Soulslike games are basically their own genre these days. Since Dark Souls came along and revolutionized hardcore action RPGs, many games have attempted to capture the same magic. The latest attempt to transplant the formula to a 2D world is Dark Devotion.
The story of Dark Devotion puts you in the boots of a Templar. The Templars believe that their god is trapped inside a tower known as The Temple. It is up to you to make your way through The Temple, in an effort to destroy the evil there and save your god. Most of the story is told through two cutscenes, with the rest of the lore told indirectly through text dumps and character interactions.
The main crux of Dark Devotion‘s gameplay is very similar to Dark Souls in many respects. You explore a dark and mysterious location, fighting tough enemies and even tougher bosses. As you progress through the dungeons you unlock powerful new weapons and armor. You can also come across special items to upgrade stats, as well as unlocking bonuses with exp points.
Obviously, the biggest difference between Dark Devotion and Dark Souls is the lack of a 3rd dimension which might sound like a pretty big difference. Honestly, that third dimension isn’t that important in getting the soulslike feeling. The dark, depressing atmosphere, the tough pattern-based combat, and the constant cycle of death and rebirth are what is important in making these games part of the same genre.
Skilling Up in Dark Devotion
There are some pretty major differences which make Dark Devotion stand out. Firstly whenever you die you lose all of your items, but not your experience points. This is something of a twist on the usual way that these sort of games do things. The other interesting thing about Dark Devotion is that your experience points don’t actually upgrade your stats. To increase your stats instead you find ancient tablets scattered throughout the map, each different color of which will upgrade a different stat.
Strangely your health is one of the stats that never really gets upgraded. Each time you respawn you have to visit the blacksmith who will give you equipment. This equipment will affect the damage you do, what consumable items you start out with and how many armor points you have. Trinkets define your health stat, but the blacksmith never actually gives you a trinket. This means that no matter what you do you have to start out each run at the dungeon with only 2 health points.
Taking runs at the dungeon is a tricky prospect at times. As you go through the dungeon you unlock both shortcuts and teleportation statues. However, you can only teleport to the last statue that you interacted with. While this isn’t a problem as you explore the dungeon for the first time when it comes to re-visiting areas it basically forces you to retread old ground. The backtracking isn’t helped by the fact that the doorways are all one way only, meaning if you accidentally go the wrong way you cannot go back, so have to kill yourself and start over again.
In general, killing yourself is the only way to get back to the main hub too. You do get a special item at one point which allows you to teleport back, also preventing bosses from respawning, but it’s basically the same as dying. You still don’t get to keep your items when you return, so it’s basically the same as jumping onto a spiky pit.
Battling Bosses in Dark Devotion
Another slightly annoying factor in the game is the semi-random debuffs. Performing different actions in the dungeons will give you different blessings and curses. The curses aren’t always well telegraphed, either before or after you get them. For instance, while exploring the game will sometimes punish you for avoiding combat with enemies. Dark Devotion does this by cursing you to randomly drop items when you dodge roll. In effect, this cruse forces you to fight the same boring enemies over and over again, lest you get an insanely annoying debuff.
Honestly, the boss fights and exploration do massively make up for the myriad of faults Dark Devotion suffers from. Almost all of them present you with fun and intense battles. Most of these fights rely on learning patterns or reading telegraphs. There are a few occasions where you can tank damage and wail on the boss, but this is the exception more than the rule. For the most part, you actually have to think about your weapon choices and tactics.
There are one or two bosses which can be quite annoying. One, in particular, is a gimmick fight which requires you to stand stationary for extended periods to kill it. It gets quite annoying when it keeps attacking midway through performing the action required to kill it. This artificially extending the fight into a drawn-out battle. The other annoying habit of certain enemies is spamming the same annoying attack over and over again. The final boss in particular likes to use his slashing attack over and over again. The attack in question prevents your stamina from building up long enough to actually attack back.
Dark Devotion Review | Final Thoughts
The final minor grievance is the lack of an ability to track which ancient tablets you’ve already acquired. The map shows where all of the tablets are, but doesn’t change once you’ve picked them up. Looking for the final two or three of these tablets quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.
Dark Devotion does have some pretty stunning looking artwork. The art is pixelated in style, but not in a way that would have been possible on any 8 or 16-bit system. Certain attacks, in particular, have some very smooth and detailed particle animation which just look beautiful. Discovering all of these new attack animations is a great motivation to unlock more weapons and abilities. The animations are also a great motivator for finding and defeating all the bosses.
Overall, Dark Devotion is a great title with a few niggling faults. With some relatively minor tweaks, namely, a way to track tablets and the ability to choose a teleportation point would make the game as close to perfect as it is going to get. Despite the problems that plague it, especially in the early stages, Dark Devotion is a great soulslike with deep, involving gameplay and beautifully constructed artwork.
TechRaptor reviewed Dark Devotion on PC via Steam with a key provided by the developers.
Dark Devotion was developed by Hibernian Workshop, a three-man team based out of France. It was published by Arcade Crew and Maple Whispering Ltd.
While Dark Devotion suffers from several easy-to-fix flaws that stop it being perfect, it remains a deep, dark and engaging action RPG.
- Deep Exploration Gameplay
- Intense Combat
- Non-Direct Storytelling
- No Way To Backtrack
- No Tracking Certain Collectables