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Soulslikers are going to love Ori studio's new ARPG No Rest For The Wicked

The first hour is hard as nails and takes absolutely no prisoners

A woman is held by both arms by two red robed figures in No Rest For The Wicked
Image credit: Private Division

When Ori And The Blind Forest developers Moon Studios announced that their next game would be a top-down, online action RPG, my initial reaction was, 'Heck yes, sign me the hell up for this Souls-y, Diablo-y hack and slash.' Having now played the opening 90 minutes of the game ahead of tonight's Wicked Inside showcase, that initial excitement has settled into more of a 'Hoo boy, this thing is hard as nails. Folks who like Elden Ring and Dark Souls are going to go absolutely bananas for it.' It's definitely verging on the edge of being just a teensy bit too punishing for my personal taste, but even though my arse got thoroughly whomped time and time again during this initial prologue section, there's still something about No Rest For The Wicked that's left me quietly captivated.

For starters, its painterly visuals are just gorgeous. There's a real springy-ness to the character models in both the cutscenes and in-game action, with every frame somehow looking like both a hand-drawn painting when paused, but a writhing and full-bodied 3D mass in motion. It's a wonderful effect, and a clear step up in ambition from both of Moon's Ori games, with enemies lunging their stretchy, rubbery bodies at you with an almost cartoonish sense of abandon - well, if it weren't for the honking great hammers and axes attempting to cleave your head off your shoulders, that is.

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But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. The setup is thus. You play as a being known as a Cerim, a kind of special holy warrior who, apart from having a mysterious power to overcome the capital P Pestilence sweeping across the cursed land of Sacra also seems to be characterised by their freakishly long arms (seriously, they go down to your chuffing knees in the character creator). This accursed plague you're here to stop is turning the locals into "unspeakable things", in the words of the wonderfully sneery king Magnus, but is essentially code for zombies and other horrible nasties. However, when your boat gets shipwrecked on the coastline, you'll need to pick your way through to Sacra's main settlement, the aptly named Sacrament, to regroup and tool up before you can begin your journey proper.

My preview build covered everything up to the moment before reaching Sacrament's gates, taking me from the stormy beaches through an abandoned keep, a forest glade and a big old face-off with its first boss, the spidery guard mutant Warrick The Torn. Right away, I got to put my big weirdo arms to good use by punching some equally oversized crabs, my Cerim's fists wheeling around in the air with big, crunchy thuds. You really feel like you're throwing your weight around here, and every attack feels deliberate and purposeful. This is no simple button-masher, and a half-moon stamina bar soon emerged as I cracked the shells of a few more crabs further up the beach.

A woman sneaks up behind a guard in a castle keep tower in No Rest For The Wicked
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division
A woman squares off against a large monster with an axe on a castle wall in No Rest For The Wicked
A woman fights two warriors in a castle keep on a rainy night in No Rest For The Wicked
Crouching for a stealth attack (top) can be a great way of getting the jump on your enemies, but it doesn't take much for them to become aware of your presence, resulting in classic stand-offs where tiny jabs are taken across large gaps (below, left), and fast, furious scraps (below, right) with multiple backstabbers. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division

There's also a Focus bar you need to consider that sits tucked between your health and EXP meters in the top left corner. By holding the right trigger button and pressing one of the face buttons on your controller, Focus can be used to unleash special attacks called Runes, which don't consume stamina like regular hits. Naturally, you've maybe only got enough for one or two Rune beltings at the start fo the game, and the only way to recover your Focus (outside of hawking down healing items) is to parry incoming attacks with a squeeze of the left trigger (not to be confused with blocking, which is on the left bumper).

It did, admittedly, take me a while to get used to the cadence of how you move and attack in No Rest For The Wicked. For example, both your run and dodge roll are mapped to the A button - the former by holding it down and the latter by giving it a double tap. A little fiddly, perhaps, but the thing that really flummoxed me early on was how your dodge isn't necessarily a reliable constant. It will morph from a fast quickstep to a slow and lumbering stumble depending on how much stuff you're carrying, for example, with pop-ups regularly telling you when you've inadvertently changed 'weight class' when your inventory hording gets a bit too much. You can pump attribute points into increasing your equipment load when you level up (in addition to other stats such as health, strength, stamina, dexterity, faith, intelligence and focus), but I often found myself straying well into the 'Heavy' weight class for most of my preview time, even though it felt like I was barely carrying anything at all.

A woman fights an archer on a small wooden platform in No Rest For The Wicked
A woman fights a cloaked warrior on a wooden ramp at night in No Rest For The Wicked
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division
A woman raises her sword at a guard next to a burning wagon in No Rest For The Wicked
The set design is constantly striking in No Rest For The Wicked's opening area - the use of fire, lightning and lashing rain makes for a very moody atmosphere. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division

Regardless of which weight class you end up in, though, dodging or running in combat will quickly drain your stamina bar, leaving you defenceless and unable to parry incoming swipes and sword swings. Your own strikes use up stamina, too, and so every move much be considered, poised and precise in its execution. It's very Soulslike, in that sense, and simply hammering your attack button will lead to a swift and painful death. That said, given the rubbery and often elastic nature of how everyone moves and attacks in No Rest For The Wicked, it was often quite difficult to judge the timing of its perfect parry window. There were moments where either myself or the monster I'd automatically locked on to seemed to overreach, closing the gap between us with a lunge that was much faster than I was expecting, and at all once they'd be up inside my defences, leaving me ill-prepared to dodge or block. I'm sure part of these rhythms will become second nature with time and a bit of practice, but during this initial outing at least, its loose and exaggerated movement patterns gave every encounter a slightly messy and chaotic energy to it, and one that seem to run counter to its need for surgical and measured precision.

A black, bearded man in a smart green coat raises his sword at the player in No Rest For The Wicked
A bloated mutant with a large sword and helmet rushes toward the player in No Rest For The Wicked
The cutscenes are equally characterful, and I'm excited to meet more of these misshapen weirdos in the final game. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division

But cor, when those parries hit? My word. It's hard to say if this was purely for the purposes of this demo, but when I parried old Warrick The Torn right at the end, I literally axed about half his health bar in a single deflection. A shockwave rippled out from my tiny wooden shield, and the sound of it was like a bell had been rung inside my ear drum. It looked, felt and sounded powerful, and as he flung back his arms in a daze, I could set to work on him with the one-handed axe I'd picked up and get in a few more strikes. Two more parries, and the chump was down, leaving me home free to head into Sacrament. Sure, he'd crushed me in literal seconds on my first couple of attempts, and there was a moment where I thought, 'Oh no, this is going to be Elden Ring and those big hollowed out stomach lads all over again, isn't it?' (you know the ones - those monkey boys right at the literal start of the game in the run-up to Stormveil Castle). That's how far I got in that damn game, but that first parry with Warrick? It gave me hope that this might actually be a Soulslike I could play to the end.

In fairness, it wasn't just this first boss that made me feel optimistic about No Rest For The Wicked. Even though it's hard as hell, it's also a lot more generous than its FromSoft source material. On death, the only penalty you incur is some durability loss on the weapon you've got equipped, and you can scamper back to restore your health at the periodic Whisper save points without automatically bringing the surrounding vicinity back to life. When these zombo lads go down, they stay down, even if you also go down at the same time - and as someone's who's consistently struggled to make any significant headway in a Souls game before now, this is, quite honestly, a huge relief.

A woman fights a large spider mutant in a guard's uniform at night in No Rest For The Wicked
Warrick The Torn-up by Three Parries, more like. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division

I'm also intrigued by the Diablo-ness of it all, too. When enemies are defeated, they'll often drop loot, while nooks and crannies will hide chests with other, powerful treasures to equip. Resources can also be scavenged from around the environment, and one of the tutorial pop-ups tells me that gathering this stuff will be key to both progression and my Cerim's survival. I didn't get to see much of this in action during the demo, admittedly. The closest I got was cooking up some mushrooms into a proper meal at a campfire, but other items I accrued in my inventory pointed to future weapon upgrades, materials to graft onto armour and clothing to make them stronger, and potions to restore focus, stamina and weapon durability. I also encountered lumps in the ground you can take a shovel to, as well as rocky outcrops that can be plundered with a pickaxe. At one point I found a fishing rod, though given what's crawling out of the sea in these parts, I wasn't surprised that I didn't come across any obvious fishing points.

A young man in profile with a big sneer on his face in No Rest For The Wicked
Look at that big smug sneer. Villain in chief right here, I'm calling it now. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Private Division

Each location was also gated by several obstacles - a door key to insert here, a lever arch to install there - giving me little mini-objectives to seek out on my way toward the city. Pathways looped and double-backed on one another, too, though never to quite the same extent as a proper Soulslike shortcut hack. That's not to say this won't happen in later No Rest For The Wicked locations, of course, as after all, this was merely the opening tutorial section designed to get you to the game's main hub area.

So yes, despite having my teeth kicked in on multiple occasions, and stumbling across more enemies than I'd like that were instant NOPE-outs from me, there is something about this game that's sunk its teeth into me. I want to know what lies beyond the fortifications of Sacrament, even if it is likely to be a) extremely horrible and b) soul-crushingly difficult. I want to know if I get to wipe the smug and carefully coiffed look off king Magnus' face at some point, and whether I'll be able to stick it to his holier than thou (sibling? Girlfriend? Chief nun?) army chief Seline, who believes the Pestilence is punishment for those who have lost their faith. Yeah, we've all heard that one before, sister, and nothing good ever comes of it.

More than that, though, I feel a deep and burning need to simply get to the bottom of what the heck is going on with your big long Slenderman arms. Seriously, it's unnatural and it's freaking me out a bit. Hopefully, with No Rest For The Wicked's early access launch coming on April 18th on Steam, I won't have to wait too long to find out.

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