Death’s Gambit (2018) REVIEW

In becoming a fan of anything a crust of blinding idiocy comes with increasing fanaticism. What built from my love of Dark Souls has become a growing dissatisfaction with any third person action game that does not mystify me with difficult challenges, unexpected environmental dangers, and well-designed interconnected levels. This trope and now growing cliche is an old set of innovations from the last generation of video game consoles and has somehow persisted across the near entirety of the current generation. Why? Because it offers a glorious game of risk-and-reward that can quickly spike adrenaline in direct opposition to the game design of larger franchises that are essentially Google Maps for questlines and MMORPGs with cobbled together stories. Many developers have found brilliant ways to toy with From Software‘s slowly built innovations and I’m surely a sucker for them. I would have bought anything labeled a Souls-like at one point… Hell, my game of the year in 2017 was Nioh. But when the 2D games began to become more common more and more inexperienced indie developers began to catch on that Twitch streamers and YouTube kids are happy to pimp their games because Souls-likes are a big draw for viewers. It is ‘quick’ cash for a new name. Death’s Gambit is perhaps the first one of these games that I’ve felt completely disappointed with not for it’s art style, but for the game’s performance. It is broken.

If only I wasn’t fighting an antler wearing watercolor muppet…

I’ve seen many professional journalists review this game and give it a high score going as far as to suggest that ‘once the bugs are worked out, it’ll be one of the best 2D Souls-likes of the year’. Towards that sentiment, I spray the most mucous-filled diarrhea blast I can muster. The moment I fired up Death’s Gambit I saved the game as soon as possible and reset so that I could start streaming it on YouTube, what happened? The game crashed on reloading and my save didn’t exist. What a first impression! Everything went great for the first three or four hours after that. I chose the Mage class first, as I always do, and went to town on the game. You can watch the first couple hours of my gameplay on YouTube. The story was poorly told, the voice acting was cheap, but the controls and gameplay loop are perfection. I quickly soured on the game when I reached the strange and ill-fitting sci-fi Garde Tum area because the game began to crash anytime I entered a certain part of it. I could not progress but luckily there was another way forward. I kept playing for several more hours and then reached the Thalamus boss fight and could not progress. Two hours of forum scouring, Googling, and it turns out the game’s glitches were happening because I had my Playstation 4 Pro in Boost Mode and 4K resolution. I made those changes and I was able to complete the game. The experience was unacceptable, at least for a console game.

If you’re playing as a Mage, make sure you find that Spell Blade quick.

Hey I grew up on console gaming but was no stranger to PC gaming that entire time, especially when emulators got good and games like Doom III, Deus Ex, and Oblivion began to hit big. I get that glitches happen on computer games but I don’t understand why bugged game was shipped before being quality tested on the Playstation 4. The truth is that we live in an age of digital fucking trash because of underpaid video game developers, inadequate market pricing, and over-promising video game publishers. I bought Death’s Gambit because it looked like a Metroidvania and played like a Dark Souls game but all I really got was the sinking feeling that I am just another idiot consumer buying into the whole horseshit industry of cheaply made and unfinished video games. Alright well, none of that really matters because I’ll still be an idiot consumer tomorrow, but it was worth ranting about a bit more. The game is merely good otherwise.

I chose to go for defensive abilities first because it allowed me to generate more energy for spells and provided an air dash move that is essential.

White Rabbit have approximated and found their own intelligent spin the ‘Souls’ experience and translated it into two dimensional art quite well. The art direction is gorgeous and if not for the ugly JRPG style portraits during dialogue, and buggy user interface, the game would be absolutely beautiful throughout. It has a style that lands somewhere between the colorful classic medieval horror of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the fluid grays and reds of Hyper Light Drifter. Enemy types are generally relegated to their respective areas in the world, which is divided into a number of small levels that branch off of and loop around to the main strip of the game. Your goal is ultimately to reach a final area and… put an end to the immortality plaguing the kingdom you were fighting for before you died. The story is bland.

There are enemies that spawn enemies and laser gates that don’t close until you’ve killed all of the enemies. These Owl Kings kept generating in an infinite loop even as I killed them, slowing down the game and making it impossible to progress.

You’re dead, you fought some immortal anime looking warriors and there are some giants they’re taking out. The game tells the story through flashbacks, minor cut-scenes, and dialogue as your warrior mother left to fight in the same war you die in. Guess who the ultimate bad guy Eternal really is? Your damn mom is the last boss. The whole idea that you’re this child whose life was destroyed by war and your only goal after death is to go be with your mom again isn’t stupid, but it is poorly written. You know when you’re watching anime, and they’re making noises you don’t culturally understand? That is the feeling I had playing through Death’s Gambit‘s choppy, shitty flashback dependent storytelling. The whole thing gets cheesier as the game tries to be humorous in breaking the fourth wall and alluding to meta of Souls-like games. It isn’t as bad as the memes in the first Guacamelee! game but isn’t much better either.

Ah, who cares about the story?! How does it play? Good. I have to admit that playing as a mage gives a great advantage over melee classes early on as you can scout out enemies and traps while usually killing them from a distance and you should find a INT scaling sword early on that is actually stronger and faster than most swords on the game. You level up based on shards you collect and these also serve as currency from vendors in the game, most all NPCs sell abilities that are weapon specific, weapons have stat specific requirements to equip. Throughout my ~10-12 hour playthrough I found only three magic spells and once I’d gotten my INT up to about 30 it made more sense to use the Spell Sword more often than the Magic Tome unless I was building up my meter so I could use spells. The system for casting spells is brilliant as you’re casting an orb of a certain color and you can cast up to two orbs in any combination with a different spell depending on what combinations of orbs. Two red orbs leads to a large fiery explosion with burn damage, a red and a white orb summons electric orbs that orbit the player until they hit the enemy, etc. That electric orb spell was actually the most effective damage dealer overall and made most bosses quite easy.

Yes, folks. Even the credits are glitched and don’t display correctly.

Each boss took some time to figure out, at least except the Owl King, and most of them were clever and challenging if not occasionally unfair. Most bosses have two phases of attack and some have three or four if you try their ‘Heroic’ difficulty versions. Why didn’t I get frustrated? Because you still get currency/shards depending on how much damage you do to the boss before dying. I’d usually level up once or twice during a boss fight and would have to change tactics or Auras (Orbs that grant different bonuses, such as stat boosts based on different conditions). As often as I’d get stuck I’d learn something and that is the hallmark of a good Souls-like game, or I guess a good action game in general. Honestly if the game hadn’t crashed so many times, been so bugged and glitchy I would have given it quite a high score and probably gone right back in for New Game+. Why didn’t I? I’d rather move on to something else than deal with broken shit.

I had some of these same feelings when I was playing Skyrim on Playstation 3 and my save game was broken, causing me to lose 20 hours of progress and start over. Yes, I got the platinum trophy and worked hard at every facet of that game but at the end of the experience I remembered the frustration of it being broken more than anything else. It is like reading a book with 10 pages torn out. Sure, you can carry on reading but it still sucks. That is where I’ve landed with Death’s Gambit. It isn’t a very deep or memorable experience and should have perhaps been even more of a budget title, but it was a joy to explore until the disappointing ending scrolled in front of me. I don’t recommend buying or playing this game until it goes on sale, as it inevitably will.


Title: Death’s Gambit
Genre 2D Action RPG
Released August 14, 2018 | White Rabbit / Adult Swim Games
Platform(s) Playstation 4 Pro [Digital]
Score 2.5/5.0

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