GRAVEN (PC) Preview

By Athanasios 17.06.2021

Review for GRAVEN on PC

This is the perfect era to live in if a fan of old-school first-person shooters the likes of Doom. Apart from the fact that there are tons of mods available for the latter that offer an experience that’s 10 times better than most triple-A “masterpieces” out there (and all free), many have developed their own “new-old” games, usually with legendary publisher 3D Realms being at the helm of this resurgence, which has given the world titles like the Duke Nukem 3D-flavoured Ion Fury, and the - still in Early Access - Quake-powered WRATH: Aeon of Ruin. Continuing on the same path of spiritual successors is GRAVEN by Slipgate Ironworks, which basically meshes Heretic and HeXen together, offering a retro tour down the world of dark medieval fantasy, with creeping undead, sinister sorcerers, violent beasts, and decrepit, weather/age/disease-beaten lands.

The introductory cut-scene is an example of great talent gone to waste. The slightly distorted voice of the one who narrates this tale is strong and commanding, but the actual writing is weak. Not bad, just a bit messy, and even confusing, starting with names and titles that have no weight yet, failing to provide the player with a purpose; something-something about a dead daughter, and here's some words about the undead plague, and there's some lore about the Orthogonal Brotherhood of Holy Priests of the Church… or something along these lines. Once you begin your quest, you'll soon forget about everything that has been said so far, as there's only a tiny amount of storytelling to be found in-game.

While a strong incentive would help immerse you into this world of might and magic, GRAVEN is fortunately a gameplay-first kind of deal, so lovers of the Heretics and HeXens of old are bound to enjoy what's in store despite its - currently - weak storytelling qualities. Concerning said gameplay, and like the aforementioned Raven Software classics, this is all about running around, and killing evil stuff through the use of weapons and spells. It should be said, however, that this generally leans more towards HeXen and [url=/review/4162/1/hexen-ii-pc.html]HeXen II in the way it plays, in the sense that exploration is a huge part of the journey.

Screenshot for GRAVEN on PC

Don't expect something "fancy," when it comes to exploration, as it is somewhat simple on that front. Find 'A,' and use it to open 'B,' so that you can use it on 'C' in order to reach 'D.' It should also be mentioned that it is better than HeXen in that regard (sorry Serpent Rider saga fans), as it's nowhere near as confusing as that was, with little to no backtracking needed, not to mention the existence of a journal system that gives a general idea of what needs to be done. That being said, the level design of this Early Access version is a bit too simple, rarely requiring much thought. Rather than simply being like the key-hunts of old, this would greatly benefit from adding a little bit of… metroidvania into the mix, forcing player to get creative with the abilities on offer.

As an example, the Priest that you control has a spell book. The first trick he'll learn is fire magic. With it you can light torches, burn spider webs, make explosive barrels blow up, and… and nothing else really. There's no real creative use for the spell, like, for example, candles that open up a secret path, or a smart puzzle segment that requires fire to overcome it. The same can be said about the second ability, lightning, which can stun enemies, electrocute them when on water, or activate machinery, but, once again, you won't need it that much, and there's never an occasion where you must think outside the box. At least with fire you can burn the many, many breakable items that lie all over the place, and quickly receive what's inside…

Screenshot for GRAVEN on PC

GRAVEN thinks that breaking urns, boxes, and barrels is fun. It is. For about one minute. After that it becomes a boring chore, especially when you are out of mana and need to use a melee attack. Sadly, you sort of need to break some stuff in order to get some coin, mana, and ammo for the weapons. Speaking of which, this early version has one staff and a sword, the only difference being their strength (the staff soon receives an update, but it's a simple one), and three ranged weapons: one for sniping, one for close quarters, and one acting like a grenade launcher. They are quite unbalanced, pretty much like the spells mentioned earlier, but that's not the main problem. That would be how tedious combat is.

The damage output is unbalanced and inconsistent, and enemies, from the lowly zombie, to the much more durable undead knights, can take lots and lots of hits to go down. The priest generally moves like a freight train, so the fact that battle is so slow-paced and unexciting ruins the power fantasy quite a bit. That's not a moan at the difficulty at hand. In fact, GRAVEN is not very challenging. The issue here is that there's no tactical depth in fighting what this throws at you. A horde of undead is coming. Just hit/shoot until dead, and avoid their easy-to-avoid attacks. The only "challenge" here is the unfair hitboxes, with fish in particular being extra annoying as their jaws are practically unavoidable when trying to kill them with a sword or staff.

Screenshot for GRAVEN on PC

As a final note, this has a kind of an empty "feel;" as if there's room for more content, which just hasn't been added yet, be it more enemies, more intricate level design, more items/power-ups/whatever, pieces of lore, interactions with characters, and so on - not to mention that a couple of bugs and glitches (none of them game-breaking) have been encountered. Of course, everything mentioned so far could be a matter of this being an Early Access project. That's no excuse for the terrible save system, however! This has an auto-save mechanic that "records" acquired items, as well as progress (open doors and so on), but it occasionally does whatever it wants to, erasing a great deal of your progress, or sending you far away from your last checkpoint. This is a part that needs plenty of work.

If there's one thing that GRAVEN does well, that would be it's audio-visuals. Like its cousin, the Quake-powered WRATH, this dark, dying fantasy land of chunky pixels looks fantastic. Nothing is particularly memorable, to be honest, but while one might call this just another mundane, medieval setting, it is a very appealing mundane, medieval setting. It's basically Dark Souls turned retro FPS, and that's far from a bad thing. There are also a couple of nice little touches, like how the priest cleans his blood-soaked sword, or how upon discovering his first spell his hand "accidentally" lights on fire. The music and sound effects also contribute to the strong gothic aura this has. If the team shows the same love on the actual game, this will be an easy recommendation.

Screenshot for GRAVEN on PC

Final Thoughts

It's obvious within minutes that GRAVEN needs work. Reaching the end of this 3+ hour-long journey through tasty, pixelly gibs, was definitely enjoyable, but even for an Early Access version there are many flaws, mechanical and otherwise. The two key things it needs? #1 A much better, mechanically deep, and fine-polished combat system, and, #2, a heavier focus in spells and other abilities when it comes to its exploration segments, instead of relying on the archaic "find A and use it to open B" formula. Hopefully the developer will take care of its beautiful, atmospheric tribute to Heretic and HeXen, and produce something that's actually better than its source of inspiration. Serpentine fingers crossed.


Slipgate Ironworks


3D Realms


First Person Shooter



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  n/a

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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