Punctual, sprawling, branching, macabre. The dilapidated and sordid Temple lies before you, bursting with secrets and successes. What unholy fiends that lie in wait are yet to be seen. You can hear snarls and snares from the waning safety of Filthblood Shelter, a last haven. In the Temple, there is no room for error.
Take steady steps, weary traveler, for Dark Devotion seeks to enthrall and captivate as well as to fear.
Fear death, for it lurks behind every door.
The inspiration of dark fantasy rogue-likes pumps the blood of this 2D pixel-art sidescroller. The enemies swing and slash wildly; with every attack comes the prospect of death. Death means starting over. Death means losing all the items that you have collected. Death means you need to learn and adapt, lest you’ll face its cruel, humiliating embrace again. The Temple itself wants blood as badly as the dregs that skulk it. Traps reaching from the ceiling and jetting out of the floor aim to halt your adventure. Sickness and disease ooze from the rotting corpses to succumb any vulnerable soul that lingers too long.
Fear the punctual, visceral combat
Combat is a precise push and pull. Conservation of a limited stamina bar that depletes with every attack and every dodge is paramount to survival. Know when to dodge and when to attack, or die. Be aware of your surroundings, or die. Watch and learn enemy patterns, or die. Since Dark Devotion has a 2D perspective, knowing how far an enemy’s attack will reach becomes the most important variable in learning patterns. Attacks from far off screen give ample enough time to dodge. Being just barely too close after a flurry of attacks, with drained stamina and sluggish movement, leds to a quick death.
Use the various weapons and items found throughout the Temple to defend yourself against the beasts of the Temple. Your main hand will be used to hold primary weapons, such as a sword, morning star or a spear. In the off hand, hold shields, torches or various other magical items. There are two different weapon sets that can be switched between with the press of a button. Four separate slots are kept for the consumable items. Armors allow for a few free, damageless hits from enemies. Difficult decisions might need to be made determining whether or not to keep armor with better stats than one with a few free hits.
Fear the sprawling dungeons within the temple.
Filled with puzzles, traps, monsters and unknown horrors, the dungeons in Dark Devotion are labyrinthian. Enemies work in conjunction with traps in an attempt to finish you off quickly. They’ll try to shove, corner or antagonize in any attempt to murder. Memorization of enemy placement and a self-awareness of your own careful footing will keep the weary traveller alive.
Upon every death, both progress and equipment are lost. (A kindly NPC at the hub world fears for the composure of your fists, and gives you a basic set of equipment before venturing off into the depths of the Temple). Consistently losing items forces the constant circulation of weaponry. There is no inventory, so what is being held is what is being used.
Defeating enemies drops Faith, a multi-use tool that serves a dizzying amount of uses. From opening doors, curing illness, popping treasure chests, saving equipment and progress as well as upgrades, Faith is essential. However, it is not a plentiful source, and can be only granted by fallen foes, encouraging fighting, while disdaining flight. Brutal decisions will need to be made, sparing a buff in favor a save point.
In addition to Fatih, enemies drop gold (I can only assume, because the currency doesn’t really have an official name in the current playable build) that can be used to buy upgrades as well. These upgrades affect direct stats, like slashing damage or max Faith. Gold isn’t lost after death, so some stat boosts are always available.
Fear the branching, winding pathways.
Multiple mini-bosses reside in each world, each with their own specific path before them. These routes are not only homes to varying enemies, but distinguished styles as well. Different atmospheres and ambiance dictate which winding path is being taken, making it easier to find the other bosses. The pathways move through each other, each branching inside and out of the over-arching world.
In theory, discovering the different roads, as well as the disposability of equipment and inventory, should lend itself well to multiple playthroughs. New environments beget new enemies, leading to the vicious cycle of memorization, prediction, execution and varying degrees of success. The prospect of facing different bosses, the pinnacle of both difficulty and achievement, should send any daring player right back through.
Fear the macabre world.
The pixel art in Dark Devotion bleeds into itself. Environments remain painstakingly detailed, both foregrounds and backgrounds paint a landscape that easily entrances those looking. Objects in the forefront can hide the unlucky traveller, offering a noticeable aesthetic touch. The game has two different lighting options, low and standard. The low light setting transforms the environment into a dark, pitless cavern. All light is lost, save for a small distance around the traveller and incandescent objects. While this feature does add to the despairing ambience, it takes away from much of the beautifully drawn environments.
Characters and monsters have much of their minor details hidden or removed. Faces are obscured, chests and legs are are little more than simple geometry. Clothes and armor, at times, blend together. This isn’t a downside, however. The liquid animation keeps each sprite interesting and unique. Capes flap and hair tousles. The amount of detail that’s placed into every fluid animation is distracting.
The ambient music rarely follows any sort of melody. Light pianos take the forefront, with various back-up tracks carrying an unintelligible cadence. The atmosphere it creates is indisputable, and probably lends itself better to a game where concentration is a necessity. However, a more present, lucid soundtrack would be welcome.
Fear the Kickstarted game.
The current build of Dark Devotion holds promise. The debut game from Hibernian Workshop has me anticipating the final release. So many aspects of the game are appealing and done well. Combat feels fluid, the difficulty is just right and the art style is gorgeous. These alone are have me keeping a close eye.
There are a few promises made that need to be upheld if the final build is going to work. The branching pathways need to be as defined as promised. Trekking through samey environments over and over again to reach a new boss could very well easily become a grind. Bosses are the quintessential aspect of this game, but having to drag through an environment to get there could take away from the final experience.
There also needs to be a plentiful variety of weapons. Combat feels fluid, but there aren’t many combos (or at least not any more than a few hits) that keep the interest for one weapon. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was enough of a variety of weapons to use, but currently, there isn’t.
Dark Devotion promises a satisfying dark fantasy adventure, one brimming with loss and triumph, glory and gore. What few trepidations I hold don’t detract from my high hopes and the prospects that this title holds.
Played it? We’d love to know what you thought about it.