class. You may allocate your stat points differently, or invest in a skill from an entirely different branch. The final step in this ritual—the one thing that makes Diablo so quintessentially Diablo—is the sense of depravity; it’s that of fallen angels, murderous demon lords and blood-thirsty butchers howling for your blood.

Discarding the Judeo-Christian mythology of hellfire and brimstone is Ghostlore, a Diablo-like action RPG that seeks to replicate the same clickiness, the same rhythm, the same compulsion to collecting all the things, but with a twist: the game is infused with the culture, folklore and flavour of Southeast Asia. Gone are the satanic hellspawns of the Christian doctrine of hell; instead we have the jiangshi (Chinese vampires), pontianak (vengeful female spirits) and pocong (the reanimated body of the dead wrapped in burial sheets) roving around the the forests and swamps beyond a small town called the Seaport. The Seaport is, of course, a not-so-subtle reference to Singapore, but appearing more like a fishing village with modern amenities rather than a high-tech city state. These are familiar monsters—at least to us Southeast Asians—that are imparted via campfires, sleepovers and as cautionary tales by friends and family, and it’s in Ghostlore that we are busting them as ghost hunters. There’s a palpable thrill in seeing these recognisable mythical monsters come to life on screen, which adds to the unearthly atmosphere that allows Ghostlore to take on a different dimension to horror.

Horror, however, still isn’t the crux of Ghostlore; the game is nothing like the atmospheric scares of Indonesian horror game Pamali, which is a title so intimately frightful to me that I would never dare experience it alone. Ghostlore instead revels in the aforementioned ‘clickiness’ of Diablo, presenting it amidst the rich backdrop of Southeast Asian mythology. You have a choice of six classes—Adept, Exorcist, Feral, Geomancer, Hashahin and Sentinel—which are somewhat inspired by your typical Dungeons and Dragons classes. Each class has their own unique combat abilities; my chosen class, Feral, is a Necromancer-esque hero who draws from their own life forces to inflict damage, and can cause even more critical damage when their health dips to dangerously low levels. You’ll then mow through levels and levels of monsters while amassing gold and loot, and return back to the Seaport to empty your inventory. In this aspect, Ghostlore doesn’t stray too far from the Diablo formula; the ebb and flow of this routine will be familiar to any Diablo veterans. At the same time, Ghostlore continues to draw on Southeast Asian culture with the ability to consume regional cuisine—food that can be whipped up in exchange for raw ingredients you can find in the wilderness. These dishes grant some bonuses to your stats, such as increasing critical damage or base damage, but feel largely perfunctory; these ingredients are little more than additional loot you can hoard and carry back to your base in Seaport.

What Ghostlore sought to carry out differently, however, is a mechanic known as the glyph system. Think of these as bonuses you can inscribe on your own body, which are represented as grids in the game. Glyphs are magical symbols you can find while eviscerating monsters, and regular glyphs can enhance your abilities, such as increasing your damage, hit points or accuracy. Then there are compound glyphs, which take up five grids, but can grant additional bonuses, as well as enhance regular glyphs that are housed within these spaces. Think of these as a sort of Tetris mini-game, where maximising your bonuses means fitting the most suitable glyphs within your allocated space. For the more stats-obsessed among us, this provides yet another avenue to tweak and refine your hero towards an ideal build.

But as refreshing as Ghostlore’s conceit may be—an action RPG set in the underrepresented culture of Southeast Asia—the game still feels like a less fulfilling version of Diablo. Gone were the sprawling skill trees and the rich customisability of individual classes of the latter: what remains is the game’s sheer clickiness and all the looting. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Ghostlore, at this stage, does have a solid foundation underneath it all, but in the end, the atmosphere, environments and setting just don’t feel abundant enough for players to linger more than just a few hours in. That said, I still have high hopes for Ghostlore; the game is still in early access, and perhaps it just needs a little more stewing in the pot for now.

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