24/08/2020

⚔️ Griefhelm | PC | Review By @PixelHunted "I shudder to think of the hundreds of millions of individual times I’ve whacked stuff with a sword in a video game" ⚔️ @griefhelm #GameDev #IndieGames

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I shudder to think of the hundreds of millions of individual times I’ve whacked stuff with a sword in a video game. But despite it being one of the most common interactions only a few games go out of their way to get it right.
Efforts range from the balletic rhythmic parry-and-counter of Sekiro, the physical thrill of slicin’ up blocks in Beat Saber and the rock-paper-scissors fighting game stylings of For Honor

Enter Griefhelm, the new title by solo developer Johnny Dale Lonack, a guy who has clearly done his homework on virtual swordplay.
In Griefhelm you are a nameless knight on a murderous 2D rampage through a kingdom. 

Standing in your way are countless other knights who must be chopped, bashed and decapitated into submission. The story is vague and abstract, conveyed through single sentences that pop up between levels like:
“Let what is revered become accursed. 
The sacred hollow becomes the tomb of the blasphemous upstart.”
I’ve got no idea what that means, but hey, it’s atmospheric. The visuals sing a similar tune, a vaguely Limbo-lookin’ monochromatic collection of desolate beaches, forests, battlefields and castles to charge through and bisect faceless baddies.
But the moody, minimalist and masculine aesthetic is merely the brown bread around a ham n’ cheese core of fast-paced, lethal sword combat. 

The fundamentals will be familiar to Nidhogg and For Honor veterans. Sword attacks come at three heights: high, mid and low. You must guard at the right height and stab a hole through your opponent’s defences (also, through them).
When it works it’s as if you’re in a deadly dance. With default armour both you and enemies will go down in one or two hits and the weight and momentum of your sword, every swing is life or death.
On paper, this is my jam. Griefhelm is challenging, precise and gets more rewarding the more you master its systems. Plus, there’s a button dedicated to raising your sword and going “YEEEEARGHHH”, which more games should have.
But there’s a wrinkle that’s going to drive a lot of people absolutely bonkers with frustration. Griefhelm’s campaign is based around our old pal permadeath - die three times and it’s back to square one. The only assistance game tosses you are single-use randomised perks of varying usefulness, the occasional equipment upgrade and the potential to win back lost lives.
Whichever bonuses you get, death is never far away. My most successful run saw me score some armour that let me tank four or five hits and a couple of bonus lives. With a little more wiggle room to make mistakes, I was doing really well. Then I ran up against an ‘Expert’ class enemy who ground me into a fine paste. He anticipated my every attack, countered it and effortlessly murdered me...
Oh well. Back to the start.
Again.
*deep breath*
Being very, very hard isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Griefhelm rubs a pinch of salt into the wound. See, in games where correct defence is crucial, I default to memorising attack animations to know how to react and respond. 

But Griefhelm has physics-based combat meaning the enemy animation doesn’t necessarily translate to a particular guard, what matters is where their sword hits you.
Quickly figuring out whether a strike is coming in high or low isn’t so bad, but having a split second to work out whether you’re getting hit high/mid or mid/low devolves into flipping a coin. 

That gets even tougher if you’re on uneven terrain, which you often are. Get it wrong and you’re one step closer to being booted back to the start.
Plus, many stages feature foreground elements that obscure the enemies. I don’t mind screwing up and being punished, but you can’t defend against what you can’t see.
Perhaps it’d be more manageable if on running out of lives you got sent back to the start of the chapter than the start of the game because as it currently is I suspect a lot of players are going to drop out once they realise the combination of skill, frustration and outright luck needed to progress.
Griefhelm is an impressive feat for a lone developer, but the brutal fun too often turns into controller tossing frustration as you misjudge something by a millimetre and watch your character’s leg spiral through the air for the twentieth time that session.
But hey, I guess that’s why they call it Griefhelm and not Relaxhelm.
(There’s an online multiplayer mode, but I was unable to find a match to try it out).
💧❄️ RATING: MELTING ❄️💧

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

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