Blade of Darkness
Blade of Darkness is an action game developed by the Spanish team "Rebel Act Studios".
In the precise moment I started the game, I had the feeling I had already seen something similar to it, yet I couldn't remember where. A quick search on the internet made me aware that many of the employees of the now deceased studios formed MercurySteam, the developer behind Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The two games share designer, director and composer, and I must say it shows.
Anyway, back to the substance: this excellent hack'n'slash game combines the fast-paced and brutal combat with slight RPG elements and a breat'em up-like combo system, crafting a perfecly working hybrid that, despite needing a few time to get used to, will be surely capable of giving satisfaction even to the most hard to please warriors among you.
Intilally, your inexperienced character will just rely on basic hits (targeted to a specific part of the eniy's body based on your commands) but with the progression of levels, the gathering of new equipment and -most of all- the apearance of more dangerous enemies he (or she) will unlock new moves, each more or less suitable against diffrent opponents. Learning and using them is a real pleasure, and they will transform your stile from a defensive "hit and run" to a devastating arms master technique capable of terminating several enemies in one action.
I particularly liked the fact that each of the many weapons has its own unique use, and despite the wide difference in basic damage between the early and the late ones none can be really classified as useless, allowing palyers to build their own style.
Regardless of what people may say, the controls are good and perfectly responsive. Imo, the complaints of recent players come from the fact that BoD strays from the usual control outline, changing the use of certain specific keys that are almost always binded to a certain command (like the Spacebar, not used for jumping but for locating items).
The only questionable choice is that strafing is allowed only when locking on a target: while perfectly reasonable in one-on-one fights, it can be annoying against groups of monsters.
Also, to change your target you have to press Tab to cycle them like on a console; I would have certainly preferred to be able to switch directly to the one I was pointing with the movement keys, yet this is not an option.
Same goes for items, weapons and shields: you have to cycle tought them and confirm the one you want to use. Not very convenient.
Another critic I have to made is about the combat on stairs. While luckily they are very few, the AI is incapable of letting hits connect if the characters moving them are separated by a certain hight, making combat in those occasions a real pain and basically granting victory to the "lowest" contender (against basic logic, since the one above should always be advantaged).
Before starting the game, you can choose one among four characters:
-The Knight, master of one-handed weapons and shields, has the best defense in the game due to his armour and can deploy a vast array of deadly combos;
-The Barbarian (my choice) is faster and more agile than the others, his long weapons (two-handed swords and axes) allow him to hit enemies from a great distance and his combos are by far the most powerful in the game, almost always allowing a one-hit-kill. The downside is that his defense is abysmal, has not many hit points and the best attacks are slow and hard to execute;
-The Dwarf has very high attack, defense and hit points... yet he is agile as a stone and his short height make him an easy pray for bigger monsters. He uses high-damaging axes and hammers, can use good armour and he is proficient with shields.
-The Amazon is the fastest and most agile character, she can use polearms and staves and has some seriously dangerous combos... yet her pathetic HP will be very problematic during crowded situations.
Each character has a personal, different first level, yet the rest of the game will be identical for all of them.
In total, considering the four starting levels as one, there are 14 areas to explore: they are always vast, well designed and full of traps, simple pauzzles and small secrets. I cannot really enter in details, as the quality of a map design cannot be described – to decide if you agree or not, you should see it with your own eyes- so you'll have to ake my word on that.
Unlike in Dark Souls (which based on what I have heard seems to have taken inspiration from here, though I cannot confirm since I have not played it) you are allowed to save anytime you want, yet if you do that too often... the game will start mocking you, adding its judgement near you save, spanning from a respectful "Awesome!" or "heroic" to a deriding "lame". If my calculations are correct, you should lose a rank each three saves per level.
Personally, I managed to score an "awesome" rating with 28 saves, 6 of which spent just for the last, insanely difficult level.
It is possible to finish it with no saves: if you are tired, just save and restart the level later, so the couner will not add it to the number.
Graphically the game now shows its age, yet considering that it was made in 2001 I have been impressed by the good quality of models and -most of all- the incredibly well made dynamic lighting.
Also, it natively runs at high resolutions! I recommend you to use a 4:3 one, since the others tend to be stretched. I run it using OpenGL, at 1024x768, yet I needed this mod to fix a few lighting effects and had to reset the in-game colur options each time I started to have decent contrast and saturation. d3dfx offers a much better quality in that regards, but forces you to play on an awful 800x600 resolution.
The soundtrack is also very good, yet it tends to suffer for the small amount of tracks, falling easily into repetition.
To sum up: Blade of Darkness is an excellent and extremely rewarding action game with several minor flaws. I can warmly recommend it, but only to those committed players who seek a real challenge
(as the game is really unforgiving and there are no diffculty settings, which is probably a reason for its little success on the market).
Let's hope that it will come back on GOG soon! This is a true classic!