Developer The Arcade Crew and publisher Hibernian Workshop truly have created something special in Dark Devotion. From its onset, the game makes itself clear that it’s not here to hold your hand, teach you how to play, or even tell you what your objective is. That’s all left up to the player. After spending an hour or so with the game, I can tell Dark Devotion isn’t for me. That said, through that time I’ve learned to appreciate its design and complexity, and this game is sure to resonate with fans of Metroidvanias and Souls-likes alike.
Tired comparisons notwithstanding, Dark Devotion truly feels like a Metroidvania-meets-Dark Souls mashup that I didn’t know the world needed. The game doesn’t hesitate to throw its full weight at the player, thrusting me into a boss battle within mere minutes. After a story beat or two I won’t spoil, you effectively start the game fresh with no gear to speak of. From there, you explore your surroundings in the Filthblood Shelter and pick up your first weapon—a rusty gladius—along with a wooden shield from the local blacksmith. Then, it’s into the depths of the Ancient Dungeon, and—in my case—instant death. As soon as I step out from the doorway into the temple, I fall into a spike pit, hidden in depth and shadow. When I reawaken from death, the sword and shield I had were gone.
That’s the punishing nature of Dark Devotion. When you die, so too does your gear and any held items.
At first, this led to frustration. Why do I have to keep going back to get the same sword and shield over and over again? I grabbed my sword and shield from the blacksmith and again delved into the Ancient Dungeon. This time, I came up against a skeletal warrior. I lift my shield to block his attacks. After two hits against my shield, his advances push me into the same spike pit I fell into earlier.
Rinse and repeat.
What was at first frustrating turned into understanding, in that retrieving fresh gear after each death is part and parcel of dying in Dark Devotion. Determined, I followed the same path as before. Sure enough, I learned the movements of the skeletal warrior and, in turn, defeated it. Finally, victory—that is, until an unsuspecting axe swings down from the ceiling and cuts my throat. Time to start over again.
Once you get down the rhythm of how the game flows, the next—and arguably most critical—part of Dark Devotion to conquer is its combat. It only takes three hits for your character to die, so the majority of your time in combat will be spent either blocking with a shield or rolling to avoid attacks. You can’t do this all the time, however, as you have a finite stamina pool that depletes any time you perform an action aside from walking. It automatically recovers when you aren’t blocking, attacking, or dodging, but in the middle of combat—particularly with bosses—you aren’t given much breathing room to allow your stamina to replenish. The trick is to always be keeping your guard up, rolling, or attacking while also being aware of your stamina levels. It’s a tough balance to achieve and it likely won’t come easily, but once you start to get an enemy’s rhythm down and begin to anticipate its movement and attack patterns, you’ll find yourself in a groove until you satisfyingly take them down.
This is all done in a gorgeous pixel art style which doesn’t detract from the feeling of foreboding around each turn—in fact, the game’s art direction enhances each stroke of a blade and each rolling dodge, and the mysteries hidden by dark corners of the temple are all the more haunting because of it. Perhaps more importantly, combat feels fluid and responsive—an important thing to achieve in a game where precise input and timing is paramount.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of what Dark Devotion has to offer, including tapping into a rather extensive skill tree and crafting weapons via blueprints, not to mention the several areas the player can explore. Even though I readily admit Dark Devotion isn’t my type of game, it’s something I intend to keep pushing at to see how far I can go.
Dark Devotion is out today on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $19.99. Get it here.
Disclaimer: A preview copy of Dark Devotion was provided by the game’s publisher.