Imagine this: your ship is shot down over an uncharted alien planet. You jettison from the flaming wreckage and crash land in an escape pod. As you explore your surroundings, you come across a decapitated head, and to your horror, you realize it’s your own. That wasn’t an escape pod; it was a cloning bay. The original “you” died a long time ago. You’re the latest in a long line of your own clones trying to find an emergency distress beacon from the remnants of your ship in the hopes of signalling rescue. That is the predicament in which protagonist Freja Akiyama finds herself in Beacon, the debut game from new studio Monothetic LLC.
Beacon will probably feel familiar to veterans of the roguelike genre. With every death, and subsequent birth of a new clone, the route you take through the Kovus 18 and the enemies you fight are randomized. Although you’ll always go through the same sequence of levels, starting from the cloning bay and following beacons into a robotic alien fortress, the route you take and the challenges you face will never be exactly the same. You may come across side objectives and even small dungeons to explore off of the main path. In one run you might find a cache of DNA to use in the cloning machine’s genetic sequencer, or in another you may find a “tinkered weapon”, transformed and upgraded by a previous clone.
Currently, there are two enemy types to encounter, with two more scheduled to be added as the game progresses through early access. The Solus are an insectoid hivemind that populates the wilderness of Kovus 18. They’re highly territorial and locked in a struggle with the mysterious, robotic interlopers known as Prism. It’s not clear what Prism’s purpose is on the planet, but they have your distress beacon locked in their vault, and they won’t let it go without a fight.
There are a lot of tools at Freja’s disposal, and even more to find in the environment. You start with a standard, semi-auto plasma pistol and can find and unlock a wide variety of weapons with different attributes. Different factions are especially vulnerable to certain types of damage. The Solus melt under fire-based attacks, and electric weapons make quick work of Prism robots. Flare guns, flame cannons, SMGs, flak shotguns, assault rifles, tesla grenades, tesla drones, grenade-like Solus eggs that confuse enemies and cause friendly fire, incendiary grenades, consumables that grant temporary stat increases, and more are available throughout.
You’re not the first Freja clone, and you certainly won’t be the last. Inevitably, the hostile alien world and unforgiving difficulty will ensure your demise, but there are ways that one clone’s struggle can contribute to the next clone’s success. First, enemies will occasionally drop salvageable DNA samples. The DNA you collect will go back to the cloning machine for use on the next iteration of Freja. Every time you form a new clone, you get a chance to add up to five DNA samples and five DNA mods from the selection you collected in the previous life. Any DNA that isn’t used is liquidated into an experience bar. Every time the bar is filled, a new weapon or item is added to the loot pool for you to find in your runs.
There are a few different types, and every sample has a small chance to form a mutation upon sequencing. Base DNA is the most common, giving a bonus to one stat and a penalty to another, and it’s up to you to decide if the tradeoff is worth it. Fortified DNA is rarer, but instead gives two stat bonuses. Volatile DNA is chaotic. It gives one stat bonus and one stat penalty, but it has the highest chance of mutation.
Generally, mutated DNA has a bit of a negative connotation. Images of cancerous tumors and genetic deformities come to mind, but in the world of Beacon, a mutation is more likely to take the form of a fireball launching robot arm or a flaming skull head that steals health from enemies while you’re on fire — oh, and summons disembodied exploding flame skulls that launch at your enemies. Not sure how DNA does any of that, but it’s too awesome to matter.
If a DNA sample mutates, it locks into that slot on the sequencer for a few turns before reverting to normal. If you take a liking to a particular mutation, you can extend its lifespan with DNA mods applied on the next sequencing. DNA mods can have a wide variety of other effects on DNA samples, like removing mutations, adding, removing, multiplying, or inverting stats. However, if a stat gets too large (100+), positive or negative, it will make the entire DNA sample unstable, and will reduce its lifespan to one.
The story is expanded upon in text logs found throughout the environment. Previous Freja clones remark upon their near-hopeless situation with a surprising amount of pluck and optimism. There’s no long treatise on background lore, but it’s nice to get a look inside Freja’s mind to better contextualize the world, since there’s no dialogue or cutscenes to speak of. It’s unclear how many clones have been born, fought, and died before the beginning of the game, but with the number of text logs, tinkered weapons, and signs of life near the beacons, it’s implied to have been a lot.
There’s already several hours worth of content available in Beacon’s current form, and plenty more if you attempt to see all the different items and mutations available. Monothetic has also released an exceptionally comprehensive early access roadmap. Players can expect to see new levels, bosses, weapons, enemy types, and story content in content patches every three to five weeks by the time Beacon reaches full release in summer or fall 2019.