Withering Rooms Review – Nowhere to Hide

Withering Rooms Review

I review dozens of games every year. I’m always excited and a little grateful to find a game that looks or plays unlike everything else. Of course, different doesn’t always mean good, or fun. In the case of Withering Rooms, it’s both visually striking and mechanically satisfying to play. Mostly. The game has been parked in early access since 2022 and has now been released in its final form.

When a Soulslike Isn’t a Soulslike

Withering Rooms is a 2.5D action RPG/roguelike with a dark gothic setting that has been compared to Bloodborne. I get it. There are some Lovecraftian monsters and a Victorian, oppressively spooky atmosphere with dusty mirrors and spectral figures. But where Bloodborne’s action was fluid and fast, movement in Withering Rooms is slower and more deliberate. You’re not managing stamina.

You play as Nightingale, a 15-year-old girl who finds herself exiled to Mostyn House, a Victorian mansion and asylum. She finds herself in a living dream where dying just means waking again into the same nightmare. Her goal is to escape the dream and the prison of Mostyn House.

The creepy mansion has several floors, a hedge maze, and a labyrinthine basement, but being a 2D scroller, it mostly consists of long halls with multiple doors and connecting rooms. There’s an in-game map, but because the game is procedurally generated, each run reconfigures the levels. It can be frustrating for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.

Withering Rooms absolutely nails the look of grimdark gothic horror. It’s always nighttime in the mansion, and the human and nonhuman enemies and NPCs are strange and/or terrifying. The lighting is effective, and the game’s detailed art direction and eye for period decoration are excellent. Speaking of excellence, Withering Rooms’ audio design and music are incredibly good. The music ranges from stark and dissonant solo instrumentals to Bach and lush choral tracks.

Focus on Combat

While Withering Rooms nails the Victorian horror vibe, it’s first and foremost an action game with some RPG elements blended in. Similar to other action games, Nightingale finds, crafts, and buys a wide range of offensive weapons, magic spells, and consumables.

Withering Rooms is a roguelike, so when she dies a lot of her gear disappears. A few items persist, though, and there are item-dependent shrines that allow her to add things to her permanent stash. Doors she’s opened and solved puzzles don’t reset, but enemies respawn in new places, as do NPCs. It can be frustrating to track down vendors or other key characters when their location changes.

Withering Rooms makes mechanically clever use of its haunted environments. Nightingale can peek through keyholes to see if monsters await and there are plenty of places for her to hide to wait for enemies to pass, or to gain the advantage in attacks. There’s a spyglass that allows Nightingale to peer down long hallways. There are well-marked safe spaces, too, where Nightingale can’t be attacked. 

Puzzles play a large role in Withering Rooms, and solving them can be critical to moving forward. Some are riddles, but a lot of them mean paying close attention to clues in the environment. Most are logical, not too gamified, and satisfying to solve. Some, like the hedge maze, are timed or tied to status effects, adding even more tension.

Fight or Flight

Withering Rooms is combat-heavy, which means a lot of time facing off against evil spirits, demented humans, and grotesque monsters. Nightingale has a suite of offensive and defensive moves like light and heavy attacks, blocks, and dodge rolls. She most often fights with knives and other bladed weapons, which means getting up close to her foes. The enemies themselves are scary and often seriously outmatch our hero. Ranged weapons like thrown knives or even shotguns can be effective, but they’re hard to aim accurately.

Unfortunately, the game’s overall implementation of combat is also what holds it back from “instant classic” status. Some systems, like spell crafting, are simply not well explained. Others, like rolling or blocking, just feel slow and imprecise. There’s not much weight or impact to well-landed melee hits and timing can be hard to nail down. The game allows the player to dial back difficulty to a forgiving, story mode level. It takes a lot of the sting and frustration out of combat but, just like many recent action RPGs, challenging combat is why players come to the title.

Great Set Up for a Sequel

In the end, Withering Rooms’ somewhat clunky and graceless combat is not enough to seriously detract from what it does well. Withering Rooms looks unlike any recent game in the genre. Its setting is haunting and haunted and its blend of roguelike, puzzle, and action mechanics guarantees variety. It’s a compelling choice for fans of action games with more than a dash of horror.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Cool art and atmosphere
  • Excellent music
  • Lots of variety in game play

The Bad

  • Combat can be clunky
  • Roguelike elements frustrate at times