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Enotria: The Last Song's demo reveals a sunnier Soulslike with a powerful sense of theatre

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Two masked figures swordfighting in Enotria: The Last Song with the Gamer Network Wishlisted mascot in the bottom right
Image credit: Jyamma Games / Rock Paper Shotgun

This week we finally got our raging bear gauntlets on Elden Ring Shadow Of The Erdtree, an even dingier and danker edition of 2022's best and dankest open worlder, but perhaps you'd rather play a Soulslike with a Florentine flounce and the warmth of a Mediterranean sunset on its brow. A brighter, stagier variety of action-role-playing, which deepens the connection between Italian folklore and Soulsliking established by last year's Lies Of P. Well then: cast aside those ursine mitts, slip on a pair of immaculate white theatre gloves and get your thumbs into Enotria: The Last Song, which has a demo on Steam.

The work of Milan-based Jyamma Games, it takes place in a world overtaken by a "twisted eternal play", in which everybody has a mask that determines the role they are doomed to perform indefinitely - the latest plot justification for the classic Dark Souls tragicomic ritual of everything and everybody resetting when you die.

You don't have a mask, however. Rather, you're the Maskless One and as such, free to wear any dang mask you choose and make use of its esoteric powers. Each mask is a set of stat modifiers and special abilities which you can switch between with D-pad down. Land a finishing move in a brawl and your equipped mask will "awaken", sprouting additional bonuses. My favourite of the two I've discovered so far is the Piercing Wit Mask - yes, mostly because it sounds dashing, but also because when I Pierce somebody with my Wit (impale them with my longsword), my ranged "Mask Lines" or spells recharge instantly, making this a great piece of headwear for budding battlemages.

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The complexities of the mask mechanic notwithstanding, the first few minutes and opening tutorials for Enotria are interchangeable with those of most other Soulslikes. You've got light and heavy attacks, a stagger bar of sorts, a parry and dodge (but no block), a distressingly finite flask of health replenishment, and a branching corridor map pegged down by bonfire-equivalents which here take the form of pluckable, glowing cords.

During those opening sections I was concerned that the game's cultural influences would prove grafted-on, with terms like "fast" and "slow" archly swapped out for "allegro" and "adagio" in a bid to wow stupid tourists like, yes, myself. Perhaps that'll be my conclusion after 40 hours of play, Enotria's estimated minimum completion time. But the set dressing is undeniably appealing. The sun-drenched landscape (available in several parallel incarnations, I understand, though I haven't unlocked the associated plane-shifting mechanic) feels like the ambience of Dark Souls 2's Majula smeared across a continent. There are fields of sunflowers along the shores and piles of broken stained glass in the catacombs which doubtless have a tale attached. And there are some promising mechanical wrinkles beyond the first few scuffles.

Take "primal elements". These aren't the usual water-beats-fire gambit, but a curious medley of positive and negative status modifiers. There's Vis, which inflicts Dizziness, boosting damage and stamina regen while lowering defence. There's Fatuo, which makes you Wicked, amplifying your Elemental abilities while also letting attackers heal themselves by hurting you. Malanno is a source of Sickness, which (more predictably) erodes your health over time and spreads to nearby characters. And then there's Gratia, which renders you Radiant, regenerating your health, but also causes you to explode when struck.

You can make out the dim traces here of conventional elemental systems and status effects like Berserk, but they've been intriguingly defaced. I'm keen to see how impactful these disfigurations are, as somebody who's very bored of beating fire with water, water with earth, and so on. But in the shorter term, I have to confess that I'm just happy to be out of the shadows and enjoying the sun.

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