The fantasy genre is one that has been well and truly done a thousand times over, but if you are able to throw in the right ingredients to come up with something special, there’s no doubt players will come running. Hoping for the masses might be a little more than developer My Next Games are expecting with their debut title Soulblight, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to give it a shot.
The game puts players in the shoes of an unsung hero, who’s fate is dictated by the crystal attached to his arm, tasked with navigating through the dark and dreary Great Citadel – the chosen sanctuary for the Soul Tree in search of the blight that is infecting it. The plan is to rid it of infection once and for all before it’s too late. I’m not sure what happens should you not be able to make it to the sacred Soul Tree on time, but with a clear goal in hand I set off to save the world.
Naturally, as with any hero-adventure, there is always someone wanting to throw a spanner in the works of the gracious hero saving the day, and in Soulblight, there are many enemies that look to do just that, with their soul intention being to place you in an early grave. Being a rogue-like adventure, death is something that will hinder your day time and time again; with the slightest wrong move ensuring the enemies get their wish, and with combat featuring heavily throughout, you’ll certainly be finding yourself relying on the resurrecting powers of a local religious group.
Unfortunately, despite its heavy focus and necessary presence, combat isn’t one of the strong points within Soulblight and a lack of polish mixed with clunky controls make it something you’ll be wanting to avoid rather than get stuck into. A big reason for that is the grip system that is in place. For what it’s worth, it is nice to see an original feature make its way into a new experience, but in a game in which players are wanting to avoid damage at all costs thanks to the high price of losing all their items should they die, having them and their enemies able to grapple onto each other to avoid an immediate escape is as much of a burden as it sounds. Sadly, that’s what we’ve got, and whilst it’s nice to be able to grab an enemy before they can get away, it’s not like chasing them down is exactly difficult as it is, making you wonder why there is a need to essentially trap your enemies in the first place.
The grip system isn’t just tied to a single move either… it’s also been built into each of the available weapons, with each one having a primary attack and a secondary grip attack which is often the one to give out a higher damage rating. If the combat had been more fluid and less horrible to play, it wouldn’t be so bad but at present, the whole idea of the grip system just makes things feel like you’re always on the backfoot, especially given the horribly slow pace of the character in the first place.
Of course, you could just use your normal attack to swing at your enemy and drain their health bar, and you can dash out of the way of incoming attacks and block them too, but with a stamina bar in place, it only takes a few swings of even the lightest of weapons to see our seemingly unfit hero begging for breath. When up against a group of enemies, that’s usually the point you’re facing an inevitable death.
There is a final option of stealth in place and for me this was the no-brainer when it came to working my way through Soulblight, with players able to utilise the sneaking option to initiate an often instant-kill. But should things go wrong – or the framerate starts to jitter – then it doesn’t take much for death to swing the axe handle and send you crashing back to the start.
Should you manage to progress through the early enemies, you’ll start stepping out into more of the beautifully designed environment and whilst I’m not a fan of the combat system, the visuals are something that are highly pleasing, with a detailed and incredibly colourful Steampunk-style world that begs to be explored. With gameplay coming from a top-down perspective, it can be difficult at times to establish exactly what you’re looking at, but the art style is definitely worthy of praise and it really sets the tone for a fantasy setting.
To achieve the goal of saving the Soul Tree, players must progress through each of the different areas, defeating all the enemies – including a boss for each one – and finding the chest containing the missing gear for the gate blocking your path. To ensure you stand a fighting chance of doing this, you’ll need to make the most of the storage chests along the way as whilst you’ll lose all items upon death, upon revival within the sanctuary, players will be able to access stored items for the next run. These make all the difference as you progress and earn better weapons, armour and consumables. Another aspect that will factor into how far you progress is the Tainting system. This feature really does well to bring out the RPG style mechanics of the game and depending on whether you act with good or bad intentions, will depend on how the Tainting system works for you.
There are a handful of Taints to pick from, things like gluttonous, conniving, Alcoholic, etc, and based on what you choose, you will see modifiers implemented that affect your character’s various attributes. As you play, the actions you make such as eating and drinking, who you fight with and so on will all effect how your Taint works, meaning things that may not sound all too positive at first could become a more prosperous bonus later on. Whilst they may only be modifier-based perks, the Taint system is a great touch for the rogue-like nature of the game and although it would be nice to see them explained a little better – explanations seem to be missing for most things in this indie adventure – it’s surprisingly enjoyable trying to figure out how each one works.
The final thing to note is the Synergy system. This one, when mixed with the various Taints, really shows just how much Soulblight relies on you having the right gear equipped, as your Synergy is essentially the overall strength and power of your protagonist; each item within the game can either raise or lower your overall Synergy. Should you want to progress you’ll need to find the perfect balance of gear to ensure you’re not fighting a losing battle. For me this was more of an irritation than anything as it’s already difficult enough finding decent gear, so to then be forced to be picky with what I could and couldn’t equip felt more like I was being told how to play. For fans of the tiny details in RPG adventures though, this will surely delight.
Overall and Soulblight is interesting game. The combat is dreadfully clunky, the variation of the enemies could at least be mixed up and the odd Grip system is certainly questionable, but should you want something a little different to your typical roguelike adventure, there are things here that at least try to be original. That’s a rare sight in many modern day adventures. On top of that those who like exploration will enjoy searching through every nook and cranny for those much-needed items and with the Taint system forcing players to learn how to get the positive effects, this is more than simply a hack and slash rogue-like that throws inevitable death in the face of the player.
Massive thanks to: My Next Games
Release date: October 2018
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)