Originally published at: Review | Shoulders of Giants - XboxEra
Shoulders of Giants is a rogue-lite featuring the classic combo of gun-wielding frogs standing on top sword-wielding robots. You’ll hack, slash, shoot, and loot your way across multiple planets to battle the forces of entropy. You can go it alone or take up to three of your froggy friends with you in a game that surpassed all expectations I had for it. Let’s break it down.
A Rogue-lite I Rogue-like
Rogue, a dirty word to be included in a game’s genre for many. Shoulders of Giants is a run-based game with your typical rogue-lite features. You are a frog-bot combo working against the forces of entropy alongside some furry and feathered friends. You’ll start up each play session in a small mission hub where you can choose from various classes called cores, or equip new weapons and looks for your frog and robot. There is even a meta-leveling tree that uses an experience currency earned every time you finish a run that lets you build up your strumph, healing, and more in a satisfying way.
The goal of the game is a simple one. As you clear each planet you’ll earn Heat, but if you die during a run you’ll lose it. With this back and forth in mind you’ll attempt to reach 1000 heat total to push the story forward. The galaxy is being taken over by entropy and you need this heat to stave it off. Each planet you visit can have a few types of missions, conquest and storm. The majority of the time you will be doing conquest, in which you find and clear out a handful of spires around the procedurally generated map. After clearing these spires you’ll need to find the stage’s monolith, at which point you’ll face either a wave of smaller enemies or a large boss.
Storm sees you in a dark, rainy, and terrifying race to find the monolith. You do not have to destroy any spires but you can’t see more than 20 feet around you and the game can dip to a terrifying low framerate, oh no! Storm missions are not fun, at all. The complete lack of vision is a never-ending exercise in frustration and finding the monoliths feels completely random. The majority of my playtime was spent in the conquest missions which are fantastic. The enemy variety in the game is not the highest, but what is there offers up a well-balanced challenge that was easy to read despite the frantic nature of the combat. Shoulders of Giants isn’t the hardest game around, and it’s definitely nowhere near as difficult as the game I think it most closely matches in Risk of Rain 2.
Sadly I only had one code for the review period and I was never able to experience the game’s up to four-player co-op. The $20 launch price should help if you have a group of friends looking for something new to play, as this one isn’t coming to Game Pass day one. The bread and butter of this game is its combat, so let us get into that.
Shootin, Lootin, and Scootin
Shoulders of Giants is a third-person melee shooter and it feels damned good in practice (if you have an elite controller). The right trigger is your main robot attack and each of the face buttons will eventually be used for abilities with A always being your jump. B, X, and Y will eventually be home to pick-ups you’ll find and spend energy on mid-run. Energy is earned every time you kill an enemy or if you find a blue diamond spire that you can activate. Holding the left trigger activates your frog and his ranged weaponry. He too will gain B, X, and Y abilities, and using these while aiming can be a massive pain in the butt. That is unless you have an elite controller with its aim-saving back paddles.
I use an Elite Series 2 core and I don’t think this game would have been nearly as easy or fun without back paddles. The left bumper is your dash and the right bumper is your interact button, so having to use the face buttons while aiming with the right stick requires pulling your finger off the stick every time. That is where the paddles come into play for me, as this is a fast-paced twitch shooter. Even using your robot abilities while meleeing is still far easier if you have an Elite. It is doable, and I have to imagine that co-op will only make things easier. If you’re looking to play solo though, an Elite is the way to go like with damned near any shooter.
The variety of weaponry that you’ll get feels standard for the most part, but there is enough that I enjoyed the constant deluge of new items and the random bonuses available on them. Every gun, melee weapon, and core can have different items randomly attached to them which give that “one more run” incentive as you try to find or craft new stuff. The Core system consists of a main passive bonus, starting robot and frog abilities, and various levels of extras depending on the associated rarity. The normal white items are basic with level-one abilities, but the legendary cores I got could have level 3 abilities and extra passive buffs on them. The same goes for the weaponry you’ll either find or craft, and crafting is as simple as it gets. To roll a new item you sacrifice three old ones. I had four of the same Thor Hammers (called Electron Hammers) and used three of them to craft a new melee weapon.
Every time you go to start a run you’ll see how much heat you can win or lose, which items you’ll potentially get, and how many levels the run will require you to clear. Most runs will be two or three levels long to start. 75%+ of them will be conquest with others like Storm added in as you progress up the Heat chart. I’m not sure if there is a day one patch coming but I did find the game perhaps a touch too easy overall. Even with the losing heat mechanic if you just stick to the easier planet selection each time and make sure to use your experience points to upgrade it’s never a huge challenge. A big part of any roguelike/lite is the per-run pickups, and the variety here is the game’s strongest point. You have a wide variety of abilities for your frog and robot, and mixing those in with your class/core abilities can lead to some wildly powerful combos. Having the electron thor hammer, speed core, and float ability saw me fly across entire levels. I’m not sure how the loot works in co-op, but I hope it’s either only you that can see it or extra items drop for each additional player. There are also butterflies which serve as your main way of healing, and hopefully they are more plentiful if there are more players.
Shoulders of Giants is a nice-looking game, though I did run into some serious performance issues in the Storm levels. Featuring a vivid color palette and an almost painterly look I love the art style. Most of the time it felt like a rock solid sixty frames per second, and the game offered up a clean-looking image. Those storm levels though, when mixed with a large number of particle effects could see drops into what felt like the low teens. Halo in four-player split-screen on the OG level of Xbox levels of slowdown hit me for long periods of time during a few runs, even though the majority of the screen was nothing but darkness.
There is no voice acting in the title but there is plenty of writing and it’s well done. Occasionally you’ll interact with the four NPCs in your hub world, either to learn their backstories or set up side quests and it is a great mix of serious and goofy back-and-forth conversations in which you get to choose from multiple responses. The witty dialogue is matched by excellent music, though the tracks would abruptly cut off sometimes, even on the main menu. I ran into one major bug in which my screen went fully black and I could see or do nothing. A quick restart fixed it and other than that I had a rock-solid solo experience. Sadly I have no idea how the co-op works in the game as my attempts to matchmake were met with long waits and zero matches with other people covering the title.
Wrapping Things Up
Shoulders of Giants is a wonderful surprise. It’s a third-person action roguelike with a ton of heart. Great gameplay, stylish graphics, satisfying progression, and a killer soundtrack combine to create a game I loved spending time with. I know it’s great solo so as long as the co-op runs well this is a title you and your friends won’t want to miss.