When I played Nidhogg the one thing I felt was missing was a darker tone and more depth to the fantastic sword fighting mechanic. Luckily up steps Johnny Dale Lonack and Griefhelm!
Yes a very dismissive and crude opening paragraph, which may seem like I am dumping on Griefhelm from a great height, but hopefully it got your attention and you can now read about how much I enjoyed this game.
The main reason for mentioning Nidhogg was to give you an idea of the core mechanics without an overly long description. It is how Griefhelm plays at the base level. You move through the level fighting your way in close combat situations. Simple as that.
Griefhelm takes the core mechanics and expands on them in a way that could have gone in one of two directions. Either becoming overly convoluted to the point where you may as well not bother and play Nidhogg. Or take those mechanics and make a game that feels familiar but also fresh. Griefhelm does the second and is all the better for it.
Whilst you’ll be familiar the the core aspects of the game, you actually soon realise there is a lot of nuance to each fight you have. There feels like there is a weight to every attack, every defensive block and even each movement you make. This means that going in all action will see you killed pretty easily.
Yet the game itself doesn’t reward the ‘slow and steady’ approach. There is something inbetween that gets the balance just right. Each battle feels like it means something and at no point do you feel like you are just picking off minions with a simple blow.
Don’t get me wrong, there are enemies that are a lot easier than others to take on, but you still cannot just mow through them, you still need to be somewhat careful with the approach. It brings a gameplay loop that feels very satisfying to play, once you get used to the overall feel.
Added to this is a very interesting graphical style. The almost silhouetted characters are offset against some gorgeous backgrounds that are full of life and detail. One moment had me fighting whilst a township was burning to the ground. I had to take a moment to appreciate just how impressive this looked.
By focusing the details on the environments, the characters stand out for all the right reasons. You can make out what movements are being made and react to them as each battle progresses. Using wonderful details in the characters AND the environment, may have made a game that looks stunning throughout, but would have made it frustrating to play. The balance here is 100% spot on.
I spent most of my time in the single player mode, only briefly trying the local multiplayer and whilst I can say local is fine to play (and I destroyed my son) it is the campaign that really hooked me.
As you play through a dynamic map, where you can choose your own path, you work through various locations and meet new enemy types. Each of which throws enough variation that it never gets stale. You will also find many unlocks that give you different weapons and equipment. Whilst these help, they never really tip the gameplay too much that it ever sees you getting overpowered,
Local multiplayer has a few modes on offer. Tug of War being the Nidhogg mode, but there are also skirmishes, free for alls and horde modes all of which are fun to play. The only issue is I could only find a way to do this in multiplayer and not against the AI, which would have been nice.
Overall, Griefhelm is a fantastic experience and one fully deserving og your attention. Hopefully not a game that floats beneath the radar, because it is a prime example of how you take a known formula and boost it to the next level.