Song of Iron Review: Song of Iron Stands Above The Pack
It’s hard for a small indie game to stand out from the pack. So many developers are making so many competent 2D action games in recent years that a lot of them just blend into a perfectly adequate mind mush. When I first saw Song of Iron, that’s what I expected. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Offering deliberate gameplay, stunning visuals, and unforgettable sequences, Song of Iron is the biggest surprise of 2021.
Returning from the forest to your village, you find your people under attack. Fighting your way through the hordes of foes laying waste to your home, you find your beloved just in time to say goodbye and be given a token of the gods, said to curry their favor. You must make your way to their temple and call upon them if you are to save the few members of your people who remain.
Song of Iron has a deliberate feel to it from the very start. You don’t move fast, and you’re often facing poor odds, so every move has to be considered carefully. Enemies can overwhelm you with only a handful of blows, and while you’ll heal over time, the process isn’t quick. You’ll need to choose your moves carefully. But take too long, and your foes may overwhelm you.
You quickly find you have plenty of options in combat. Weapons you find have both a slow and a heavy attack, though in truth. I rarely used the heavy one. It takes too long to wind up, and enemies rarely give you the chance. Enemies drop their weapons, however, and at times picking them up mid-battle becomes your best chance for survival. Take down the enemy with the best weapon and make it yours. You can even throw your weapon at the enemy, achieving an instant kill if your aim is true. Miss, or even hit but leave yourself with no access to another weapon, and you’ll find yourself with few options.
A Versatile Arsenal
You’ll still have a few things you can do, though. You’ll pick shields off enemies as well, and these can be lifesavers. Few games leave me wanting to block as frequently. It can be a fantastic way to get enemies off balance. A roll move can help you slip past enemies as well and quickly became essential, especially when up against superior numbers. Moves like this will cut into your stamina meter, but this was rarely an issue. The meter gives you a lot of room to run, fight, and rarely have issues. It mostly just stops you from repeatedly spamming a few specific techniques.
Unlockable abilities provide even more options. The bow is precise and can take enemies down in a pinch. When crowds charge you, it can be a great way to soften their numbers. Other moves like a power stomp can break platforms and give you the upper hand in battle. This isn’t a full-on Metroidvania, you rarely go backward, and later items don’t open up earlier paths generally, but your arsenal definitely grows over the course of the game.
Atmosphere drips from Song of Iron. With its deliberate pace and stunning vistas, it will draw comparisons to Inside, with a heavier focus on combat, but I found myself far more drawn into this world. Whether you’re fighting your way up a snow-swept mountain, foraging through caves deep under the earth, or going to places beyond expectation, the stunning lighting, and incredibly detailed world help create a visceral experience.
While only a few hours long, I was perhaps most impressed by the memorable moments packed into its short length. Four or five moments throughout this adventure stand out to me as truly unforgettable. Like the rest of Song of Iron, bosses can be difficult, but they’re never overwhelmingly so, and the game is generous with checkpoints. It always helps to keep in mind that you have options. One sequence, for example, had me throwing myself against a foe four or five times, only to end up dead again and again. With frustration mounting, I tried something else which I was sure would lead to another death. Instead, I was then free to continue my journey. While perhaps this could have been a bit better telegraphed, I loved that I came to it myself. This moment opened my eyes to what options were available to me throughout my journey. If you ever find yourself stuck, think about your surroundings. The answer is often right in front of you; only it’s something so many games wouldn’t let be an option.
Late in Song of Iron, a change in direction left my jaw on the floor. I wasn’t quite sure how to even process it. Everything about it seemed so out of left field, though looking back, there were signs. My first thought was that it somehow trivialized what I had gone through, but somehow solo developer Joe Winter pulls even this off. By the end, it only further drove home the game’s themes and the identity of the characters, making them somehow more who they are.
With an unbelievable look, tight gameplay, and bravura moments which shouldn’t work yet do, Song of Iron breaks away from the pack and stands alone. It is a stunning achievement and an absolute must-play. Hear the song and join the fight.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One; Publisher: Resting Relic; Developer: Resting Relic; Players: 1; Released: August 31st, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Song of Iron provided by the publisher.