Dark Devotion Review: Test Your Faith, Test Your Mettle

by David Sanchez November 8, 2019 @ 10:18 am

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

Faith is a powerful thing. It can move mountains. It can restore dead lands. It can— aw, crap, I’m dead. Dark Devotion from Hibernian Workshop is a bastard-tough 2D action-adventure with some very specific inspirations, but the game carves its own path of death and despair, and it ultimately provides a thrilling experience worthy of its own merit.

I want to get a few things out of the way right from the get-go. First, Dark Devotion is not a Metroidvania. Second, it’s not exactly a roguelike, either. It’s kind of a roguelite, but also, not really. In addition, though there’s a Souls-like vibe to the game, I wouldn’t classify it exclusively as that type of game — though fair comparisons are to be made. Last, the game’s world is not procedurally generated. Okay, shall we move on?

May Your Faith Guide You

Dark Devotion kicks things off with a brief and somewhat vague opening cinematic. There are allusions to a dark world and faith in a fallen land. From that point on, the game keeps things simple and doesn’t drop loads of story on you, but rather bits of lore in the form of micro-sized conversations with NPCs, boss descriptions, and hidden letters. In this sense, Dark Devotion is very much akin to Dark Souls — it doesn’t give you a blatant story, instead opting to allow you to piece together the history of its world and characters as you play.

The hellish temple you explore in Dark Devotion is quite intimidating, especially in the beginning. Though there is no random world generation, there are plenty branching paths and alternate doorways for you to travel through, resulting in different enemies and areas to visit. The game manages to successfully blend linear and nonlinear progression in a way that keeps things interesting. This keeps the experience from getting stale because you will die a whole bunch in this game, so it’s nice to have options when you’re revisiting an area in the temple for the third or fourth time.

Temple of Doom

As you visit the many rooms in the temple, you’ll find new weapons and items that give you better odds at surviving. Sometimes enemies will drop decent weapons and armor upgrades. Other times you’ll find chests with these items. Throughout your exploration of the temple, you’ll constantly upgrade your equipment, but the game is very methodical about how it offers you new items. Dark Devotion isn’t generous with its upgrades, and it certainly makes you work hard for everything you obtain, but it doesn’t leave you without any chance to defend yourself, either.

There are two types of currencies in Dark Devotion. The first is faith, which can be used to pray at certain locations. Depending on the location, you can heal status effects such as poison, open locked doors, or earn temporary stat buffs. All of these items are lost when you die. When you do meet that inevitable demise, you return to the game’s hub world, stripped of most of what you found along the way.

Like Dead Cells, upon dying you have access to better starting weapons, granted you discovered those weapons along the way. So you can suit up and head deeper into the temple with better gear, thus giving you a better chance at survival and progression.

The second currency in Dark Devotion comes in the form of experience points that can be used to unlock permanent stat boosts like faster movement, more precise blocking, and higher crit chances. These buffs are unlocked in a skill tree found in the hub world, and you can mix and match, create different builds, and alter your character’s attributes to your liking.

Even though you’re returned to the hub upon dying, Dark Devotion isn’t too punishing with its progression. Though rare, you’ll find fast travel points that allow you to return to a deeper area of the temple if you’ve gotten far enough. Its tricky, because the deeper you get, the more challenging the enemies are, so you won’t have all the healing items you may have found on your previous run. Still, you may very well be equipped with better weapons. It’s a trade-off that keeps things exciting.

Due to how expendable the items are, Dark Devotion encourages you to use everything you find almost as soon as you find it. Because you lose everything when you die, there’s no need to stockpile health and armor, and you gain absolutely nothing by not using the stat boosts you encounter along the way. If you find an item that’s going to make you more accurate or increase your damage output for one room, it’s best you use it immediately.

Nightmare Creatures

While the temple itself is almost like a central character, the combat in Dark Devotion is also a major component. Like Dark Souls, you have to pay attention to enemies’ movements. Though you can block with certain weapons, your best bet is to dodge roll out of the way. Doing so, as well as attacking, will deplete your stamina. Because of the way the action plays out, it’s very easy to draw comparisons between Dark Devotion and Dark Souls. That said, the combat here is, sadly, not all that deep. It’s fun, but it can get a touch repetitive.

That’s not to say combat is boring, though. If you’re surrounded by a couple enemies or taking on a boss, you’re likely to be on the edge of your seat as you fight for survival. There were so many encounters where I found myself with shaky hands and sweaty palms after just barely surviving with a single hit point of health. It’s these moments that really drive the combat home. For as simple as it may be, the action gameplay of Dark Devotion is immensely rewarding.

Though there are specific bosses to seek out and kill, the game also includes optional side missions and special enemies to discover. These entice you to revisit areas and unlock alternate routes off the beaten path. So while there is some backtracking to be done, the game doesn’t require that you revisit cleared locations and lets you get as much or as little as you want from it.

Death and Destruction, Despair and Devotion

Like its story, the presentation of Dark Devotion is very minimalistic. The game’s pixel art is beautiful and detailed. Enemies are grotesque, sinful abominations, with the bosses featuring especially nightmarish appearances. There’s a lot of variety to the locations in the temple, with some rooms looking more like cathedrals and others like BDSM dungeons. This isn’t a lighthearted game, though, so you won’t find rich, bright colors, but rather darker tones that work incredibly well within the context of the game.

The music is equally subdued, with light, haunting piano and string themes that create a complex contrast of both hope and sorrow. The music that’s there is so good that I wish there was more of it. As it is, what the soundtrack lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality, and the serene yet chilling music helps build the atmosphere of the temple.

Like the games that inspired it, Dark Devotion won’t be for everyone. For those who do play it, though, there’s an incredible experience here that’s almost flawless. The combat, while not mindless, lacks depth at times, but it’s still a lot of fun, especially during boss encounters. And if you’re looking for story, you won’t find too much here. But running through the temple, discovering new weapons, and getting just a little farther every time makes for a compelling and extraordinary gameplay loop that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of.

Score: 9 out of 10

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