The Souls series is unquestionably one of the most influential gaming works this decade. Who’d have thought that a reboot of the King’s Field series would see dozens of imitators, and for so many of them to be good? Death’s Gambit is the latest in an increasing number of 2D Souls-inspired platform hack n’ slashers, joining the likes of Salt & Sanctuary and the excellent Hollow Knight to deliver another round of brooding gothic vibes and plenty of challenging boss fights. It’s out today on Steam and GOG, published under the banner of Adult Swim Games.
Having watched a good chunk of ProtonJon’s marathon preview stream of the game last night, it would be a grave understatement to say that Death’s Gambit is merely inspired by Dark Souls. Rather, this is a tribute act, played in two dimensions. Your protagonist is a chosen undead warrior, you’re limited by an all-to-short stamina bar in combat, and you’ll always come rolling on back to a small town full of sketchy NPCs in order to restock and equip before delves into the unknown. Even the UI is almost identical to the Dark Souls series, right down to the boss health bars.
While it proudly mimics Dark Souls in many regards, Death’s Gambit does have some ideas of its own, including a magic/special move system that’s fuelled by extended combos, encouraging an aggressive play-style, also forcing even the most magically inclined of players into close combat. There’s also some very big Shadow of the Colossus-esque bosses which cause the camera to zoom out, leaving you feeling very small indeed. These bigger fights seem more focused on whittling your way through their ankles instead of climbing around for a decisive blow.
What really caught my attention during yesterday’s preview stream was a sharp shift in both tone and setting some ways into the game. It seems there’s a bit more to Death’s Gambit than just dark swords and sorcery boilerplate and evocative boss names. Unfortunately, ProtonJon also stumbled upon some nasty bugs (including a shield which reduced your stats instead of raising them), which hopefully have been patched in time for launch, but you may want to give this one a couple more days for the dust to settle and some critical dissections before picking it up.