Not so long ago I had the pleasure of trying Motion Twin’s Dead Cells, a superb mix between the rogulikes of the yesteryear, and the in vogue SoulsBorne games of today. And after pumping hours into this particular gem, I was convinced that no other indie title would even come close to Dead Cells in terms of entertainment, nor quality. But just seven days later I found myself in a situation where I was on the verge of eating my words, as a direct competitor to Dead Cells has appeared a mere week after its launch.

The competitor in question is none other than White Rabbit and Adult Swim’s Death’s Gambit. Which just like Dead Cells is a 2.5D side scrolling RPG, which heavily borrows from the SoulsBorne genre established by Hidetaka Miyazaki. But where the prior is a mix of two unique genres, then the latter is simply a 2.5D adaptation of otherwise three-dimensional titles. And there is nothing wrong with that, but some may argue that in relaying on the SoulsBorne alone, Death’s Gambit does itself a disservice, as it is doing very little to differentiate itself from games such as Salt and Sanctuary. But fortunately, for both the developer and the consumer, Death’s Gambit is much more than an adaptation of Miyazaki’s work. And it goes above and beyond the call of duty, in providing the player with a fresh take on the now stagnating genre.

At its core, Death’s Gambit feels and plays like a spin-off of the Dark Souls series, as its core mechanics heavily resemble the ones of From Software’s digital colossi. But this only applies to the title’s core combat and traversal, as beyond it, Death’s Gambit feels like a completely unique product. And this is visible right from the very beginning, as even the character creator suite possesses meaningful features which do more than just adjust your avatar’s stats. For example, one class can provide you with an ability to equip weapons and armour which are out of your skill range, whereas another can give you an ability to recover your health with counter attacks – just like in Bloodborne.

After playing Death’s Gambit for couple of hours, I’ve come to realise that it is a tribute to the genre, as it feels like a ‘best of’ package, which consists of all the best that the SoulsBorne genre has to offer. However, the developer behind the title didn’t just nab a handful of features and insert them into a 2D platformer. But it has used those to create a base, and built upon it exponentially, and this is visible throughout the entirety of the title.

The biggest issues which many had with titles such as Dark Souls or The Sourge was related to the fact that all those games punished you for dying by denying you the chance to upgrade your character. And while you do lose something upon death, you ultimately get to keep all your gathered experience, improve your character, and as the popular Overwatch streamer xQc would say, you get to ”GO AGANE”. And whether you like it or not, you have to go ”agane” because upon your death you lose a phoenix feather, which is used as a health potion within the world of Death’s Gambit, and each and every time you die you lose one of those. And you can either retrieve your lost feathers, or purchase them from a resting stone at a high, high price.

Death’s Gambit, while using the feathers as your average health potions,  does not devalue them as much as other titles. In fact, Death’s Gambit uses those as a currency which can be used to upgrade the damage output of your character. However, each and every transmuted feather is gone once committed, so the choice is ultimately up to you. Do you prefer to tank the incoming fire and heal as much as you can? Or do you prefer to play as a glass cannon and decimate your enemies with a couple of blows, while holding only one feather for emergencies?

As you already know, upon death you do not lose your experience gathered from defeated foes, and at times you even get experience from enemies which you have failed to conquer. And that’s because all in-game bosses allow you to keep an amount of experience equal to the amount of damage which you have dealt. And this means that dying over and over again, unlike in other titles of the genre, is not entirely pointless as the further you progress during the boss fight, the further you can upgrade your character. And while the amount of experience is limited, as you only get more experience once you cross your previous damage threshold, then it has to be said that the mechanic still feels incredibly rewarding, and in the long run allows you to experience your progress in real time. And you never feel like you are stuck in a rut, because no matter how poorly you do on your repeat runs, you will always go back with either some experience, or a valuable lesson which will ultimately bring you closer to toppling the boss.

The way in which Death’s Gambit handles boss fights is ultimately its biggest and brightest selling point. And that’s because it makes it the only inviting SoulsBorne title on the market. And unlike your Dark Souls, or Lords of The Fallen, it does everything it possibly can to convince you to regroup and try again. And at no time while playing it will you feel like you are getting the cold shoulder, or that you are being punished for no particular reason but just to suffer. And subsequently, this does not just improve your morale, but it also smooths out the learning curve, as it turns the otherwise stubborn and punishing title into one which is both inclusive and welcoming to players of all skill, as it is willing to give you the time and resources to constantly learn and improve.

From the above description, you could deduct that Death’s Gambit is the second coming of Juesus Christ, as it seemingly can do no wrong. However, just like all the other games, Death’s Gambit is not entirely perfect, as its has its own issues which will affect some players more than the others. However, the biggest gripe which many will have with the title is related to its performance, as Death’s Gambit loves to pause and jitter in visually intensive moments, which can lead to rather infuriating instances. And while this is the only universally negative flaw, then it has to be said that it is not the only issue concerning this particular release.

Visually, Death’s Gambit is a beautiful game – and there is not other way to put it. However, it does feature some locations which are barren and incredibly uninviting, and while the existence of the seemingly never ending tunnels is easily justifiable, then it has to be said that the developer behind the title could have went that one extra step to spruce them up, as in their current form they are simply boring. In addition, it has to be underlined that while Death’s Gambit is a largely pleasing title – aesthetically – it is not for everybody. And that’s because the visual facade of this release does feature hints of anime which in some parts of the internet is heavily frowned upon. Sometimes, it feels like White Rabbit has went too far with the stylistic as certain enemies look more like people wearing furry suits than actual werewolves or monsters.

As a complete product Death’s Gambit will be a game of the year contender to some, whereas it will be perceived as a mixed bag by others. As the combination of all its features, mechanics, and aesthetic components, results in a product which will never be universally appreciated. And those who like to maniacally pull apart and dissect each and every game they play will more than likely find it to be deeply unpleasant. And in truth, it is not far off Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which just like Death’s Gambit, had failed to garner universal acclaim due to the very same, above-described reasons. And comparisons between the two can go even further, because Death’s Gambit, just like Blood Dragon, makes fun of the titles with which it shares the genre, only to fall into the very same, deep hole of tropes of which it made fun off mere minutes later.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.