Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 02/19/01 | Genre: Action
Fast, intense, and complex melee combat is not something we run across all of the time in the Action genre. Until now, Die by the Sword, Drakan, and Rune were part of only a very few choices for the sword-wielding enthusiast. Enter, then, Blade of Darkness (or Severance: Blade of Darkness outside of the U.S.): Rebel Act Studios' first foray into the field. Action enthusiasts with a taste for steel, blood and toe-to-toe action have been waiting in heavy anticipation for this title for quite some time as our other choices are very dated, or just not quite there in terms of solid melee oriented gameplay.
The storyline is minimalist, but is developed somewhat over the course of the game. You are given the choice to play as any one of four characters (each with a custom starting level): Knight, Dwarf, Amazon, or Barbarian. Each character has naturally different skill sets, weapon, and armor choices that will affect game play in varying degrees. For instance: the Barbarian wears little to no armor, carries no shield (rather he is not very proficient with one), and prefers two-handed weapons including swords and axes to their single-handed counterparts. Each character is able to carry a small inventory of weapons, shields, and items such as healing potions, keys, and power-ups. For the most part the plot is as expected: collect items, kill anything that moves, and solve puzzles to get to the next level. There are many secret areas to be found and a diverse set of enemies ranging from insignificant to overwhelming in degree of power and skill. Each level in the game has a distinct atmosphere that really adds to the experience and keeps the game fresh.
Blade of Darkness presents great gameplay with only a few issues, the biggest of which is lack of any 'strafing' movement while outside of combat and while this is at first a big negative point in most players' minds, that attitude will quickly change as your experience in the game grows. Combat is fantastic, allowing for a multitude of different attack strategies and combination attacks that are diverse and grow as your character increases in experience levels. Individual enemy AI and character attributes will constantly force you to change your attack strategies based on what type of foe you face. Often, you will encounter adversaries who will jump back and consume healing potions of their own in the midst of combat. One thing that some players might find frustrating, however, is the lack of any option to select a difficulty level for the game: you simply play Blade of Darkness at the difficulty the developer intended. This should not be a big issue to most gamers out there, although a few might find themselves reloading more than a few times during pitched battles.
Graphics are very solid, especially given that the engine was coded from the ground up and does not borrow from other leading edge technology engines. Shadows are better than I've seen in any game previously. Water is particularly well done and the textures add a nice, soft-on-the-eyes atmosphere that will allow you to remain glued to the monitor for hours without getting a headache for being overly bright or dim. The game engine renders large spaces very well and level design in some cases is spectacular. This all comes at a price, however, as you'll note the minimum system specs are a PIII400 with 64MB and an 8MB accelerator while an even beefier PIII500 with 128MB and a 32MB accelerator fit the bill of 'recommended'. No matter what your system specs, you will find that this game does have particularly long load times. This can get annoying if you are in heavy combat areas where one wrong move proves fatal and you end up spending more time watching a 'loading' status bar than actually playing the game.
Sound and music are well done though nothing special. The music is non intrusive and intensifies during combat to add atmosphere. Sound effects are complete and fit well within their environment.
Overall, Blade of Darkness is a very nicely done game. With only a few deterring factors such as long load times, camera anomalies, an occasional crash, and very limited multiplayer holding it down. Anyone seeking good sword swinging, shield-bashing, and limb-severing fun will find this game is a great investment of time and money. Rebel Act Studios has done a fine job in this first offering.