Death’s Gambit Review- A Frustrating Missed Opportunity

Posted September 4, 2018 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: White Rabbit

Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Release date: August 14, 2018

Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed)

Metroidvania type games have been plentiful lately, with games like Chasm and Dead Cells hitting consoles and the PC. Death’s Gambit, from developer White Rabbit and publisher Adult Swim, seeks to take its place in the genre. Sadly, the game falls short in its attempt to bring a Dark Souls– like experience into the mix. The ingredients are all there- a vast world to explore, a tale to uncover, and large bosses to take down. It just seems like someone forgot to stir the pot. Maybe with the superior Dead Cells releasing the week before spoiled me, and that’s too bad. You can see what Death’s Gambit could have been. But for myself, it just didn’t measure up.

Death’s Gambit tells the tale of Sorun, a knight massacred along with countless others, who becomes a servant of Death. Death grants Sorun immortality to complete a task for him, to wipe out the source of ultimate power. Accompanied at times by the somewhat guide Vrael, Sorun sets out across the land of Siradon to unlock its mysteries and complete Death’s task.

The problem is, while the tale is rife with possibilities, it never really becomes engaging. Flashbacks attempt to flesh Sorun out, but he never feels all that interesting. The story just seems to take itself too seriously for its own good. At least Vrael provides some sense of humor. Other NPC characters seem copied and pasted from the Dark Souls series. You have the melancholy knight, the chatty merchant, the mysterious figure who asks you to bring lost souls to a sanctuary. But it all feels too familiar. Familiar can be fine if the characters are likeable enough, but that touch of personality seems to be missing here.

The nine bosses you face also seem to be inconsistent with the fantasy world. While most are fitting, and a couple gigantic in size, there are a couple that seem out of place. One mid-game boss resembles Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear Solid, and while it’s a nice homage, having a futuristic teleporting sniper in a game where you play as a knight with a sword and bow comes off as cheap and unfair. Challenging gameplay is always welcome, but the best challenging games for the most part play fair. This game does not. And unlike the Dark Souls games, you can’t bring a friend along to help you out through a tough boss.

That means grinding, and here again is a place where Death’s Gambit falters. To level up, you need to collect shards from fallen enemies. In one of the game’s more positive features, the shards serve as a risk/reward system which can lead to using some strategy. The shards also can reclaim lost feathers (the game’s healing item), but using them to do so means you give up leveling one of your stats. You can also use shards to augment a feather, to give you higher perks in reward for sacrificing one of your healing items. Going up against some of the bosses with less feathers may prove to be too daunting for some players. For those skilled enough, the rewards may be worth it. For less skilled players, you’ll want to hold on to those feathers as best you can. Searching for enemies to provide enough shards can have you backtracking, or just constantly returning to the same few enemies over and over again until you have enough to level up.

This can become a chore, and less patient players may ditch the game because of it. Stats can level at excruciatingly small intervals. Your stamina always seems to be running out, but boosting your endurance stat only ever increases the value by two. And enemies have an unlimited amount of stamina, which can make fights unfair. You’ll also need to grind to level up certain stats should you wish to use certain weapons, making the game a bigger time sink than it really needed to be.

When all goes well, you can execute some decent moves in combat. But all too often, movement can feel laggy, which is fatal in a boss fight. This laggy movement also affects the platforming segments. Had the controls been tighter, a la Dead Cells, the game would have benefited greatly. As it is, being unable to make simple jumps or using a clumsy control scheme (the aiming for the bow feels especially awkward), frustration all too often replaces the fun in the game. With the competition out there, this game really needed its gameplay to step up. Sadly, it never quite achieves its promise.

To be sure, this game will have its fans. There are players far more skilled and patient than I am, who will find this game satisfying, and they may disagree with my views on the game. And that’s fine. If enough players enjoy the game, a sequel may get made, and developer White Rabbit could correct the mistakes made here. But there are those who will be disappointed as I was, and that’s the shame of it, as all of the ingredients for a great game are here. They’re just not mixed together well. Some players have also reported glitches which have prevented them from progressing, so future patches may rectify some issues. I’ve only played the PS4 version, so it is possible the PC version responds better. The score below reflects my experience on the PS4, so take that as you will.

Ultimately, Death’s Gambit proves to be a missed opportunity. There’s a lot going for it that makes it a recommendation for patient players, but not so much for less skilled gamers. The graphics are nice and reflect the game world well, though there are some inconsistencies. Tighter controls would have lifted the game up, making it fun to play instead of merely serviceable. The story feels a bit thin, but that could have been tolerated had the characters felt more engaging and the gameplay more fun. Instead, we get grinding that’s a chore, and imprecise combat and platforming. That just doesn’t cut it with other, better games of a similar genre to choose from. This could have been great, but for now, I’d say wait for a good sale before taking the plunge.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus