Blade of Darkness


Genre:      Action

Developer:    Rebel Act Studios

Publisher:    Codemasters

Released:   2001

PC Requirements:    Windows 95/98/Me/2000: Pentium II 400 , DirectX 8.0, 64 MB RAM, 16 bit Direct Sound compliant sound card with 8 MB RAM , 8 x CD-ROM drive, 750 MB free hard disk space.




by dougmillsap

I like to play games with turn-based combat. There’s a team of player-controlled characters against a team of computer-controlled characters. Aaah, good old fashioned chess-like strategy. Return to Krondor, Odium, and more recently Final Fantasy X (message to Lulu: I love you) have some of the best turn-based combat I’ve experienced. I wonder what it would be like to play a turn-based combat game where, instead of controlling a party of characters, you control only one character. What made me wonder about this? The awkward real-time combat in Blade of Darkness, that’s what. I really believe that this game would be among my favorites, if the developers had included an option to fight the enemies in turn-based style, instead of real-time.

If you’re looking for a unique Action/Adventure game, you might want to consider Blade of Darkness. I don’t think there’s anything else out there like it. I played the demo in November 2000 and I was impressed. I bought the game when it hit U. S. store shelves in June 2001. A year and a half after buying it, I have finally played it and I’m glad I played it. However, I do have a list of disappointments and that list begins and ends with the game’s combat mechanics. But I'll touch on that later.

Oh kay, doh kay. What is Blade of Darkness? It’s a 3D third-person Action/Adventure game that allows the player the choice of playing through the game as either a 19 year-old Adventurer, a 25 year-old Barbarian, a 40 year-old Knight, or a 153 year-old Dwarf. The game world is made up of 14 varied levels and the story revolves around a quest to obtain the mighty Sword of Ianna which will prove most helpful in your ultimate quest to destroy a demon planning to unleash evil upon the world (in other words, if you’re looking for a story, don’t look here; there ain’t one). If Diablo married Tomb Raider and had a kid, it might look something like Blade of Darkness.

The Adventurer character is a beautiful woman who specializes in bows and spears. The Dwarf is short, squat, powerful, and specializes in hammers, axes, and defense. I played the demo as the Knight, who specializes in swords and defense. I played the full version of the game as the Barbarian, who specializes in all-out offense using two-handed swords and axes. Hmm, now that I’m thinking about it, there is no Sorcerer character. Some of the enemies you face can cast spells, but magic is not an option for the player. Each character has their own exclusive opening game level. After the opening level, the remaining 13 levels are the same for all characters. The levels are huge and just plain stunning (and there are no loading times when traveling within a level). Among many other environments, I encountered snow-covered mountains, lava-filled caverns, sprawling islands, and truly foreboding temples, towers, and fortresses. Of course, since this is a medieval fantasy game, I also made my way through a dungeon or two. The special effects are awesome. Most notable are the water and lighting effects. The blood-red river in one of the later levels is quite memorable. And the rendering of real-time shadows is the best I’ve ever seen. The sound effects seem dead-on real, and the music, which changes pace in accordance with the situation, is incredible. I noticed that there’s one tune that is also included in Nocturne and another game that I can’t remember right now. The same tune makes a showing in at least three different games. Weird. It’s a good tune, but it must be public domain or something. It’s the one that sounds like the kind of music that should play while you watch someone frantically running away from a dangerous situation. Did anyone else notice this? Anyway, the Blade of Darkness game world is a special place to be.

The gameplay is about exploration, action, and light puzzle solving. There are actually dozens of puzzles in this game, but they’re simplistic and usually involve opening a door or disabling a trap. *** SPOILERS AHEAD *** For example, in order to proceed beyond a possessed stone carving, a floor plate must be held down. None of your weapons are heavy enough to hold it down. The solution is to hack down a support beam for a bridge that’s directly above the floor plate. One particular door puzzle requires the presentation of two sacred offerings. The solution is to fill a bottle with water from a sacred pool and return it to a water altar, then use a torch to acquire the flame from a sacred fire and return it to a fire altar. Some of the puzzles even incorporate elements of action. For example, in order to escape one particular trap, you have to whip out your trusty bow and arrows and successfully (and quickly) hit 4 wall buttons. So, there are numerous puzzles, but they’re not at all complex. *** END SPOILERS *** Jumping and climbing is a small part of the action, but mostly the action portion is about fighting things. As you defeat enemies, you build up experience and slowly “level up.” As you reach higher levels, advanced weapon attacks become available. These special attacks, which involve various keystroke combinations, MUST be mastered in order to realize ultimate victory. In fact, I don’t know if it’s even possible to defeat any of the numerous “boss” characters without mastering the special attacks.

I’d like to recount my experience with the Blade of Darkness combat system. Please keep in mind that I played as the Barbarian character. As you encounter enemies, you can try to attack them by swinging every which way, but it’s darn near impossible to land a hit. The best thing to do is to use the option to “lock on” to your enemies, then try to attack. Your accuracy increases by about one million percent in “lock on” mode. The problem that I have with the combat is its unfairness. When you trigger an attack on your opponent, the game “takes over” your character and displays a scripted attack move that can take several seconds to complete. During this scripted animation, your opponent can interrupt the move by launching any kind of attack of its own. It takes a flying miracle to launch an attack move that doesn’t get interrupted. Worse, it takes a second miracle for an uninterrupted attack move to actually hit your opponent. Worser (that’s a word), it takes a third miracle for the hit to not be blocked by the opponent. OK, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it sure did feel that way many times. But worstest (that’s a word too) is the fact that the scripted attacks of your opponent cannot be interrupted. They can be blocked, but not interrupted by an attack move of your own. That's not fair! This is why I was dreaming about a turn-based combat option. The combat is so difficult that I began to save my game after each and every combat victory. Unfortunately, the game developers decided to comment on the player’s save game frequency. When you go to the “Load Game” menu, in parenthesis after each save game is a one-word comment from the developers. As I began to save with increased frequency, I noticed the comment progress from “Normal” to “Cautious” to “Overcautious” to “Lame.” Hey, call me lame. Whatever. I’m going to save and I’m going to save often. The problem is that you can back yourself into an inescapable corner, once the developers have labeled you as lame. If you remain on “Lame” status for too long, the game just snaps to the desktop and you’re not allowed to continue playing! This happened to me on two different occasions and on completely different levels, so I believe I’m correct about this. Did anyone else experience this? The designers basically made this game unfinishable for me. I had to make a decision. Either place the game in my basement’s Dungeon of Shame box, or use God Mode so that I could go long periods of time between saves to satisfy the designers. Well, the game is truly something special. For the first time, I used a cheat code. Yes, I did get to complete the game and see all of the sights, but I’m still hurting from the shame. Any and all condolences are welcome. But pure gaming is now dead for me. Long live Pure Gaming.

Blade of Darkness registers a 75 out of 100 on the Sap-o-meter.

Doug “Cheat Code” Millsap

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