I Really Want To Like Death’s Gambit, But…

I should like just about everything in this game, but I just can't see past a few glaring faults.

I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Death’s Gambit since I first saw it announced more than three years ago. It was the first game (admittedly of many) I can remember receiving the “2-D Dark Souls” designation from the community. After two years of mostly radio silence, we got a release date, and now we finally have the game. I even chose to forgo my usual PC bias and bought the game on my PS4 Pro so I could play on the big screen (and because I should probably use my PS4 more than I do). So here I am, loading up the game for the first time and ready to put some hours into it. Well, shortly after booting it up and wandering around the map a bit it just wasn’t clicking yet. I decided to put it off until tomorrow and try again, but still, something was missing.

I’ve bested the first handful of bosses, made it to the assumed central hub location and gotten my ass kicked on more than one occasion. I wouldn’t call the game hard, more…weird I suppose. Death’s Gambit is half platformer, half brutal combat, but it never feels like, at least at this early point, the two halves come together to form a cohesive whole. The platforming is loose and imprecise, the combat is clunky and lacks satisfaction. I’ve used heavy swords and fast swinging scythes and they all feel the same. There are classes with special ways of generating energy for special moves, but they all generate it from regular attacks anyway so only one or two of them feel worth picking and just changing the weapon later if you don’t like it. It feels like an extra step to keep in line with the game that clearly inspires it.

I mentioned the Dark Souls comparison earlier and Death’s Gambit does nothing to shy away from that. From the classes with their different starting loadouts to picking a special bonus item, including a pendant that may or may not have some significance later in the game because that’s probably what a Dark Souls game would do. Hell, my main objective is to ring two bells to progress, a familiar quest for fans of that series. Death’s Gambit wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but it never feels worthy of the obvious comparison, at least to this point.

Where Dark Souls gameplay is very methodical and deliberate, Death’s Gambit lacks nuance. Like I said earlier, nothing feels as good as it could or should. Given how long it’s been from announcement to release, I feel like this game should feel sharper than it currently is. Where Dark Souls is quick and responsive, DG is slow and plodding. Awkwardly attacking through enemies is likely a side effect of the 2-D design, but still feels awful when you miss that last attack and get caught by a long backswing from an enemy. Using a shield shouldn’t feel so clunky and neither should breaking someone else’s block. Jumping a short gap shouldn’t be hard, and yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pressed jump only to watch my character walk over an edge and make me climb back up, or hitting an edge where I should be able to land only to also fall. Oh, and let’s not forget the random frame hitches and the time an enemy pulled me into the level geometry leaving me trapped, and the fact that the game crashes if I quit to the main menu and try to load a save.

I’m only a few hours in, but I’m already wondering how many more I am willing to invest. There’s too little satisfaction to the combat and platforming, the story feels weak thus far, and the world feels oddly barren and devoid of interesting people and places. I want to like this game, but the game isn’t doing enough yet to earn my affection. At a time where Metroidvanias and the like are taking the world by storm, Death’s Gambit feels like it might be a little late to the party.