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Review: Dark Devotion (PC)By Ofisil At 05.05.2019 08:01

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Is Dark Devotion a 2D Dark Souls? Yes, and no. Yes, you'll guide a female templar into the hostile depths of the mysterious Temple, fight battles in which reading your opponent is more important than anything else, die a lot when failing to do so, pay the price of your defeat every time that happens, fight awesome bosses, and try to understand what's the heck is going on here. On the other hand, and while fans of "Soulsbornes" will find plenty to love in here, this is - thankfully - something completely different as an experience.

For starters, this leans more towards a metroidvania. The Temple is basically a big labyrinth, where exploration rewards the player with permanent perks, making the next run a little bit easier... until you meet something stronger than you, die, and repeat the process all over again. Weirdly enough, unlike other, more typical representatives of the sub-genre, here you can't return back to a previous room. Did you go through that door? Well, that's it! If you want to find out what lies on the other door, you'll have to die and start your journey all over again. This "linearity" can drive completionists crazy, but it's what actually enhances the survival aspect on offer.

Players will have to deal with whatever lies ahead, with the knowledge that there's no turning back. The thing that spices things up is the addition of some minor rogue-like mechanics, such as how looted gear, items, positive buffs, stat-ruining curses, and so on, are randomised on each run, whereas the structure of the map remains the same, making you plan things while on the go, and use whatever resources can be found in the best way possible. Exploration isn't a worthless ordeal, though. The heroine doesn't gain XP, but she can frequently unlock perks that will help her last a little longer. Interestingly, you don't lose experience upon death, but gear.

Apart from going back to the fray to rediscover your tools of the trade, one can also permanently add some unique items to the smith of the Temple's hub, which are far better than the garbage that most enemies carry. Of course, interesting mechanics or not, in the end, it all boils down to the clashing of swords and shields... with the occasional magic projectile. The similarities with Dark Souls emerge once more, as battles are slower than your average hack 'n' slasher, and enemies can kill you in a few blows if not careful.

The 2D perspective makes the battle system feel simpler, but not any less fun or challenging - and you can forget about unfair hitboxes or hard-to-understand invisibility frames... you hear that Dark Souls II??? One, seemingly insignificant, but actually excellent mechanic, is that getting hit only costs one unit of health or armour, which basically translates to no one-hit deaths from bosses. Mind, however, that stamina depletes extremely fast, to the point that it can turn some encounters, especially boss battles, into repetitive marathons of bluff-hit-roll-rest-repeat.

Yes, the battles will please fans of tactical melee combat, but this is in no way perfect. Besides the aforementioned stamina issue, which occasionally makes fighting feel tedious, Dark Devotion could definitely use some rebalancing, as this currently kind of favours the slower, longer-reaching, two-handed weaponry - after all, stamina depletes way too fast, even with the smallest of swords. Moreover, the control scheme is a bit of a mess (and can't be changed), as is and the UI, and especially the map, which is usually one of the most enjoyable aspects of any metroidvania. At least, everything looks pretty darn good...

Whether one trudges through a dimly lit dungeon, filthy sewer, dilapidated, underground city, corrupted forest, and so on, the 32-bit era-esque pixel-art style of Dark Devotion is great, with an awesome attention to detail, some fine animation, and an enjoyably cheerless atmosphere, something that the depressing music themes help enhancing. The contrast could use some extra work, as things can blend together in an annoying way every now and then, and the level design isn't exactly filled with points of interest that stand out from the rest of the world, but, as a whole, this is one of the prettiest examples of a modern game with retro visuals.

The least impressive aspect of Dark Devotion seems to be its story. It too draws inspiration from Soulbornes, with a similar dark fantasy vibe, and lots of scattered, ambiguous pieces of lore, yet, in all honesty, you won't really "measure your devotion and your bravery by journeying into deepest darkness for answers to questions that will challenge your very existence." Dark Devotion is just a far grimmer Castlevania game - in other words, don't expect this to impress you with its writing and world building.

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Final Score
While [i]Dark Devotion[/i] is in no way a perfect Souls-like or metroidvania, it's definitely a pleasant mix of those two "genres." Some of the design choices at hand can make the experience feel a bit repetitive, and even annoying at times, but, as a whole, this is a pretty solid recommendation for lovers of challenging action-adventures with a dreadful atmosphere.



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