There is a generally accepted truth in games journalism, that in order to effectively review a game, you really must have completed it and seen all it has to offer. In the case of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth‘s first expansion; Afterbirth, I’ve achieved neither. This puts me at something of a disadvantage considering the incredibly loyal nature of Isaac‘s fan base, but I’ll do my best to justify why I feel able to pass judgement.
Afterbirth, simply put, is a vast, sprawling expansion that delivers more of the same roguelike gameplay that has proven so popular since the original Binding of Isaac way back in 2012. It has a handful of new modes, features and challenges, plus a ridiculous amount of additional content ranging from items and transformations to bosses and playable characters. There are also (apparently) over a thousand new room designs — and so the list goes on. This is the main reason why I can be confident that I haven’t seen all that Afterbirth has to offer, because frankly, I’m just not counting.
Here’s what I liked:
Zealous — You probably already get the picture about how much additional content is packed into Afterbirth, and I have to say, if you’re already a fan of Isaac, it’s quite incredible. The sheer volume of stuff is one thing, but what it really means for the game is a considerable broadening of tactical scope. For example, a scalpel has been introduced that enables players to cut portals between rooms, and many more transformations have been introduced, most of which are easier to trigger than in past iterations, albeit at the cost of a decrease in power.
Ruinous — Isaac has always been a super tough game, even among its roguelike peers. On occasion though, Afterbirth takes things to another level in terms of difficulty, especially where boss fights are concerned. I think on balance, this is going to be a good thing for the loyal Isaac fans out there that will be ready to invest in Afterbirth, bearing in mind that it is an expansion and not standalone DLC.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Divisive — Probably the only negative thing about Afterbirth is really that I’ve always felt you love Isaac or you hate it. Game reviewers love it because of how it mates challenging, deeply tactical gameplay with accessibility and the right mix of luck and skill. On the other hand, casual gamers see a fairly ugly, often childish and generally unfair game that makes little sense to them. In all honesty, until I really sat down with Rebirth on the Xbox One, I was probably in that latter camp too.
Destructive — A special mention for Afterbirth has to be made about some of the more frustrating situations that can arise, probably because of the sheer volume of combinations that can spawn in any given room. There were far too many occasions when I found myself trapped in a tiny box room full of tough bad guys that I simply could not survive. Frustration bears many forms in Afterbirth, and listing them all would be a pain in itself. Needless to say, it is the incredibly steep difficulty that has so far kept me from completing the game.
In some ways, this is one of the easiest wrap-ups that I’ve had to write for XBLA Fans. If you’ve already bought The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and you like it, then Afterbirth is basically an essential purchase. On the contrary, if you couldn’t engage with Rebirth, then there is absolutely nothing here to change your mind.
Score: Highly Recommended
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth was developed and published by Nicalis on Xbox One. It was released on May 10, 2016 for $10.99 as DLC for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. A copy was provided by Nicalis for review purposes. Click here for information on XBLA Fans’ new scoring system.