Blade of Darkness (PC) Review

By Athanasios 20.12.2021

Review for Blade of Darkness on PC

Developed by Rebel Act Studios, and published by Codemasters, Severance: Blade of Darkness was an attempt to create a hardcore action-adventure, with a dark, Conan the Barbarian-like sword and sorcery setting, as well as a strong emphasis on methodical swordplay. Technically impressive (and demanding), this "proto-Dark Souls" was positively received by the 2001 gaming press, but never really managed to become a big hit, with its small but very passionate fanbase being the only reason why this cult piece of history has reappeared after two whole decades. The current owner of the IP, a publisher by the name of SNEG, has updated it for modern systems via the help of Fire Falcom, with it now being available on Steam and GOG simply as Blade of Darkness. A piece of software born out of the current, nostalgia-fuelled craze of the industry, or something worth playing today? Check Cubed3's in-depth review to decide for yourself.

Sargon the Knight lies is in his dark cell. Upon finding a loose brick in a wall he escapes and carefully starts exploring the dungeon with nothing but his fists to defend himself. This isn't a typical hack 'n' slasher, though, so don't expect to run across many enemies. That's a good thing, as the slow pace builds up quite the atmosphere, making players feel like survivors, immersing them into the role of the lone hero, who after walking past moaning, half dead prisoners, and bleak, torch-lit corridors, comes upon a measly weapon. When he finally meets a foe, he'll have to remain calm, read his (or its) movement, and choose the correct time to land a hit. Missed? Be careful. You might have a relatively generous health bar, but no one will show you any mercy here. This is, after all, one of the titles that paved the way to classics like Dark Souls.

Screenshot for Blade of Darkness on PC

Blade of Darkness is tough. It's not as tough as FromSoftware's legendary creation, but don't expect reaching the end through button mashing. Encounters are usually between one or two enemies, with the main character having to depend on blocks and evasion moves, carefully planned sword/axe/mace/etc. swings, being mindful as to where each move can hit, as, depending on the direction button pressed, the character will aim low or high, left or right. The environment itself is quite treacherous too, with traps, endless pits, and so on. Furthermore, this will never, ever hold your hand. There's no map or other helpers and modern, quality-of-life systems. This very… early '00s mindset might discourage some, but those who'll persevere will experience something surprisingly captivating.

There's more to a "soulslike" than just methodical combat. Atmosphere is an almost equally important element. Oh, sure, the story is just a generic tale of a great evil that has appeared, and the sword that must be acquired to vanquish it. Simple, but succeeds in providing the incentive to brave the fortresses and caverns of this world. The various areas that will be explored are as simple as the story, yet they provide a neat sense of place despite that. Players will feel as if exploring abandoned sites, way past their prime, with plenty of moments where this carried the same vibe with 1996's PlayStation hit Tomb Raider. The, impressive for the time, dynamic shadows really helped in making all this look great. Oh, and don't forget the gore. Bloody dismemberment. Limps flying around. Tasty!

Screenshot for Blade of Darkness on PC

Low fantasy is by definition less flamboyant and "cool," if you will, but it has a certain charm that's hard to describe. While there are orcs and demons, gods and magic here, this universe is mostly grounded in realism. This means that many will find the various locales to be somewhat boring; just a bunch of places that copy Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Medieval Europe, and so on. Correct? Far from it. As equally "boring" RPGs the likes of Gothic have shown, the somewhat generic look of it all, actually makes the game world more believable and immersive, not to mention that it also helps all the fantasy elements stand out. For some all this talk about atmosphere etc. might be irrelevant. If that's the case, avoid Blade of Darkness. Along with combat, this is undoubtedly one of its major components.

Note that this is a somewhat short trek, which takes about 10-12 hours to complete. The replay value lies on the chance to try out four characters - basically the classes of the game, with each one excelling at specific weapons, and having different pros and cons. The Knight, for instance, relies in shields and one-handed weaponry, while the Barbarian protects his half-naked bodybuilder physique through enormous, two-handed swords and axes. The Dwarf is the tank version of the Knight; more durable, but also much slower, while the Amazon sits on the opposite side of the spectrum, as she has the smallest health pool, but is also very quick - great for those who prefer dodges over blocking. There's some light exploration and puzzle-solving to be done, like "burn box that blocks path," or "find three gems to activate mechanism," but it's mostly all about combat.

Screenshot for Blade of Darkness on PC

Concerning the actual fighting, the mechanics were fairly innovative for distant 2001. Apart from the more methodical nature of the game, there's a variety of weapons to choose from, with the four characters being able to pull off various combos with them, which was almost unheard of back in the day. Sadly, while one of the biggest strengths of Blade of Darkness is its combat, it's also one of its main weaknesses. For starters, it can get very repetitive, and very soon. There are only a handful of enemy types, so slaying them again and again for more than eight hours can get tiring, especially as few battle scenarios are any interesting. Most of the time, it's just you and two foes in a fairly large room, thus strafing around danger won't be that difficult. Secondly, combat is somewhat clunky. You can get used to it, but as this is a "proto" Dark Souls, it kind of lacks the finesse of the latter.

Image for


Generally, the controls (as well as the hitboxes) are a tad unreliable, annoying when trying to hit tiny insects, or avoid a giant boss, and especially aggravating when dealing with platforming sections, something that forces you to spam the save button before each leap. Oh, yeah, speaking of saves, that is definitely one of the reasons why this is much easier than other soulslikes, as one can save pretty much anytime. The interesting bit is that there's a "hidden" rating at hand, which counts how many saves one has used per stage. This essentially gives hardcore players the extra challenge they need (and makes play-throughs extra tense), but due to the somewhat flawed controls, few will dare to use less than five saves per stage, especially when in a platform-heavy map. As for that achievement that requires beating this in one seating, with no saves, and under eight hours… it's crazy just thinking about it.

Now, concerning the remastering that has been done here, it's less a remaster, and more an update that slightly beautifies the game, while also making it easier to play on current systems. Widescreen compatibility, a few additional settings here and there… and that's it, actually. Retro aficionados who like this kind of games will appreciate the fact that this exist (this critic surely does so), but in all honesty this is a bit of a missed opportunity to add a few more things to the original, and polish its many rough edges. In conclusion, this remains a cult classic, and as such it's a tough one to rate, or recommend to just anybody. If you don't mind a relic of the past, which is somewhat repetitive, and has a bit clunky controls, but is also super immersive, and Dark Souls-like challenging, give it a try. Maybe you'll join its small fanbase too.

Screenshot for Blade of Darkness on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

It's definitely a good thing that Blade of Darkness exists, therefore its 2021 update is more than welcome, despite the fact that it is an extremely conservative remaster that hasn't really "fixed" the game. Flaws put aside, though, this is not one of those titles that belong in the past and are best left there to collect dust. It's not a title to recommend to just anyone, especially to those with an aversion to its heavy "retro" sensibilities, but those who can get past the clunky and slightly unreliable controls, and stomach the occasionally repetitive gameplay, will immediately get immersed to the strong atmosphere of this Conan the Barbarian-meets-Dark Souls fantasy land of sword and sorcery. And death. Plenty, and plenty of bloody death.

Developer

Fire Falcom

Publisher

SNEG

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

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   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
Ofisil

There are 1 members online at the moment.