It’s time to bolster your faith and do some temple delving in our review of Dark Devotion developed by Hibernian Workshop and published by The Arcade Crew for PC via Steam.
Dark Devotion definitely goes for keeping things obtuse and mysterious. The intro and prologue don’t give a lot to go off of, and there’s little in the way of exposition as you go onwards. Most of the info you receive is from NPCs and notes, but rarely does it have anything to do with you. There’s a fair amount to learn about what the Temple is, and the people that came before, but as for your own mission? The most you’ll get there is other templars you meet wondering out loud what their and your missions are, if you even have one anymore after all you’ve seen.
It’s an odd choice to be sure. What little reason you had for entering the temple in the first place vanishes after the prologue, and you’re left with nothing but your own curiosity to lead you onwards. There’s plenty of answers, but not necessarily to the questions you’re asking.
I can definitely see this being rather hit or miss for some players. While it can be entertaining to piece together what’s going on from various scraps of information, at the same time, it makes it all too easy to not get who these people are and why you should or should not kill them if you happened to not find certain pieces of the puzzle. Indeed, some events towards the ending left me surprised and confused, but I have no idea whether this was a case of the protagonist’s motives being deliberately left unclear, or whether I missed out on some vital conversation somewhere. Still, for the most part I adore this style of storytelling, even if it leaves me confused at times.
How Low Can You Go?
I began playing with low expectations and not really knowing what to expect. I haven’t had the best track record with indie titles in the past, and it seemed to be yet another title trying to do the whole “Dark Souls but 2D” kind of thing. Dark atmosphere and an emphasis on melee combat? Check. Killed after the tutorial as an introduction to the revival mechanic? Check. Confusing plot that’s alluded to in bits and pieces? Check.
About there, the similarities end. I was making my way through the dungeon, got myself a decent weapon, some new armor and trinkets, a decent stockpile of items, but then I died and lost ALL of it. I was back at the beginning with just some basic stuff at the smith. It was frustrating, unexpected…and probably one of the best things about the game.
I quickly realized this was a run-based game, one where rather than stockpiling things over multiple runs, every run starts the same and the goal is to push as far as you can. Most rogue-likes are built on this style, except this game is most definitely NOT a rogue-like: Nothing is procedurally generated, the dungeon is the same every time, so with each run you’re learning a bit more about what traps to expect and where to find the equipment you need. It does a lot of things that have been done before, sure, but combines them in a way that’s rarely seen.
That’s not to say there’s no sort of progression. There’s perks purchased with points from killing enemies, stat increases from finding tablets in the dungeon, blueprints for new items at the smithy, and unlockable shortcuts to begin from further within the dungeon. The most important progression, however, is your own knowledge. While the dungeon is the same every time, each new room doesn’t let you go back to the previous one. You can only go forward until your run ends.
This makes figuring out your route a key part of the gameplay. Sure, you can take a shortcut and start later, but starting out with a base trinket means not a lot of health, whereas you could pick one up from a chest you’ve discovered. Alternatively you may find out that some rooms are fairly difficult for you, and you’re likely to accrue too many diseases and curses, or burn through your stockpile of consumables. Perhaps you really want that sweet armor you found with a buff vital to your build, but reaching it requires a winding path that takes longer to reach the boss. Or maybe you just want to get back to the next boss as fast as possible, it’s all up to you.
Devoted to Their Theme
The aesthetics are the usual retro-style low-res graphics we’ve come to know and love from indie titles. It’s appropriately dark and unsettling, and still manages to make the enemies and obstacles both unique and easily identifiable. The faces may just be a blob and there’s no voice acting, but their design and animations convey a lot of personality nonetheless.
The sound design is one area where I wasn’t too happy. Most of it works well enough and is ultimately forgettable, but when it fails it stands out pretty poorly. Of particular note were some sounds that seemed like they should belong to something else (climbing ladders sounding like opening a door for example), and that respawning involved a heap of sound effects: A loud booming holy explosion at the start, and then a heavenly chorus for each and every permanent buff applied at the start. Towards the end when you’re easily starting with eight or so blessings it gets a little annoying. But only a little.
Overall, I really enjoyed Dark Devotion. One of the things I love about 2D action games is learning a level like the back of your hand, and what I love about roguelikes is picking a starting build and trying to go as far as you can with it. This marries the two into something that, while it may not be for everyone, is definitely for me.
Review copy provided by The Arcade Crew for PC. Screenshots provided by reviewer. Header image courtesy of The Arcade Crew.