I've seen Below twice now, and I still have no idea what to expect


Probably by design

Maybe my Bad Journalist seams are showing a bit here, but I cannot pin down exactly what I think Belowis. When I saw it at PAX East in 2014, it looked Dark Souls-esque in both combat style and its unforgiving nature. Despite writing a lengthy preview, I was uncertain as to what it really was.

Having seen it again — this time at GDC last week — I’m still unsure about it. In fact, I’m possibly more unsure than I was two years ago. All I know is that I want to sit in a dark living room with the final build, and I want to do that as soon as possible.

Talking with Capy creative director Kris Piotrowski did little to enlighten me. He re-explained Below‘s systems to me (one hit point, slow bleeding out, need to heal or cauterize the wound, respawn as an ancestor), but none of that truly feels like what Belowis at its very core. That all feels like a smattering of bullet points on a useless fact sheet.

No, Belowis about the shroud of mystery, and the player gradually shining a light on that. Working their way ever-downward, there’s something to uncover — whether that be a monster, a philosophical meaning, or the Fountain of Youth. (Ponce de Leon is going to be mad jealous if it’s the Fountain of Youth.) Piotrowski already dispelled my theory that you’re going to hell, so don’t lean on that.

In all parts of the game,Belowrelies on the unknown and the process of discovery. There are no text boxes or dialogue for guidance. Instead, it’s trial and error — testing things out to see what works and what doesn’t. At one point, Piotrowski showed me how to make soup; I have no idea what the soup did or how the various ingredients affect the soup, but it was made and consumed, presumably to my benefit.

The one glaring correction that Piotrowski had from my previous assumption was thatBelowisn’t necessarilySpelunkyorDark Soulslevels of difficult. He likened it toZeldain a lot of ways and commented that it’s more accessible than those other games are. It seems as if those who are dedicated to unraveling whatBelowhas to offer won’t be held back entirely by lack of skill as long as the desire to proceed is persistent.

Our other talking point was a less comfortable one. Nearing three years since the initial reveal, people were starting to loudly wonder why this isn’t finished yet. Capy just recently announced that it’s launching this summer. Piotrowski was in no hurry to apologize. “That’s how long it’s taken,” he plainly said. ApparentlyBelowis releasing in the coming months less because it needs to release soon and more because it’s ready to release as Capy feels it’s done.

Leaving my appointment with Piotrowski, I felt hardly any wiser about exactly what Belowactually is. That’s because Capy doesn’t want me to know until the game’s out and I can move through it at my own pace. As a reporter, that’s frustrating; but, as a player, that’s exciting as all hell.