Guild of Darksteel Review: A Unique Dark Fantasy Adventure

by David Sanchez August 17, 2021 @ 10:50 am

Guild of Darksteel on Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Switch

It’s crazy how much of a difference nuanced gameplay mechanics can make. Guild of Darksteel from Igor Sandman may not appeal to everyone, but it’s still a genuinely awesome action-adventure game set in a dark fantasy world. Beyond that, though, it offers up one of the most satisfying combat systems seen in a game all year.

Pixelated Immortality

The game’s plot revolves around a mystical armor, the Darksteel. This armor is blessed — or cursed, depending on how you look at it — and grants those who wear it immortality. Unfortunately, the armor cannot be removed, and thus, these people are bound to fight never-ending wars.

Guild of Darksteel exploration gameplay.

Sellsword is the protagonist of Guild of Darksteel. Tired of fighting an unending battle, he heads to the town of Ravenrock, where the titular Guild of Darksteel is located. This group gives wearers of the Darksteel a purpose beyond just fighting. The Guild entrusts its immortal employees with different jobs to fulfill — so folks like our pal Sellsword can help others out, investigate strange happenings, and kill bad people, all with no risk of dying.

Well, to be clear, people who don the Darksteel armor can be killed — technically, that is. They feel pain if they’re cut down by the blade of an enemy just like everyone else, and they can be defeated, but their death isn’t permanent. Instead, these blessed — or, again, possibly cursed — people are instantly revived at altars, forever meant to live and fight.

The premise here is very interesting, and it works well to set up the game’s world. You’ll meet quite a few characters along the way, too, and they all sort of have their own burdens. The game never fully examines the dreariness of the world and its characters, which is a shame, because the blueprint for something grand is definitely here. Still, for what it’s worth, the story and world in Guild of Darksteel are certainly intriguing enough to entice you to dig deeper as you go along.

Guild of Darksteel art style.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing Guild of Darksteel is its super minimalistic art style. The world and characters have an abstract, pixelated look. It’s definitely stylized, with the bright sun contrasting the gray sky and dreary caverns painting a haunting landscape. The game’s graphics — both in terms of the developer’s design choice and the aesthetic direction — go hand-in-hand with the story and characters to create a world that appears cruel, atmospheric, and expressive.

Awesome Combo-Based Action

You’ll explore a few interesting locations in Guild of Darksteel. There’s a bit of light platforming, but this isn’t the focus of the game. Instead, the 2D movement is meant to allow you to move through what’s a pretty interesting series of locales, discover a bit of lore, and encounter enemies. Visually, the 2D exploration is very reminiscent of titles like the old school Flashback or 2016’s DreamBreak.

Enemies range from surly thieves to powerful soldiers to monsters. When you encounter an enemy, you’re locked in battle similar to a turn-based RPG. Enemies have specific attack and defense patterns that you have to keep an eye on. For example, thieves will take a few stabs at you with their blades and then immediately raise their shields. You have to time your blocks to avoid taking damage and then strike with your own attacks when enemies leave themselves open.

Guild of Darksteel combat gameplay.

Combat in Guild of Darksteel is absolutely enjoyable and utilizes a combo-based system not unlike an old school fighting game. When attacking, you can press button combinations like X, Y, and A or X, Y, Y, and X. These result in different types of offense, some of which offer perks like increased damaged with your next attack or, if you’ve found a specific item, self-healing with each successful attack. You won’t be able to pull off all these moves right away — instead, you unlock stronger attacks and longer combos the deeper into the game you get.

Enemies have specific tells when they’re about to attack, so it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open for any animations or sound effects that indicate they’re about to strike. Each enemy behaves a little differently, but the same rules apply: Watch, wait, defend, and strike. As much as I enjoyed this aspect of the combat, I wish there was a bit more enemy variety. Once you learn how each enemy type behaves, the combat loses quite a bit of its challenge.

Defeating enemies grants you XP that lets you level up your attacks. By the end of Guild of Darksteel, I’d mostly focused on leveling up about three of my attack combos, which made encounters even more of a breeze. It would’ve been great if enemies scaled a little more, because toward the end, I was mostly demolishing my foes.

An Awesome, Bite-Sized Action-Adventure Game

Guild of Darksteel pixel art.

Exploring the land of Ravenrock is really cool — I just wish there was a little more of it. It’s possible to finish Guild of Darksteel in three to four hours, which is fine because the game does get a little easy the more you level up. That said, had it been more challenging, I would’ve been glad to play a much longer campaign set in this world. The set pieces are interesting and the combat is great, so maybe I’m just getting a little greedy because I genuinely enjoyed my time with the game.

There’s a lot to love about Guild of Darksteel. The game offers up an intriguing story and excellent combat. Once you get the hang of the mechanics, it can be a bit easy, but that still doesn’t take away from the novel, legitimately entertaining action you’ll find here. Guild of Darksteel might not be to everyone’s liking, but anyone looking for an awesome 2D adventure with highly satisfying combat should definitely check it out. For around the price of a movie ticket, you’ll get a truly worthwhile experience.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

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