Ghostlore, an ARPG with a distinctly Southeast Asian vibe, recently released for Steam and Xbox Game Pass after being honed by player feedback in early access. Partially inspired by classics like Diablo 2 and Titan Quest, the indie game now faces stiff competition from the triple-A juggernaut, Diablo 4. Even though Ghostlore is a much simpler project boasting LoFi pixel graphics reminiscent of the early PS1 and late SNES era, the ARPG has some unique systems that deserve attention from genre aficionados.

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Game Rant recently spoke with Ghostlore‘s creator, Andrew Teo, about the game’s unique Singapore-inspired world and enemies. Compared to medieval Europe, Japanese settings, and far-flung fantasy or Sci-Fi worlds, the game’s unique setting is a refreshing entry into a genre that can often feel overly familiar. But Ghostlore also has more to offer than atypical cultural representation, including a deep character-building system, a unique skill-building grid, and a puzzle-like glyph system for developing character stats.

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Ghostlore’s Crucial Question

Ghostlore Stats

Early on in Ghostlore‘s development, before Teo developed the conceit to do an ‘Eastpunk’ themed adventure, his friends and beta-testers presented him with a simple, but pivotal development question:

“It’s a question that has stuck with me to this day: ”why would I play this game when I can already play Diablo?’ and it made me think ‘Why, indeed?’ That one question changed the whole trajectory of the project. I wanted to do something unique.”

Rather than trying to capture specific mechanics from Ghostlore‘s spiritual predecessors, Teo focused on capturing a general mood. According to Teo, the ARPG genre is all about character choice. The true nature of the game is building unique and awesome characters who can cleave through droves of enemies, rather than the exacting, moment-to-moment challenges of a souls-like. Therefore, the game’s character-building system was of paramount importance, with the mechanical variety on display being impressive and unique.

Diablo 4 presents players with five, highly distinct classes that can each be built in a number of ways but remain rather exclusive from each other. In contrast, Ghostlore embraces synergy. The game boasts six classes overall, but the real hook is that players can select up to three classes for a single character as they progress. Playing with one class feels like a fairly familiar affair, but once players unlock their second class at level 15, they can combine skills to form entirely different abilities with their own mechanics. The result is a system where each class feels distinct and expressive.

Prioritizing Fun Over Balance

Ghostlore Level 2

Competitive games live and die by their ability to balance characters, classes, weapons, and abilities. Again, Diablo 4’s frequent balance patches provide a useful counterexample. Activision Blizzard must not only make sure that each class is fun, but also fair for competition’s sake. But when a player is only competing against AI and the only form of co-op is local play, Teo believes the number one priority should be making the player feel awesome:

“If there is a single build to rule them all, then you have a problem. But as long as there are multiple builds, enough room for players to show off their cleverness, and people are having fun, balance isn’t that important.”

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Choosing a class in Ghostlore immediately gives players access to everything that class offers, from core skills that can be assigned to button presses to a robust variety of passive skill points that can be implemented into a grid. Allowing players to mix and match between three different class options in total—half of the game’s complete suite of abilities—yields some truly unique and powerful builds.

Each of these combinations is viable for the sake of completing the game and there is no single ‘correct answer’ to optimizing a character. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter if one combination of skills and active abilities slightly—or even moderately—outpaces another configuration, because players are only in competition with the game’s gallery of spooks and monsters. Admittedly, the result is an easier game than Diablo 4. While Ghostlore will occasionally overwhelm players with hordes upon hordes of mobs or a tough boss fight, Teo feels that decision-making is at the core of a good ARPG, and that a good build will allow the player to slightly tune out during combat for an experience that is simultaneously meditative and empowering.

Layering In Complexity

Ghostlore Crafting

Teo was surprised to find that players in early access always wanted more complexity. Initially, the skill system did not feature combination skills, but the game is much deeper and stronger for their addition. Apart from class choices, players also have a grid of equipable glyphs similar to Last Epoch‘s altar system, which requires puzzle game-like placement to optimize bonuses. And like any ARPG worth its salt, the gear also provides meaningful bonuses that can completely change the way players approach fights. For dessert, the game has a food system that affords other bonuses to further fine-tune builds.

Given these unique charms, it would be a shame to dismiss Ghostlore as a Southeast Asian Diablo. And even in the wake of Diablo 4‘s release, ARPG veterans owe it to themselves to check it out.

Ghostlore is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

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