Spelunking and Magical Self-Immolation in Noita’s Monster-Filled Depths

A wizard is a powerful being, skilled at immense magics that can rend the world asunder.  A wizard is also a fragile being, practically the dictionary definition of “glass cannon.” They’re constantly under the threat of physical harm, because once something has sneaked its way past their defenses it’s not like they’ve been hitting the gym for a vigorous workout and a little sparring practice.  The wizard of Noita is a master of wands, able to bind and use incredible powers that frequently pack a little more punch than is healthy.  The caverns are crawling with monsters and lined with traps, but the real killer of wizards is the law of unintended consequences.

Noita is a side-view action roguelike where a wizard starts out every run at the mouth of a cave and then proceeds to explode, self-immolate, dissolve in acid, drown, and sometimes if things go a little more closely to plan, get savaged by monsters.  The starting equipment is always the same pair of wands, one shooting unlimited but also unimpressive magic bolts and the other loaded with three bombs.  Controls are fairly simple; run with the left stick, aim with the right, fire with one trigger and levitate with the other.  The bumpers switch between wands, and if you find them, potions, and the rest is just a matter of survival.  The problem is that everything reacts to everything else, and the wizard is letting off a serious amount of firepower in closed and highly-reactive quarters.

One of the first things I do every run, for example, is shoot down the three lanterns in the entryway.  There’s no practical reason to do this, just a little starting ritual to get in the right mindset.  A stray shot might knock a stalactite off the ceiling, while a hit sends the lantern plummeting to the floor.  If it lands oil spills everywhere in a thin sheen, and shooting the lantern a second time breaks the glass and lights the oil on fire.  Or, when things go right, that second shot strikes the lantern mid-air and turns the descending fragments into a rain of fire.  The entryway floor is stone, so there’s no structural damage, but trying to walk through it will set the wizard’s robe on fire and lead to slowly dropping health.  Worse, if the lantern oil gets on the robe it changes from somewhat flammable into highly flammable, taking away the one second’s grace period of being in the flames. It also doesn’t help that oil isn’t known for its traction, so walking in it means sliding around instead of stopping.  It would be a problem if the wizard didn’t have several seconds of levitation, which is more than enough to fly over burning oily floor.

All this is before the adventure properly starts.  Once the wizard is past the entryway an entire labyrinth of caves and passages await with far more substances to use and abuse.  Noita is very much a friendly-fire type of game, so the monsters are only slightly less likely to kill each other than you, and frequently there’s rumblings from the depths as something unseen triggers a massive explosion.  Vats of alcohol and oil ignite with incredible ease, wooden beams spread the flames beyond their initial point of damage, exploding barrels filled with fire and toxic sludge are common, and boxes with the skull and bones markings wait for one magic bolt too many to blast a burning hole in the terrain.  The promise of Noita is that every pixel is simulated and what fun would that be if there weren’t a good number of ways to decimate the scenery?

The toxic green sludge, for example, lies inert on top of bare earth or wood, but does cause damage over time to the wizard if enough of it gets on the robe.  Acid, on the other hand, corrodes right through everything but the strongest rock.  Explosions disintegrate the terrain, but if the land is underneath a liquid (water, slime, booze, blood, etc) the fluid then runs down the landscape to pool at the bottom.  It doesn’t take long to see the possibilities.  Water in particular is an incredible defense mechanism, washing off any harmful substance, dousing fires and slowing or stopping any projectiles if there’s enough in the way.  Water is awfully hard to breathe, though, and not only does a great job of conducting electricity but substances like flaming oil tend to pool on top.  Its risks are mild, though, and I’ve saved a good number of runs by blasting the floor out from under a large pool and letting it soak the caverns below.

Dangerous as the caves can be, the wands have the potential to be even worse.  New random wands are scattered throughout each area, ranging from fairly useless (a flame rises from the tip, perfect for toasting marshmallows if marshmallow had been one of the simulated substances) to crazy-overpowered.  A good wand might shoot several fast bolts in a row, four or five back-to-back before pausing, while a great wand has a few modifiers such as split-shot or knockback attached.  Each wand has several stats determining how many spells it can let off at once, how quickly it recharges, and even how many spells and modifiers can be stacked.  Things get tricky, though, when fire and explosive abilities show up, but thankfully it’s easy to go to a sub-menu to read what abilities the wand has before using it.  Which, while reasonable and properly cautious, sounds like no fun whatsoever.

What actually tends to happen is a moment of “Ooh, I wonder what this wand does!” followed by finding an open space to set it off.  Fire wand at distant wall, note effect and then fire a few more times because it’s just as likely to shoot a string of common-grade fireballs as it is to suddenly change on the third shot to split-shot bouncing shurikens leaving flame trails behind.  Or maybe the wand will be missiles that destroy so much of the area that even standing in what had seemed a safe zone is no help.  The last insta-suicide wand I found let off a five-second explosion inches from the wand’s tip that immediately ended the run, which only didn’t feel unfair because A) the information was right there on a sub-screen I hadn’t looked at and B) it was hilarious.

Noita is a side-view roguelike where everything effects everything else, usually in as entertaining a manner as possible.  Fires, floods and spreading explosions of acid wait in the cavern’s depths, and the monsters are as susceptible to environmental damage as the player.  Every run is technically a new chance to survive the cavern’s hazards, but really it’s all about seeing how much of the place can be left as a flaming ruin littered with monster corpses before one chain reaction too many catches up with you.  Sometimes death is from something as simple as a robe on fire with no water to be found, or from shooting fire-hornets without taking the effects of their lava blood into account, or even grabbing the wrong wand for the situation and having a shuriken ricochet back in your face, but odds are good it’s going to end in a way that’s as amusing as it is final.  And then the next run begins, because there’s no telling what will turn up a new set of caverns and it’s just so easy to find out.  Noita is all about playing with everything and surviving the consequences, and when things don’t go as planned another run holds the promise either to do better or entertainingly worse.  Either way it counts as winning.

Noita released on Early Access on September 24.  The current plan is about a year’s worth of polish, balancing and content upgrades, but it’s now playable start to finish in its current state.