It’ll probably be obvious to most players what inspired Dark Devotion from the get-go, with the dark atmosphere, the epic boss fights, and the challenging difficulty sharing plenty of similarities with a certain From Software game. Whilst its inspirations are clear though, Dark Devotion feels very much like its own unique game with some clever ideas implemented throughout that really change up the tried-and-tested formula.
Those looking for a deep and intricate story might be a little bit disappointed by Dark Devotion’s offering – basically, you’re sent into a strange and deadly temple and are tasked with… uh… yeah, I’m at a loss there. You just go through this harrowing environment, kill baddies, and slowly see yourself progress through to the end credits. There are a few interactions to have with NPCs along the way, but for the most part this is a gameplay-focused experience.
Fortunately, the gameplay itself is a lot of fun throughout. Combat has a nice balance of challenge and simplicity, with the player able to pull off basic attack combos and a block or evasive roll to avoid incoming ones. This is all tied to the game’s stamina system, which requires you to balance out and time both your offensive and defensive manoeuvres carefully if you’re going to succeed. Interestingly, your health isn’t represented by a meter, but instead hit-points – this means you know exactly how many hits you can take from an enemy as opposed to having to worry about how much damage an attack dishes out.
Combat feels weighty throughout and it’s certainly satisfying to take down enemies. Admittedly, the standard enemies are pretty run of the mill and won’t take much to take down. The bosses on the other hand are TOUGH, with the player often having to deal with their overwhelming size and varied attack patterns to have any chance at survival. They were never frustrating to take down though – well, apart from when they hit their occasional ‘one hit kill’ attacks which felt unfair, but they were minor blips in what were otherwise gripping encounters.
Dark Devotion’s world also happens to be mighty impressive to look at – it certainly lives up to the game’s title by being very dark, but this helps add to the already grim atmosphere. There are plenty of haunting sights to be seen too, whilst the overall aesthetic manages to get a perfect balance of macabre and elegance.
It also just so happens to be an incredibly dangerous world, with traps and hazards aplenty that’ll quickly see your health dwindle away. You can probably expect to die a lot from exploring alone, though you’ll find plenty of shortcuts and fast-travel spots so it never gets too frustrating to get around. There are also plenty of secrets to find across the world, so exploring every nook and cranny is always rewarding.
Across the world you can find special tablets that when activated boost your stats, whilst there’s also a currency to be earned from killing enemies that can be spent to unlock perks. Most importantly, the equipment you find can also boost your stats, so it’s always worth tinkering with the weapons and gear you find to perfect your build. Dark Devotion has a good menu system in place that clearly displays the stats of your gear and what changes what, so it’s an accessible system that never feels overbearing.
Dark Devotion’s main gameplay cycle will feel familiar to anyone who has played Dark Souls, but there is one way it really differentiates itself: the repercussions of death. You don’t lose your experience points when you die and you’ll also gain additional buffs when you respawn to give you a fighting chance the next time around, but you will lose all of your gear. I know that sounds daunting, but you have a trusty blacksmith ally who’ll give you new gear after each death based upon the equipment you’ve found whilst playing, so you’re never left empty handed. However, you won’t have access to all the gear you’ve found, so the particularly special equipment that’s extra powerful has to be collected again.
This was one of the more annoying aspects of Dark Devotion – in games like this it’s always satisfying to get that extra special weapon or piece of armour, so losing it when you die and having to go through some of the same old areas all over again just felt frustrating. The game is pretty difficult too, so you can easily find yourself re-collecting it and getting killed by a trap in the environment or a one-hit kill off a boss straight after, making you go through all the fuss all over again. I like a challenge in a game, but this was a bit too much.
Dark Devotion’s satisfying combat mechanics, macabre world, and epic boss encounters help it stand out as a very enjoyable release for Switch owners to play through. Admittedly, it also has its share of frustrating moments thanks to the gear loss when you die (and just how easy it is to die), but there are certainly a heck of a lot more highs than lows to be found in this morbid adventure.
Developer: Hiberian Workshop
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC