My relationship with Dark Souls is as follows: I knew all about it but I had never played it. When it got announced for Switch I was super-stoked to get a chance to see what all the fuss was about. I promptly pre-purchased it from the eShop as soon as the option was available and anxiously awaited release day. Everything about it SOUNDED like my thing- dark, gloomy, brutal, religion-based-sort-of, hacking and slashing awesomeness. What happened once I had it in my hands, ready to play? I spent approximately four days being angry, stressed out, not enjoying gaming whatsoever, and generally wishing I’d bought a physical copy I could return.
Them’s the facts folks, your guy here doesn’t like Dark Souls. Queue the hate mail, I get it. It’s gorgeous, there’s no denying I love to LOOK at it. Unfortunately that’s about as far as it goes for me. I’m not saying it’s bad so calm down, I’m just saying it’s not my thing. Ever since then though, I’ve found myself liking the games that are INSPIRED by Dark Souls quite a lot (here’s lookin’ at YOU Salt & Sanctuary!) and I usually pick them up and at least give ’em the old college try. When I saw a trailer for Dark Devotion a while back I was immediately taken aback by the stunning pixel art, dark and dramatic religious imagery, and what looked like some positively thrilling combat.
It makes me very happy to be able to say I was right, I’m rapturously in love with Dark Devotion, and I still feel that way when it’s kicking the crap out of me so that speaks VOLUMES to its quality.
Let’s get the story out of the way courtesy of the publisher’s website:
“The eternal suffering of The Templars is both a blessing and a curse – salvation is born through sacrifice, and no sacrifice is too great to praise your God. A mystical temple teeming with a strange life-like energy of its own awaits you on your sacred crusade of suffering and redemption that will take you to the depths of traditions spanning centuries – and leave you questioning your faith and your own existence.”
There you have it, you are a Templar plunging the depths of an ancient temple to discover its secrets and redeem us all from what appears to be immense suffering. I didn’t need to know much more than that myself, SOLD! The game plays out like this: After the intro sequences you find yourself in the Filthblood Shelter which acts as your hub area. Cute name! Here you’ll find a blacksmith where you choose your weapons for each run, a place to use EXP to gain buffs as a sort of skill tree, a library that stores the pieces of lore you find scattered around, and a scribe of sorts that gives you various quests to complete. The hub area also opens up more access points to the map as you go along, teleport gateways, and a few secrets of its own too.
You’re gonna see it a LOT too, cause Dark Devotion will kick your ass…hard. And often. The game plays out in fairly typical side-scrolling fashion. You’ll come across weapon drops, spells, consumables, NPCs, places for upgrades, and all the usual suspects and you’ll have to choose what works for you because your space is limited. You’ll collect Faith for killing enemies which acts as currency, you’ll gain EXP too and that’s used for the aforementioned skill tree, and you’ll also have to deal with some random status effects called diseases. Runes add permanent (for that run) effects as well and some to very nice effect I might add. Nothing too groundbreaking here and anyone familiar with “Souls-like” games and roguelikes will be right at home with the systems at work here (more on the roguelike tag later).
Let’s get this one major thing out in the open real quick- there isn’t a jump button. Nope, not one to be found. You have left hand attack/defend, right hand attack, a left and a right dodge plus a roll, and a you’ll use the d-pad/directional buttons for your consumables. No jumping though, so there are plenty of places where you have to commit to the chosen path cause you can’t jump back up to your previous spot. At first I found that extremely frustrating coming from games like Dead Cells where you’re flying all over the damn place but after a while I fell in love with what was on offer here. It forces you to deal with what’s in front of you, to fully invest in every step you take, and it takes an otherwise fairly simple premise and morphs it into something I ended up finding wildly compelling. Attacks feel appropriately weighty and satisfying, and learning how to dodge/parry and counter was vastly more enjoyable in this game than I have found it to be in similar games.
The presentation here is where I’m REALLY gonna start gushing. This is some truly gorgeous pixel art and the way everything moves is absolutely entrancing. There’s a very hypnotic effect to this game, almost like it’s all happening in one of those dreams that is vivid and foggy at the same time. It’s a dark game, but again- you end up digging the way you have to calculate your steps to account for that darkness, and the lighting/particle type effects that are on display here are all on-point. This is moody stuff and the devs did an exemplary job at bringing their vision to life. There isn’t much variety to the music but what IS there I like very much. This is one of those games that just resonates with me so I’m not to fussed about a lack of multitudes of tracks in that department. Sound effects are great and everything has the proper amount of reverb for this all taking place in a cavernous ancient temple. It’s really fine work, and I can’t stress enough how gorgeous it all looks in action. There aren’t a lot of options as far as sound/controls/etc. are concerned but again- something about adapting to what you’re given here is OK with me cause I feel like it’s intentional and for the art of things. Call me pretentious, I can take it.
This is gonna bring me to a strange point in this review cause the one thing that frustrates me about Dark Devotion is also not much of a big deal to me at the same time. It’s HARD. No getting around that fact, whatever inspiration it has taken from Dark Souls is certainly earned. I have lost count of how many times I have died but it is very likely in the hundreds by now. The bosses! They’re epic, gorgeous, and brutal masterpieces and I actually liked the design of most of them better than the bosses in Dead Cells- high praise indeed- but they WILL KILL YOU DEAD AS HELL. This is the real funny part for me- most games like this (yeah, Dark Souls) end up pissing me off to the point where I put (or throw) them down and never go back. I have kids, I don’t need that kind of added stress. Games need to be FUN or I’m just not interested. This game? Every time I have died I have not been able to jump back in fast enough. I’m not even mad! Seriously- I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve spent more time with it but at first I was getting my ass handed to me every couple of minutes. But I pressed on, upgraded wisely, paid attention, and I kept getting further every time. Every victory had me out of my seat cheering myself on like a weirdo, and I truly feel that my overall gaming skills have improved because of this devious little gem.
Take that as you will, but to me it really does speak to the quality of this game that I can consistently get manhandled but I keep happily coming back for more. Not many games can have that effect on me so I telepathically pat these guys on the back for such a monumental achievement.
One more odd thing for me- I keep seeing this talked about as a “roguelike” and to me it’s not that at all. Sure, drops are random, but pretty much everything else carries over from run to run. When you die you lose your gear and go back to the hub but the MASSIVE map is the same, your exp stays, and that’s not a roguelike to me. I actually think it serves the game well, with combat being so tough-as-nails it’s nice to be able to LEARN that gargantuan map and memorize the places that you need to work on. Just sayin’, I’m not sure why this is being called that but to me it’s a pretty straight-up, if slightly esoteric, action game.
The game is out today, it’s $20, and here’s the facts as I see them: You know if this game is gonna be up your street, but if you’re not sure I feel strongly that you should give Dark Devotion a shot anyway. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I’d end up feeling about it but it crept up behind me, got its hooks in deep, and this is looking to be one of my favorite indies of the year. There is something that just grabs you about it and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to review it. You’ve probably figured out by now that my perspective on games might be a little “left of center” but that’s also most likely why you’re here. I’m pretty invested in focusing on what REALLY matters to me-gameplay. I’ll let everyone else bicker about frame rate and such (this performs fantastically handheld and docked by the way, so no worries with this one) and I’ll continue to give you the straight talk you want. Dark Devotion is awesome and well worth your money. Highly recommended and believe me- I’m gonna keep diving into this temple for some time, cause I wanna keep getting better!
Review code graciously provided by The Arcade Crew, and kudos to the team at Hibernian Workshop for a tremendous job!
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