Find out how it feels to be immortal in White Rabbit's brand new 2D Souls-like Metroidvania.
Before playing the fantastic and challenging Salt and Sanctuary back in 2016, I had never played a Souls-like game. I learned a lot about the genre from that game and while it isn't entirely accessible, I was able to learn more than enough about how the genre works. I bring this up not only because Death's Gambit is a 2D Souls-like as well but because it's probably one of the more accessible Souls-like games I've played and it would act as a great introduction for genre newcomers.
You play as Sorun, a warrior who is mortally wounded in battle while the rest of his battalion is killed. Not wanting to die, Sorun signs an agreement with Death to become his servant in exchange for immortality. Sorun's now cursed soul and green flesh must endeavor on a challenging mission assigned to him by Death. Death's Gambit also digs a bit into Sorun's back-story, specifically his relationship with his mother who is also a battle-hardened warrior. While the storyline is a little confusing and never really hooked me, I was quite taken with the themes of life, death, and what it means to be immortal. In chatting with NPCs, Sorun receives many interesting viewpoints of immortality such as how immortals have the ability to rule the world and how immortality can also crush ambition and innovation.
Alongside the interesting themes, Death's Gambit features a challenging and enjoyable combat system. To start, you'll choose one of several classes like warrior, assassin, or wizard. Different classes excel in various types of combat. For example, the warrior's strongest abilities involve melee combat. Each class is able to equip two weapons. Weapons can only be equipped according to your stats so you'll never be able to use some weapons unless you stray from the suggested build. Characters can also equip a shield and multiple pieces of armor for protection as well as an Aura that grants a special ability and is sometimes destroyed upon death.
Major update: version 1.08 July 11, 2019
Since we published our review, Death's Gambit has received multiple updates. Now, a lot of the bugs have been fixed, you can move with the D-pad, the game is more stable, you can climb easier as you don't have to hold a shoulder button, place-to-place warping is fixed, combat is more fluid via the newly implemented Animation Cancelling System, speedrun options are now available including an in-game timer and the ability to skip cutscenes, and the overall experience is much more polished.
Melee combat is slow and methodical to start with enemy attacks regularly doing massive damage. It's much more important for you to avoid damage than it is to land blows so identifying enemy patterns and the best times to strike are crucial for survival. You'll find a variety of ranged and melee weapons during your journey then pick the ones that best match your play style and build. Weapons usually vary in strength, range, and speed. Many ranged weapons also have elemental buffs. Anyway, all attacks as well as shielding and dodging use stamina so you have to constantly balance your offensive and defensive tactics. None of this is revolutionary in 2018 but all the systems work well with one another and make for an excellent combat experience. As you kill enemies, you collect shards that are used to level up at save shrines. There are only a handful of stats to level up and each one's purpose is clearly described, unlike many other Souls-like games. I found myself focusing on attack strength and endurance for my melee build but other stats include finesse (for lighter weaponry), haste (to improve cooldown and stamina recharge), and intellect (for magic attack and defense).
Like flasks in the Dark Souls series, Sorun is equipped with Phoenix feathers that heal and are rejuvenated each time you visit a shrine. These feathers play an important role and you'll gain more of them as you progress. You'll also find upgraded feathers that provide faster and more powerful healing as well as some other buffs. Unlike Dark Souls and similar games, you don't drop shards when you die. Instead, you drop one of your Phoenix feathers. These feathers are regularly lifesavers in battle so you'll want to seek it out and collect it right away. If you happen to die again, the feather doesn't disappear and you drop an additional one. This makes death less punishing because you'll always be able to collect dropped feathers again, unlike similar games where multiple deaths can result in massive losses.
Death's Gambit starts out easily then throws a huge difficulty spike at the player once they complete the intro area and reach the open world. At least 4 different bosses are available at that point although all of them are buried behind enemies that vary in difficulty. This is where Death's Gambit lets go of your hand and forces you to learn for yourself. You'll want to explore each open path while learning enemy patterns and determining which boss you want to tackle next. Meanwhile, you'll end up leveling up many times and thus become better prepared. The game world is very well crafted and filled with shortcuts that make repeat visits simpler. There's no in-game map but each area is designed uniquely enough that you should be able to easily remember every location. Environments feature fantastic pixel art design although once in a while, it's hard to tell exactly what is and isn't interactive. It's also not a huge world so once you know where you're going; you can get back with relative ease.
While I loved a lot about Death's Gambit, there are a few things that hold it back from greatness. Namely, it's still pretty glitchy and probably could have used a month or two more in the oven. I only experienced two hard crashes but many players are reporting more than that. Other issues that I've experienced include a boss dying with over half of her health left then awarding no shards and my special abilities inventory being filled with 30 copies of the same ability. There's no way to delete or remove abilities so I'm completely unable to learn any new ones. There's a bit of stuttering as well but it mostly seems to happen at innocuous times and not during battle. Some NPCs are voiced and others are not which is less of a glitch and more of a head-scratcher. Sorun himself speaks regularly but isn't voiced so conversations feel very bizarre when half the participants are speaking and the rest must be read via text. The inventory screens are also a headache. As far as I can tell, there's no way to organize items. There are submenus that sort items into weapons, armor, and such but within them, the items are all over the place. Oh, and don't get me started on how annoying the elevators are!
Death's Gambit has all the makings of a fantastic 2D Souls-like experience. Getting through the campaign right now requires a bit of patience due to glitches so hopefully, White Rabbit will refine the experience to ensure players can get the most out of it.
- + Exciting and challenging combat that's accessible to Souls-like newbies
- + Interconnected world with plenty to explore
- + Interesting overarching themes
- - Why the heck are some characters voiced and others are not?
- - Currently glitchy and needs refinement
- - Subpar inventory system