Good looks, intelligent, great sense of humour… these are all things I’d like to add to my portfolio, but alas, cannot. I do, however, take pride in my patience levels, and man do you need that for Dark Devotion by Hibernian Workshop, out now on the PS4.
Let’s address that big fat elephant in the room now: there will be many comparisons to Dark Souls, Salt and Sanctuary and Dead Cells, among others – and for a good reason. I’m not going to deem Dark Devotion as a rogue-like, Metroidvania or other sub-genre. For me, it’s subjective. Instead, I’ll say that it is a 2D side-scrolling, action-adventure that puts emphasis on timing and above anything else, your patience levels.
Dark Devotion is dark. Literally. There aren’t any hands to guide the way, but a fair amount of NPCs that give you a few hints. The ‘tutorial’ in that sense is very vague and insinuates what is to come later in the game. My immediate impression was “How do I jump?”. I don’t know about you, but I seldom jump in real life though expect it in a game like this. It takes some getting used to as you will need to use the left analogue stick to scout what is beneath you and hope for the best by rolling off the ledge into… well, that’s for you to find out.
It’s a bit dodgy. As you can’t jump over anything, the options are to either parry or dodge past them. Dark Souls reference #32, if you’re accustomed to evading a lot, then this will roll into your hands nicely. My methodology is always the same: build a tank and smash through stuff with big pointy things. It doesn’t work here. Especially in the beginning, as you can expect to die over and over again, so be advised that you need to play it safe until you become accustomed to the attack patterns.
In ‘other games’, when you die, it’s not the end, but you could go back and pick up dropped loot or return to a spawn point with the same gear. Not in Dark Devotion. When you die, you lose your equipment. That was my first issue. I would explore the murky dungeons, find a two-handed sword or some claws, die and then return to the base camp only to have to get a blacksmith to forge the weapons again. It doesn’t cost any resources, but it was a nuisance. Especially as I died a hell of a lot at first.
As with these types of games, if you just persevere, you start to improve on your skills and what was initially impossible, becomes a walk in the park. You’ll then encounter other enemies that are ridiculously hard. As mentioned, you don’t keep your gear, but you can earn permanent skill increases. These are unlocked by killing some baddies and using the purple orbs they drop to buy power-ups – anything from speed to stamina regeneration. That’s right – Dark Devotion relies on stamina so rolling, blocking and attacking is at your detriment as run out and you can’t do anything until it regenerates.
The controls are simple – maybe not so much as Door Kickers: Action Squad, though having two roll actions as L1 and R1 was confusing as I’d hit them instead of attack/defend (L2 and R2), plus you can’t change the configuration. Early on, some notifications say that the enemies you will encounter are simple beings, often with the same patterns of attack. In this situation, you need to learn their behaviours and respond accordingly. Don’t expect any button-bashing here – notably because of the effect it has on your stamina. Attacks are also quite limited. There aren’t really a range of moves and are the same for most of the melee weapons (there are ranged weapons too), but I was okay with this. Focus is on timing rather than arty-farty moves or having the strongest build, so you do require skill or just be named something like Reginald McFluke, and wing your way through it. Good luck with that.
The narrative structure isn’t always the best in these type of games – titles by From Software have a habit of being ambiguous, but Dark Devotion is relatively clear, yet with a mysterious quality. You play a templar who is in an apparent limbo – hence repeatedly dying and respawning. Your chums have located an underground temple that has all sorts of nasties living there, and your job is to clear out the evil with force – often disguised as a ‘quest’. During this torment, the templars rely on their faith to get through the ordeal. In fact, it’s a measurable factor in the game. Faith is slowly generated, and you drop to your knee to use this to unlock doorways, restore health or as a blessing to cure one of the many diseases you’ll encounter. There are buffs too.
Stamina is one way to measure your attributes, another is health and armour. Progressing through the game unlocks better armour and more health points depending on your build, but don’t expect to max these out and be overpowered. The game levels organically so while there are moments of being overwhelmed, there are never really scenarios where you’re one-hit killing everything in sight – though get your timing right and you will have a massive advantage. I have no rhythm, so it was better I did the classic hit and run because that’s…how…I…roll. Genius.
So the story isn’t the strongest point, but it has a much better structure than many of its contemporaries, and there’s no need to learn up on all these different realms and species. Just get stuck in. Visually it’s a treat. Very much a 16-bit effect, the animation is simple yet effective, but the scenery and character models are brilliant – the bosses shine the most, and there are 18 of these bad boys (there’s a wall in your hideout that lights purple as you beat each one). In terms of sound, it’s subtle and atmospheric – never shying away from the action, nor bombarding you with irrelevant techno-beats.
Apparently, there are over 250 weapons, skills and spells in the game, but there isn’t the variety you would expect from a game such as Borderlands 3. Another niggle for me is that when you get a weapon drop, it’s all in one go and you can’t really carry much. You can carry two sets of weapons – ideally a melee and ranged or spell type, or you can opt for a heavy two-hander, and perhaps dual wield with the others. You can’t stack them up to you later, or drag back to your hideout. The majority of the time I picked up an item, dropped or used it elsewhere then went back to pick up what was left. As for these weapons though, they have a similar appearance and move-set to one another. The differences being things like hit points. There is enough scope to have your own playstyle, however. If you want to have a swift rogue-type character, you can have the weapons (or spells to reflect that), subsequently, if you’re going to be a meathead, there are certainly the tools to crush it.
Game length is always subjective based on skill and whether you’re attempting to 100% everything. Personally, I was trying to level up asap so that I could cheese it a bit, but when it finally sunk in that it wasn’t an option, I decided to vary my style. At the time of writing this, I haven’t finished it, despite playing intensely, though I’m close to it? I can say that my preference for attack has changed – much preferring a swift character with light attacks than a bruiser. Do note though that there aren’t any save points. There are checkpoints as such, but you need to complete a run before you can exit the game, or it will register that you failed and you will lose your swag.
When I started the review, I made reference to Dark Souls and the like. The game that this is most like from my experience is Death’s Gambit. Visually it is very similar (though Dark Devotion has the edge) and there are a lot of the same mechanics throughout. I enjoyed that game as well, but I was able to retain my equipment and max out stats. With Dark Devotion, the key was to improve on permanent abilities but choose the right weapons for the job. Should I use a two-handed weapon or sword and shield? Maybe a bow or perhaps a spell build would be the best way. There was a good deal of options in Dark Devotion, and I anticipate playing this for some time.
Dark Devotion PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
Dark Devotion is heavy going at first. Expect to die a lot at the beginning, middle and end. If you are a fan of Dark Souls or Salt and Sanctuary, then I would recommend this. The levelling system is different, but you don’t need to grind – just be a little sensible in your approach. Hence why it’s a long haul for me…
- Great pixel art graphics
- No restrictions on what equipment you can use
- Bosses are visually pleasing
- Relies on skill rather than button mashing
- Grinding isn’t mandatory, but new skills help
- Lose all equipment on death
- No jump option meaning it takes a while to get used to
- Isn’t a smooth ride – no level difficulty
- Combat is very much no frills
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.