Prince of Persia meets Medieval Nidhogg
Anyone else remember looking at Prince of Persia for the first time just being entranced by the animation? It was just one of those games that you *had* to play — not necessarily because of the gameplay per se, but because you just wanted to see more of the movement. For its time, it was so revolutionary, so fluid, so… beautiful.
I got those EXACT same feelings watching Griefhelm footage one #ScreenshotSaturday, and, after picking my jaw up off the floor, knew I had to get my hands on it.
Currently in development from Johnny Dale Lonack with publishing being handled by Thorrnet Publishing, Griefhelm touts itself as “an award-winning tactical dueling game with lethal medieval weaponry.” Coming to Steam and Itch.io this summer, Griefhelm has already received such accolades as IndieDB’s Indie of the Year 2018 and Dreamhack Atlanta’s Best Action 2018. After years of development, this medieval tactical battlefield side-scroller is finally coming to PC — will you prove yourself worthy enough to die your final death? The Last Battle waits for thee!
Worth noting upfront — Griefhelm strongly advises gamers to play with a controller. With that being said, I found the keyboard controls initially a little hard to get the hang of but ultimately got the swing of things (just a little sword humor we have around here). In fact, it was oddly satisfying to play on a keyboard with two hands — WASD for movement, arrows for stance alignment, and shift, space, and control for attacking, jumping, and pushing. It became a really smooth experience with one minor exception (switching facing direction) but it was otherwise a refreshing treat to play in this manner.
For those who’ve played Nidhogg, Griefhelm is a fairly straightforward experience, but for those unfamiliar, the basic premise of the each encounter in the campaign is simple — kill to proceed. In the Tug of War-style gameplay, players must strike their opponents down to gain ground, inching them closer to the enemy’s lair. Only by reaching the other end of the screen, leaving death and destruction in your wake, can you reach the enemy’s lair and put an end to your foes once and for all. In the Horde-type gameplay, you must survive wave after wave of enemies and remain the last man standing. And then there’s Skirmish, a veritable free-for-all that would make any medieval movie jealous. Conquer each encounter to gain equipment, perks, and more as you make your way to the final battle.
The encounters take place in different settings, such as a beach, blizzard, throne, and more, with oddly dazzling-yet-drab environments. As par for the course with side-scrolling fighting games, the backgrounds should hold interest but not distract; in Griefhelm’s case, it’s less that the backgrounds are interesting and more that they’re mesmerizingly meditative. The grass sways in the breeze, the sunlight dances off the shallows, and, in one gristly scene, bodies ominously hang from trees, yet all of it fades — rather than pops — into the back of the mind in such a way that becomes immersive instead of boring. The subtlety is really well done here — exactly how I’d like the Dark Ages to feel.
Although I previewed Griefhelm as a single-player, the countless YouTube videos dedicated to its gameplay seem to indicate that the multiplayer option is an absolute blast. Up to four players can join in the fray and either fight side by side as a friend or go toe to toe tourney style. Multiple players can even take up arms together in the campaign mode a la Double Dragon and take on encounters as a team, which offers another layer to the already fun core gameplay. Or you can set up your own tournament and just wail on your buddies with a wide array of weapons, including a mace, staff, axe, longsword, etc. Finally, a legitimate reason to go medieval on your friends’ asses 😉
Although the game is perhaps more gory than the typical fare I choose to play, I found the deaths absolutely satisfying. That sounds so weird, but Griefhelm handles kill-motions with a cinematically epic touch. As you approach an enemy and death is imminent, everything starts moving in slow motion so you can enjoy your “handiwork.” Things then speed up again as the bodies hit the floor and you sail past them, onto the next target. It’s this fluid movement of stop-go-stop-go that just feels like watching a movie, and it’s a beautifully satisfying experience.
Although Griefhelm’s gorgeous graphics are the foot in the door, after only a few minutes of gameplay it becomes immediately clear that there’s a surprising amount of substance to what initially feels like a simple game, blending together into an oh-so-satisfying package. With a diverse amount of encounters composing an interesting campaign and a robust multiplayer that will surely offer hours upon hours of entertainment, Griefhelm is destined to delight even the most difficult to please. Be sure to keep Griefhelm on your Steam wishlist and/or check it out on Itch.io. Your final battle’s time will come this summer.