Like many of us, I played Hades (our Game of the Year in 2020) and absolutely loved it. Seems like a no-brainer to try to make some of that magic on your own, which is exactly what Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is trying to do. Does it succeed?
I don’t want to spend this entire review making constant Hades comparisons, but it’s going to be difficult not to with just how similar Knight vs Giant is in all of the most meaningful ways. It’s another isometric roguelike hack and slasher. This time, it’s just on a much smaller scale.
Knight vs Giant is Hades But King Arthur
Instead of the Greek Pantheon, you’re interacting with The Knights of the Round Table, as you play as King Arthur. The realm needs saving, Excalibur is broken, and the Knights of the Round Table are dead and scattered.
King Arthur is a pretty good hook, and I was definitely intrigued to see what they would do with the story. Just how close was the game going to be to Hades? Would the Knights work like the various Greek Gods in Hades?
Well, sorta. The various weapons and abilities you have are tied to different Knights. After you clear certain rooms, you can get a buff from a certain Knight with some small dialogue too.
Knight vs Giant, however, features some pretty lackluster writing and dialogue. It’s fairly low-hanging fruit with some writing that thinks it's pretty funny but doesn’t really hit the mark.
Maybe it seems worse than it is because there is just so much of it sometimes. Every so often I felt trapped in some lengthy dialogue that I just couldn’t find all that interesting.
Knight vs Giant’s Combat is Great at Its Core
Knight vs Giant shines in its moment-to-moment combat, however. It’s quick, crisp, and satisfyingly twitchy.
Executing the simple one, two, three combos while dodging all sorts of projectiles, hazards, and enemies trying to hit you is a blast. It’s very fast and rewards quick reactions, making for some awesome frenetic gameplay.
You have access to a variety of weapons, which all play very differently from one another, and have three active abilities for any one run. You select one of those abilities from one of the Knights before the run, then you can randomly unlock two more.
Active abilities range from straight-up doubling damage for a short time to a large slam that stuns enemies in an area. There’s plenty in between and, of course, some other choices for abilities will have better synergy than others.
Those modifiers affect things like weapon damage and other stats like it, effects on your dash like dropping a pool of poison at the end of a dash, and things like a 1% chance to instantly kill a non-boss enemy.
While I was definitely able to build something towards a certain style of play, the various buffs you get aren’t all that transformative. Most things are incremental changes, like increasing the cleave area of your weapon or the crit chance of your weapon.
It can take some time to get to the point that you feel you’ve got a “build” to use, however. There’s a lack of consistency in the rate you get these new buffs, with it sometimes being real streaky in your favor or you won’t see anything for a while.
You get these buffs for clearing levels of the dungeon you crawl, as well as being able to purchase some from a merchant with currency you gain on a run. Unfortunately, once you’ve done a few runs through the different biomes, you’ve seen it all.
The lack of more variety in map layouts and enemy variety is by far Knight vs Giant’s biggest disappointment. It makes runs feel much longer and sucks a lot of challenge from the game.
Knight vs Giant lacks those moments of surprise or excitement that comes in roguelikes when you get to test out a build on a new challenge, obstacle, or miniboss. Those are often the heights of these types of games. Instead, you’re met with the same enemies and bosses over and over again.
Upgrade Systems Are Frustratingly Slow
The progression in Knight vs Giant can only be explained as a slog. Unlocks take too long and upgrading weapons doesn’t feel all that meaningful.
You collect gold on runs and can use that for very small incremental damage and other upgrades for weapons. We’re talking tenths of a percent increases for some stats.
You also unlock access to other upgrades by running into characters on runs, and those happen excruciatingly slow.
Some runs can take you close to thirty minutes and you can go several without seeing any meaningful progression or something new, meaning you can go well over an hour before you find a new character, which are where upgrade systems are usually tied.
For example, it took well over four hours to just unlock the character that allows you to eventually unlock more weapons to use (after which you need to find further items on runs to unlock weapons). This left pretty large swaths of time where it felt like I just wasn’t doing anything.
With what can feel repetitive at times, that lack of progression tied particularly to the slow unlocking of new weapons really bogs down Knight vs Giant.
There are quite a few systems to unlock and a lot of things to engage with, but Knight vs Giant is weighed down by them more than anything. I could list more, but the feeling of them all is about the same: they all offer far too little for the effort put in.
I just can’t be excited for an upgrade that is a small percentage increase to damage or what have you.
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur Review | Final Thoughts
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur has the core of a pretty great game. Unfortunately, a lot of effort seems to have been spent on a lot of systems and mechanics with very little overall impact.
It’s a game of breadth and deceptive depth, in that you can certainly go far with a lot of the mechanics and systems, but it’s baby steps of baby steps to get there.
I cannot speak for the reasoning behind design decisions, but all of these many systems feel like an attempt to inflate the playtime and not make the game better.
Weapon upgrades and eventual other upgrades come across as a ticked box of expected mechanics in a game like this, which is very obviously trying to ape Hades as much as possible, rather than something well-integrated.
With a solid combat system to build on, it’s a shame Knight vs Giant spent so much of its time focusing on the game’s most uninteresting aspects. I had fun with the game at first, but it wore out its welcome far too quickly.
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 11 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Fun Combat
- Interesting Setting
- Wordy, uninteresting writing
- Progression is a slog
- Lack of Enemy Variety
- Too many upgrade systems