I got a distinct gothic vibe from Dark Devotion's PAX demo


No turning back

I hate feeding into the stereotype of press comparing things to Dark Souls. When giving Dark Devotion a shot at PAX this weekend, I couldn’t really think of what else to call this at first glance. There is a stamina meter that governs your attacks, blocking drains stamina, and even performing a roll dodge does the same. You have to plan out your attacks in reaction to enemies and even doing something like changing weapons takes a second before you can attack again.

What Dark Devotion isn’t, though, is strictly Dark Souls in 2D. Even if some of the inspiration for different mechanics may have come from From Software’s mega hit, Dark Devotion draws more from the works of H.P. Lovecraft to create an atmosphere that is overwhelmingly bleak and dreary. This isn’t a pretty game to look at, even if the pixel art is quite nice.

The demo at PAX was a very brief look at the different things Dark Devotion is trying to accomplish. I was limited to exploring a sewer area or heading straight into a boss fight with an enemy called “The First One.” Apparently the story behind this game is something about religious conspiracies, so I’m guessing this guy might be a pontiff or high-ranking official.

The actual moment-to-moment gameplay feels more like mixing Castlevania with Diablo than anything From Software has come up with. Combat might be governed by a stamina meter, but the real gist is learning these deliberate animations and timing then out instead of worrying about how much stamina you have left. After defeating foes, they’ll drop loot which you can then swap on the fly to power yourself up.

Along with that, you’ll also acquire “Faith” that can be traded at certain points to open shortcuts, buy new weapons, or upgrade your character after dying. Unlike Dark Souls, you won’t lose your experience upon death (though the PAX demo didn’t showcase this), so you could actually farm a bunch of kills, die, and then power-up to better equip yourself for the environment ahead.

The combat works by pressing either right or left trigger, depending on the weapons you have equipped. The demo saw me with a sword and shield, so left trigger blocked and right trigger attacked. Some of the other things I picked up required two hands, so I’d have to replace my shield to wield a spear, for instance. This then removes the ability to block, but you get a quick dodge as compensation.

The different weapons have faster or slower attack speeds depending on their weight. This means that you can swing a short sword rather fast, but you’ll drain your stamina quickly in the process. Spears, though, had such a long start-up time that I just didn’t bother with them for the sake of time. It was easier for me to come to terms with a sword and shield combo instead of trying to process something entirely different.

Along with basic offensive weapons, you can also equip items that either deal damage or buff you defense. I didn’t find anything that healed me, but I’m sure potions exist in some form. Even if they don’t, these items were easy to forget, because the basic combat was enough to see me through encounters with all of the various enemies.

Each level has multiple pathways you can travel through with a big emphasis on doors and paths closing behind you. Once you determine your path forward, you’ll be locked into that choice. Obviously dying would put you back, but you won’t be able to turn around and start looting every single thing before proceeding forward. That element makes me excited, since I tend to comb over rooms in RPGs like it’s going out of style. Having the game subtly push me onward might make for some tense moments where I begin to question my own tactics.

The burning question on my mind was whether or not Dark Devotion was a roguelike or even procedurally generated. I’m getting a bit annoyed by seeing those terms attached to every project, but that isn't the case here. This game has been crafted to set a specific mood and tell a singular story. This won’t be about how your journey is the real narrative, but something with actual direction to the madness.

My only concern is whether the enemy encounters can remain interesting for long. While I ran into a bunch of differing enemy designs, each with specific attacks, the same basic tactics worked on everyone. I didn’t really need to use my shield as dodging lets you plow through enemies and every enemy was weak to physical damage, so I’m not sure how varied the combat will be.

The game isn’t looking to be an epic-length journey. Just as an aside, I asked how long Dark Devotion was shaping up to be and the dev told me around 15 hours. He said going for 100% completion wouldn’t add that much more, maybe making the title around 22 to 25 hours long. If the combat really does just stay the same throughout, the game should remain enticing enough on its art direction alone.

Those comparisons to Dark Souls might undo the game, though. It would be a shame for reductive critiques to misinform people about what this game is doing. I may not have had enough time with it to draw a real conclusion on how it plays, but I’m optimistic that the journey will be a dark, gothic, bleak adventure worth taking.

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Peter Glagowski
Peter Glagowski   gamer profile

Former Dtoid staff member. more + disclosures



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