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Game Info:

Death's Gambit
Developed By: White Rabbit
Published By: Adult Swim Games
Release Date: August 13, 2018
Available On: Windows, PS4
Genre: Action-Adventure, Role Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T for Blood and Gore, Use of Alcohol, Violence
MSRP: $19.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Adult Swim Games for sending us this game to review!

Death's Gambit is a 2D side-scrolling action RPG (Role Playing Game) designed for those seeking a challenge. At first, it seemed like this would fall into the 'Metroidvania' style, where you collect upgrades and explore new areas as new skills allow you to do so. While there can be a fair amount of backtracking if you want to, it turns out that while you do find new weapons, and can upgrade existing ones if you wish, by and large the game is not linear in this way. It's actually remarkably open ended, which is really cool in its own way.

You see, despite strong expectations to the contrary, you never do end up getting that double jump upgrade that seems like it just has to be around the corner. Instead, you have to explore, defeat bad guys, and explore some more to figure out how to get to that hard-to-reach secret. (There are a small number I never did figure out how to reach.) Once you get to a certain point, you can choose to explore fairly freely - and if you buy a specific emblem and use it before you're powerful enough, you can go and die as much as you like. Some areas are locked behind other bosses, but most are there ready for you to explore as much as you like.

When you start, you first get to choose from one of seven classes, each which specializes in something slightly different. I was a Blood Knight in my playthrough, as having opportunities to heal damage through aggressive play suited me just fine. I tend to wail on enemies when given the chance, anyway. That's not always the best way to go, as death can come swift, and often. Thankfully, through your contract with Death, you can die as many times as you like.

In the beginning of the game, you find yourself on the brink of death after your unit of soldiers dies on an expedition sent to find the source of immortality at Siradon. Death offers you the chance to live again as an immortal yourself as long as you work to stop the other immortals living there. Once you agree, you begin to search and explore, while taking advantage of being raised again and again to the last Death statue that you rested at. Chances are, unless your skills strongly surpass mine, you will likely need it again and again.

Death's Gambit
Highlights:

Strong Points: Well designed, interesting gameplay; great music; nice weapon variety; combat feels great; interesting pixel art, with really nice animations; very challenging at times
Weak Points: Text display is really unclear if you don't have a 1080p screen; a few minor bugs; very challenging at times
Moral Warnings: Game is extremely dark and brooding, with lots of blood, gore, and undead and other mystical creatures; magic is used by enemies and the player; a hexagram is shown for an enemy attack; alcohol use is shown in a few places, and you can choose to imbibe yourself; violence, as you kill (and kill again) lots of creatures; the word 'h*ll' is used

In order to have a chance against these powerful foes, you'll need a weapon. There are ten main types of weapons, each driven by a primary damage stat. Longswords, Greatswords, Greathammers, Halberds, and Axes are Strength-driven weapons. This means their damage scales with a higher Strength. Daggers, Scythes, Spears, and Bows are Finesse-driven weapons. Tomes, and the special Spell Blade, are driven by the Intelligence stat. Every weapon has a minimum required stat for use, a damage rating, and a unique moveset. Strength weapons tend to do the most damage per hit, Finesse ones tend to be fast or have range, and Intelligence ones are magical. I played almost entirely with Strength weapons in my playthrough.

Besides weapons, you also have weapon abilities, which are skills you can activate if you have the right weapon equipped, and a shield. Abilities cost Soul Energy to use, which you can gain through attacking enemies; if not used, it naturally drains while just standing there or moving around. Shields are critical to learn, as you can't always dodge every attack. Instead, you can absorb the blow without taking damage, though each type of shield does have a limited number and strength of attacks it can take before it breaks. Breaking is not permanent; it just staggers you and leaves you vulnerable for a moment. Once you're back to normal you can use the shield again.

Attacking, blocking, dodging, and most other moves cost stamina. This is a critical resource, as once you run out, you have the honor of just standing there or moving – but no attacks for you. Along with Strength/Finesse/Intelligence, which relate to damage dealing, there are other stats as well. These relate to total health (Vitality), total stamina (Endurance), and regeneration rate (Haste). These three are just as important as the others, though I ended up putting the most points into my damage-dealing stat (Strength, in my case) as it has the biggest impact in boss-beating by far. You can't increase Soul Energy through increasing stats.

I found that more often than not, doing the most damage as quickly as possible was the most effective way to get through bosses. This is probably heavily influenced by my playstyle and character class; I'm sure that if I spent the time to actually get skilled at this game, rather than plow through it brute force, I may have found other methods more effective. As it was, I ended up maxing out my character's level before completing the game; it was surprisingly quick to do so, and I always felt like the constant growth kept the game interesting.

Most weapons actually only have one version of them, with a few notable exceptions. There is only one axe, for example. Rather than being stuck with the starter weapon the whole game, you can enhance your weapons through the use of Soul Stones, and eventually Immortalite. These items are relatively rare; I was not able to max out any weapons in my first playthrough, though to be fair, I did waste some on non-endgame items. You can get some back by disenchanting loot, but I still didn't get quite enough in a normal playthrough.

Death's Gambit
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 72%
Violence - 2/10
Language - 9/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

 

Enemies vary in strength and power quite a bit, but even the weakest enemies can kill you if you are not paying attention. A simple archer, which takes just a few hits to kill early on, remain a significant threat near the end of the game. There are a few places where they gang up on you, and if you don't eliminate them quickly, they can kill even my endgame character if I'm lazy (and let's face it, endgame characters usually have the luxury of being lazy). Bosses can be quite challenging; I did at least one out of the recommended order, and it took me close to fifty deaths to finally beat it. But the levels I gained sure made the other bosses easier!

Graphically, this game is good, but not great. The pixel art is good, and some of the bosses and enemies look great. The animations are also excellent. What really bothered me was that if you don't use a 1080p screen, some of the art, but especially the text, is scaled in the worst way possible. Have you ever seen a really lazy nearest-neighbor scaling algorithm try to increase the resolution on a fractional resize? Well that's exactly what's happening here, and it's hideous. I use a 1440p screen most of the time, and it's bad enough, though I was able to read everything. Scaling down to 720p, which I needed for my GPD Win 2, and it was barely readable at all. The game was perfectly playable and looked great otherwise.

The sound effects do their job, but the music is really nice. I wouldn't say the music is the kind that is likely to get stuck in your head, but it is very nice to listen to while playing, and certainly adds to the mood to improve the experience. The voice acting is really well done. The language is mostly clean, though there are mentions of 'h*ll'.

There is a lot of violence; while there is of course the typical animated violence when attacking other creatures, there are also many moments of blood and dark, brooding environments. There are areas where there are pools of blood everywhere, and skeleton parts, severed body parts, and so on. You serve Death, who is a creature composed of bones, and carries a scythe. The art around the characters is really great, but quite dark. Enemies are all over the map, but several are magical in nature, and you can use spells as well. One enemy's attacks form a hexagram. A small number of creatures imbibe alcohol, and you are given a mug full of it to drink yourself if you choose to.

Death's Gambit is a fairly enjoyable 2D side-scrolling action RPG. It was both what I expected (many compared it to a Dark Souls-like experience) and something a bit different (it avoided an expected Metroidvania trope). The art, animations, music, and combat are all very well done. I hope they fix the resolution issue, and, while I did occasionally experience a small number of bugs, it was nothing earth-shattering. If the genre, style, and especially content don't bother you, then I would recommend you to look closely at this title; I enjoyed it enough that I wouldn't mind attempting a New Game+ run if time allows.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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