White Rabbit / Adult Swim (studio)
21 June 2019 (released)
08 July 2019
Nowadays you can’t go anywhere without seeing a “Soulsbourne” game advertised or mentioned by a gamer or journalist. Whether it’s on consoles, Steam or even mobile, games like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight and more reign supreme. There are so many and while some are absolutely great, there are many more which fail, hardly get recognised or are just ripped apart because they strafe too far away from the Souls formula (what!?). One such game is Death’s Gambit, which is now released in the UK. I ask does Death’s Gambit deserve a second chance.
Read on and find out.
Death’s Gambit is inspired by so many great things in gaming; it’s a Metroidvania with Souls elements infused into the core gameplay. These elements shine through to the punishing combat, trial and error format in certain aspects of the design the art style is a dead ringer for Castlevania. The team behind Death’s Gambit are true admirers of everything that has inspired their game. I was a little nervous as I know fans of the Souls series don’t appreciate new elements being brought into the genre and it usually takes some remarkable to get approval. However I’m not a fan of Dark Souls and I do often appreciate developers who take risks with the formula.
Players will embark on an adventure as Sorun, a freshly resurrected knight who’s been instructed by the grim reaper to go out and destroy an army of immortal monsters. Sorun’s reward for completing the task is the bitter sweet comfort of death, as for every time he/the player dies, Sorun comes back to life. You’ll have to travel through the ruins of the old kingdom and discover the source of immortality and destroy it.
The developers have managed to craft a story that’s actually more interesting than what we tend to get with the Souls genre. Usually Souls games just repeat many of the same elements, with mad kings, deadly plagues and a random (yet not so random) protagonist who usually ends up being partly reasonable for the mess that has happened. Death’s Gambit has quite a personal story which focuses more the leading character, their past and harbours some interesting themes on death, redemption and betrayal. The story is delivered through a number of character exchanges, short cut scenes and even in death, you can catch glimpses of Sorun’s past, giving him some depth. The delivery is something I feel Death’s Gambit has done better compared to other games in the souls series. Whereas they break up the story so much that you’ll end up looking it up online, Death’s Gambit does genuinely give you all the pieces and allows you to put them together to fashion its captivating story.
The presentation both visually and in regards to sound design is perfect, with a beautiful 32 bit art style that evokes an emotional response and connection you would have from playing games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The character designs are amazing and the world is wonderfully detailed. The Gothic horror vibe is strong and will keep you fearful for what might lurk around the corner.
Death’s Gambit inspiration is clearly a mixture of Metroidvania and Dark Souls. An interesting concept to blend both genres but there are some cracks in the framework. Combat is compelling for the most part due to the wide selection of enemies and epic boss battles. Death’s Gambit plays it safe by offering a number of classes for players to choose from, making sure you adjust to the game’s difficulty in your own way. Upgrading and purchasing new items is made clear, with no hidden or obscure information present. One of the things I hated in certain souls games was that certain information in the player stats and upgrading was often verge and misleading I found.
Yet unlike other souls games, carelessness is never really forgiven and making a small mistake in Death’s Gambit can lead to a brutal downfall. Recovery time is short and Death’s Gambit feels as though it requires 100% of your attention and ability to never miss a step. This would be fine if the controls didn’t feel as sluggish as they do and if the world itself weren't so tedious to traverse.
Not to mention that the world, while visually captivating is very confusing to manoeuvre through. It’s a little disorientating and there’s a lack of direction for players, meaning you can wonder around aimlessly and if you do die, checkpoints are quite far from each other.
Overall the combat and exploration are fine, fair enough so that you can progress but with the controls and confusing world, the journey is a grind at times. The highlights are the amazing boss battles and the beautiful visuals of the world itself. The Gothic theme, character design and some enemy encounters which are planned right make Death’s Gambit so much more enthralling.
The developers have been very ambitious in combing two beloved genres into one game. I highly respect their passion and what they wanted to achieve for an end goal. But sadly there are some big flaws which hold it back. I love the visuals, presentation, story and the boss battles. But exploration and combat can be a grind due to the flaky controls, confusing layout to the world and the requirement of perfection in attack execution and lack of recovery. Still I do recommend that fans of both genres check out Death’s Gambit and support the developers in their future endeavours.
++ Beautiful visuals and highly atmospheric
+ Interesting story
- Confusing world
- A little unbalanced in regards to combat