Have You Played… Severance: Blade Of Darkness?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Back in 2001, a long-defunct Spanish developer named Rebel Act Studios accidentally made Dark Souls ten years early.

It is quite bizarre how much of Severance: Blade of Darkness parallels From Software’s groundbreaking design. A deep, punishing combat system with smart, unpredictable enemies and powerful bosses. A cryptic, lyrical story that minimises exposition in favour of snippets of legend and lore. Geometrically complex environments that are layered vertically as well as horizontally while providing minimal navigational cues. Dark Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls.

The difference is that everything in Dark Souls is deliberately knotted together into one giant mystery to unpick thread by thread. In Severance the intentions are rather more mundane or even completely incidental. The story, for example, isn’t enigmatic by design, but because the developers hadn’t quite finished it when the game launched. The combat is unforgiving because the Rebel Act were making something that hadn’t really been tried before, and the environment design follows on from the classic Tomb Raider methodology colloquially known as Where The Fuck Am I Supposed To Go Now?

Still, as melee combat games go, Severance is an impressive technical relic, featuring lithe motion-captured animations, one of the most advanced lighting systems of its time, and nuanced combat designed specifically around mouse and keyboard. What’s more, now that many of us have graduated from the Miyazaki School of Hard Knocks, it makes Severance’s half-throwing, half-fumbling down of the gauntlet that much easier to enjoy.

46 Comments

  1. Turin Turambar says:

    I loved this game! It’s in fact why I have to try one of these days
    Dark Souls, lol.

    Though I think in Blade you could save whenever.

    • Trajano says:

      Yeah, I think that you can save anywhere

      • St_Jay says:

        You could, but the game add a little title to your savefiles based on the frequency of saving… so the game actually told you that you’re badass if you saved like three times per level, or that youre a wuss if you saved too often. That totally worked on me…

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          i might be misremembering but i think you could only get the best ending if you are above a certain rank saving-wise.

        • Horg says:

          You know, for years i’ve felt a little pang of guilt every time I manually save a game and never been able to explain why. It was Severance all along, its been so long that I completely forgot about that feature.

  2. Paul says:

    I finished both Dark Souls games, they are nice and all.
    I like Severance even more however. And I only played it about two years ago for the first time, when it was finally released on GOG. I like how you could dismember enemies. How it had dynamic blood and amazing shadows. The combat was just so much fun. Definitely do not play this for the story though, it is like Dark Souls at that, almost nonexistant.

    • Paul says:

      Btw here is a gameplay vid I recorded back then from the beginning of the game as Knight
      link to youtube.com
      (could not edit my post)
      Those water reflections, not even done by shaders yet..

    • Insurgence says:

      IF I remember correctly, not only could you dismember enemies, but you could beat other enemies to death with those dismembered limbs. Quite entertaining at the time.

      • Unsheep says:

        Well, gaming media is rather fickle. If management thinks a game won’t attract much views it is only briefly mentioned or perhaps not even covered at all.

      • Jackablade says:

        I think you might be remembering Die by the Sword which was a similar weird, mellee combat game with a slightly awkward and janky but undeniably cool fighting system

        • MadJax says:

          No no, he’s remembering correctly, you could pick up the arms that had been lopped off and beat enemies to death with them, it was even possible to cut off a limb and the enemy wouldn’t immediately die, cue hilarity of beating someone to death with their own arm

  3. Retzinsky says:

    Oh man I have been waiting for this to crop up on RPS. It’s one of those strange games that I thought was absolutely brilliant only for it to disappear without a trace.

  4. DrGonzo says:

    Sorry to be nit-picky. But Dark Souls has completely predictable enemies, it’s sorta the point!

  5. C0llic says:

    I did indeed play this, and it was great, though bloody hard. I don’t think I got too far on it, but it was great fun.

  6. Unsheep says:

    Just to remind you media folk: Demon’s Souls came first, not Dark Souls. Everything in Dark Souls originates from Demon’s Souls,it expanded what was already there.

    There are ‘some’ similarities between Severance and Demon’s Souls, however personally I think Severance plays more like Rune, Enclave and Die by the Sword than it does a Souls game.

    Also, the open-world game design was very common in the past, I don’t understand why so many media journalists think its such an exotic thing, did you guys only play Nintendo growing up or what ?

    Lastly, most RPGs and action RPGs from before 2008 were quite tough, not just Severance. In fact the further back in time you go the more difficult they get.

    GOG used to sell Severance but not anymore, I’m not sure where you can get it. It definitely worth getting though if you enjoyed Rune.

    • Unsheep says:

      I don’t which to be rude, I just find it very strange for PC game journalists to be rather unaware of the nature of older PC games.

    • Hidden Thousand says:

      Yes, Demon’s Souls is pretty much where lots of things began. Too bad it never came to PC (hence, probably, why many people start with Dark Souls).
      It is also my eternal damnation. And until I finish it (or make my husband finish it), I’m not watching any other Souls games, let alone playing them.

      • Unsheep says:

        I fully understand the reference to Dark Souls, it is a rational reference point for PC gamers who never played Demon’s Souls.
        However what gets to me is when people in media, who in my opinion should be more informed than the average gamer, imply that Dark Souls invented something completely new, which it did not.

      • Unsheep says:

        Yes, I do hope Demon’s Souls will one day find its way to PC.
        Dark Souls 1 and 2 showed that FromSoft have the knowledge and skill to do it, it just a matter of ownership rights as Demon’s Soul’s IP is owned by Sony.

        I’m not sure how long Sony can milk the sales though, as sales of Demon’s Souls is riding on the success of the Souls games.

        From a business perspective I think its a much better choice to remake it for the PC. I think more people would be interested in buying and playing it.

        • funkstar says:

          I don’t think you can say sales of Demon’s Souls are riding on Dark Souls success. People were importing demon’s souls from Asia when it came out, which eventually caused Atlus to take notice and publish it in the US, and Namco Bandai to publish it in the EU, following which NB published the Dark Souls series.

          The sales of Bloodborne also speak to this, I feel, as a spiritual successor to DS which is a PS4 exclusive published by Sony.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Was a PS3 exclusive so the Xbox lot never got to try it either.

    • Baines says:

      Not to mention that some of the stuff FromSoftware is praise for in the Souls series were parts of previous FromSoftware titles.

      I want to recall that King’s Field was fairly minimal on exposition and heavy on the figure-stuff-out-yourself (and figure out your own navigation as well) approach, but that game is over 20 years old now. I mostly just remember being confused and sometimes not even sure what the polygon monstrosity that killed me was supposed to be.

    • int says:

      I think Die by the Sword was a game PC Gamer compared to Severance back then. Both games are great, though DbtS certainly wasn’t as fluid as Severance.

      More games should have dismemberment and decapitation, I say!

  7. frenz0rz says:

    I too was waiting for this to crop up on RPS at some point; marvellous game, simply marvellous, one of the cornerstone games of my youth.

    One of the standout elements for me was the limb amputations and various ways you could slice enemies to pieces (presumably the titular ‘severance’). The combat was technical and satisfying, particularly as the Barbarian class whose two-handed stance relied entirely on dodging and occasionally parrying, whilst timing those sweet combos and special moves which would slice an orc into meaty cubes.

    The Dwarf also had the funniest running animation I’ve ever seen, where he’d sort of lean back, stare upwards toward the sky and waddle rapidly in the required direction.

  8. Hidden Thousand says:

    A great game! So many hours spent chopping enemies and getting chopped by them (also falling from heights). Even more hours spent watching the game. I still keep some of its music to remind me of its appropriately grim atmosphere.

  9. Gordon Shock says:

    Great journalism Rick!

    Actually Demon/Dark Souls is simply the continuation of the King’s Field series of games that dates back to the mid 90’s.

  10. Voxel lens says:

    I can’t find it on GOG. Does anyone know why?

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Presumably their license lapsed and wasn’t renewed for who knows what reason :(

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      You’re right. It’s gone -sadface-
      Now that we’ve got our mouths watered…

  11. eclipse mattaru says:

    I probably heard about it in its day but I tend to steer clear of fantasy stuff. Having it compared to Dark Souls, though, does pique my interest.

    Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any legal way to get it now?

  12. ariston says:

    Just talked about this with a friend the other day… brilliant game, although the difficulty made me want to smash the keyboard to bits. Once you got the hang of it, though, it became easier.

    This was on GoG? Damn! I was hoping to get it somewhere, although I might still have it buried in a box somewhere.

  13. Steph says:

    I have very fond memories of it but I cannot get it to work on Windows 10. Any help?

  14. Muzman says:

    I’ve often thought of the Souls’s’s series success when thinking of this game’s general obscurity. It’s damn huge and damn hard and should be better appreciated.

    I think its combat system is more loose that Souls games. They reward patience and precision, with an emphasis on timing and remembering enemy placement.
    Severance is a lot more freewheeling and chaotic. You would do well to be patient, precise and cautious of course. But the game sits somewhere between an arcadey hacknslash, with combos and everything, and a reasonably detailed fencing/melee sim.
    There aren’t many games of this sort where orcs and so forth will over crowd themselves and, thanks to the simulation detail of all blades, can catch one another on the back swing, briefly forgetting about you as they dissolve into disagreement. The Knights on the other hand rarely let themselves be crowded in this way because they’re too smart.

    Enemies will hunt your ass down in this game too, through levels that are truly huge, and even climb up and get you. The sort of thing that was pretty rare outside of the Thief games at the time. Not many bother to do it even now.

    I don’t think anything has quite captured this game’s magic. Souls can be as intense, but is more clinical and RPGish about it. Dark Messiah came close, but the feel of it isn’t quite right. Nor the balance.
    For brutal, blood soaked, bellowing triumph after some long engagement you have to be playing this.

  15. Hypocee says:

    From me to partial RPS The Crate and Crowbar, April 10 205:

    All the Bloodborne and From Software talk sparked curiosity as to whether any of your From-aligned members played Severance/Blade of Darkness either on its release in 2001 or since. My memories of it then are of trying to get its super-advanced real-time lighting to run at an acceptable framerate on a… Pentium II 400 maybe? and dealing with its frequent crashes to desktop. However, as computer power has made it perform and stabilise and the From school continues its renaissance, Severance starts to look mighty familiar.

    It’s a melee combat game with several classes of weapon and fighter to mix ‘n’ match, with tight timing windows, huge stagger and fatigue penalties, precise hit detection, lots of dodging and blocking, and weapon and stat progressions both yielding specific new moves. It certainly doesn’t have the depth of From’s oblique storytelling, but on the other hand it doesn’t have bottomless pits that enemies mindlessly walk into.And correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think you can beat enemies over the head with other enemies’ legs in From games.

  16. catscratch says:

    I played this game when it was new.

    I really cannot state this enough: the game was absolutely groundbreaking back in the day when it came to graphics and gameplay. The lighting engine was unlike anything at the time and still looks quite good today. The textures weren’t as great as some of the games around even then, but the animations were motion captured and very life-like.

    Then, you have the gameplay. The control scheme for this sort of game wasn’t fully figured out (read: standardized) back then, so the controls take a moment of getting used to today. They’re quite anachronistic, but once you get used to them, they’re fairly effective. The game actually isn’t very difficult, but because of the depth in the combat system it can feel overwhelmingly difficult when you first pick it up. The difficulty level spikes a lot, the first few levels are tough and the last level can be a nightmare, whereas some levels in between are a cakewalk, aside from the usual “where the hell do I go next” problem of games that aren’t a glorified corridor.

    My favorite part of this game, though, is how the level design often felt organic and life-like, in the sense that castles in the game were laid out as castles might have been laid out realistically, instead of relying on gaming conventions. Environments really did feel like actual environments even with the technological limitations of the time. Sometimes, that meant some stumbling points in gameplay, as you didn’t always know where you needed to be going, but it also meant levels that didn’t hold you by the hand, and weren’t afraid to be complicated.

    It’s one of my favorite games ever. Which is not to say that it’s perfect, as the game was quite raw and unfinished on release – even going as far as missing sound assets for the final bossfight, where certain boss abilities were performed in total silence because the dev team ran out of money.

    But, when you toss in a weird but mystifying backstory with Zooastrianist leanings and great atmosphere overall, it’s no wonder this game inspired Dark Souls.

    Also, check out Blade of Darkness for an even older, more obscure, and tough-as-nails precursor to the genre. Blade of Darkness has mechanics I’ve yet to see repeated ANYWHERE (though maybe that’s a good thing).

    And definitely play this game today. It still holds up.

  17. darkath says:

    Yes! yes!

    This game!

    Please make another game like this. No need for RPG and levels and choices, just blades and dismemberments.

    Too bad the game is hardly playable on recent computers …

  18. baozi says:

    I remember playing through it when it came out and liking it quite a bit. The last boss was pretty spooky.

    Gotta say though, I also remember trying to replay it a few years ago and the wobbly camera throwing me off because it made me dizzy for some reason.

    Still, I’m glad that I had bought it again on GOG before they lost the license…

  19. OpT1mUs says:

    Fun fact: Game was originally supposed to be called just “Blade”. Unfortunately around the same time movie “Blade” came out, so they decided to change it …

  20. krakead says:

    Has anyone managed to get this running on Windows 10? I bought the game when it first came out and must have played it through at least half a dozen times, but now I can’t any more :( Definitely one of my all time favourite games.

  21. Al Bobo says:

    I downloaded this game today from internets after checking, if I could buy it from somewhere first. Works well in win7 x64. Or, well… apparently I made a save-game too fast and my only 2nd level -save is now corrupted. I was 99% done in that level. I think I take a little break until I play that map through again…

  22. Potocobe says:

    Mwa Ha ha…Chopping off heads and watching them bounce down and down a spiral staircase thus alerting the guards below that something has happened…watching for shadows to time your arrow releases…so much cool stuff in a fighting game and you really felt like a one man army till the first boss beats you down. Severence had a combo list for every weapon like Tekken 3. Shield blocking was good too. It worked like you imagine it should in most games. I miss the good old days when game developers were trying to make new games while getting paid instead of trying to get paid while making games.

  23. TAIMAT says:

    vague memory about this title .. 3 warriors w/ different starting paths .. bloody .. BUGGY