Title: Dark Devotion
Available on: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One
Developer: Hibernian Workshop
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Genre: Action-Adventure Roleplaying Game
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Official Site: https://www.thearcadecrew.com/games/dark-devotion/
Release Date: Oct 24, 2019
I have spent the last four hours staring at this empty word document. Trying to decide how to start this review. It’s not so much writer’s block as it is the deep and frustrating pull of procrastination. I received my review copy of the 2D action role-playing game, Dark Devotion several days ago. And since then I have logged a couple of dozen hours traversing the deeps of its dark and terrible world. I was immediately attracted to the depressing gothic acetic and promise of Dark Souls-style gameplay mechanics. At first glance, it reminded me of Death’s Gambit. A game I reviewed earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Now I’ll go ahead and let you know that I liked Dark Devotion. But, since a 150-word review can’t do a game justice, let’s break down what I thought about my experience in detail. So what kind of game is Dark Devotion? Well, it deeps into several genres. The gameplay is built on a foundation of 2D platforming. Some people might disagree with me on this since Dark Devotion lacks the traditional freedom of vertical movement in platformers. In this game, you can’t jump. You can perform a dodging roll to the left or right, but you can’t jump. But you can’t jump in Bionic Commando either, and no one is gonna tell me that’s not a platformer.
Dark Devotion piles RPG and rogue-lite elements on top of this foundation. There’s weapons, armor, and items to equip. Skills to learn. And the stat increases to earn. But every time you die you’ll lose the equipment you have gathered and have to start a new run with your base gear. So while there are elements of permanency, like your skills, stats, and various things you unlock in the starting hub, there is also the dread of losing your cool shiny stuff every time you die. And die you will. Dark Devotion is not an easy game. But more on that later.
The story is an interesting one. Albeit sometimes vague and confusing. This is largely due to the way it is told. Primarily through environmental storytelling. You’ll find various bits of exposition scattered through the levels of Dark Devotion. Journal fragments, diaries, and information from the mouths of various NPCs. It’s pretty common in this genre. And you’ll pretty much get as much out of the game’s narrative as you’re willing to put into it. I enjoyed it, but paying attention to it is not necessary to have fun with Dark Devotion.
From the moment I started the game up on PlayStation 4, I was impressed with the presentation. It has a very cohesive and well-done 2D pixel art style. Very dark and foreboding. It does a great job of creating a melancholic atmosphere. Which I believe is what the developers were going for. From the title screen to the end of the game the visuals and sound remained consistently high quality. The various monsters, NPCs, and environments you will encounter are all very well designed. From the humanoid sized enemies to the giant bosses you will face down. They all look fantastic. The soundtrack is atmospheric. Not something I’d listen to outside of Dark Devotion, but it serves its purpose in-game. Helping to create a sense of dread and despair.
I said above that the game had various weapons to equip. And this was one of my favorite things about Dark Devotion. Each of the game’s dozens of different weapons works differently. Creating a lot of different play styles. You start with a one-handed sword and shield. But can quickly switch to a fast set of daggers, a slow but powerful two-handed sword, a bow, the list just continues. After trying several different styles I eventually stuck with mainly the one-handed sword shield combo. But you can carry two sets of weapons at a time, switching between them on the fly. It leads to a huge amount of player freedom.
Another system in play is blessings and curses. Every time you dive into the dungeons of Dark Devotion you will find yourself accumulating these at different points. Blessings come in the form of things like getting a magical shield every time you enter a new room or gaining a chance to heal after every enemy kill. While curses are things like stat debuffs. What you end up getting is seemingly random. And can have a huge effect on how well you perform in a particular run through. There are various shrines you can pray to gain a blessing or remove a curse. So you do have a small amount of control.
One of my complaints with Dark Devotion is the lack of explanation of many of its mechanics. Such as the previously mentioned blessings and curses. You’ll have to play around with everything quite a bit before you understand how it works. And even then you might not fully grasp it. I am aware some people like this style of trial by fire learning. I actually prefer it myself. But I could see it turning a lot of people off. Coupled with the game’s steep difficulty the lack of explanation makes Dark Devotion a very hard game at times. That said it’s not unfair. Most of the time that I died I can blame myself getting in a hurry or making a mistake. And when I succeeded it did feel very rewarding.
Something else Dark Devotion does that feels good is create a sense of exploration. As you dive deeper and deeper into its various dungeons you’ll come across secret rooms, hidden NPCs, and extra enemies to fight. Some of these hidden secrets will grant you permanent new bonuses and changes to the world. While others will give you a new weapon or other pieces of equipment for that dungeon run. I am still trying to hunt down all of the games hidden rooms. It adds another layer of challenge to an already very challenging game.
Verdict: If you are looking for an extremely challenging, but fair 2D action RPG then I recommend Dark Devotion. It doesn’t handhold, and at times it can feel obtuse and clunky. But I enjoyed my time with it and would play it again.
- Great 2D gothic visuals.
- Consistent high-quality level and enemy design
- Extremely challenging but rewarding gameplay
- Little to no explanation of the various gameplay systems
- Extreme difficulty with random curses and blessings could be a turn off for certain players