Dark Devotion is a side-scrolling action RPG that follows in the footprints of Salt and Sanctuary, Hollow Knight, and Death’s Gambit. Described as 2D Dark-Souls games, these feature a steep difficulty curve and animation-heavy combat priority that ensure knowing when to dodge and when to strike are heavily prized skills. Dark Devotion has a lot to live up to in this genre that’s already seen a handful of highly polished and loved titles.
In Dark Devotion, you play as a devout warrior traveling into the depths of a dark cavern. Though the game doesn’t exactly go into detail about the nature of it, it seems like the dungeon has a dark living presence. It draws sinner and devout alike. You quickly find yourself dead to a mysterious foe and brought back by the dungeon for unknown purposes. The story feels a little thin and quickly just becomes beat more of the dungeon to beat more of the dungeon. I didn’t really get any big story reveals or character twists. Side characters exist in the world but aren’t given much personality or dialogue to expound on their background.
The retro 2D pixel art on display reminds me vaguely of Death’s Gambit. It shines the most in boss battles as each boss has unique attack animations and various stages in the battle that may change either the look of the boss or the move set the boss uses. When you’re crawling the dungeon it has a dark and dreary feel, but this can also be a bit of an issue. The game can become incredibly dark at times. The dark artwork mixed with a lot of hidden traps in the dungeon means you will spend a good amount of time crawling forward a few steps at a time to make sure you can tell where the next enemy, trap, or drop is. On the flip side, in Death’s Gambit, each area feels incredibly unique. You can be in a dark and dreary cellar one minute, and then find yourself in snow and ice-covered mountains. Each section of Death’s Gambits’ world feels unique to that section and has a lot of character. Dark Devotion begins to feel very similar because any defining backgrounds or environments in the dungeon are shrouded in darkness. It all fades into one dark dungeon, each place looking very similar.
Sound design is spot on for setting a creepy catacomb feel. With the dark and dreary world, you can hear enemies lurking just outside your vision. Wooden flailing spike traps grind in the darkness just waiting to catch you off guard. It really works to set an ambiance to the whole place that always made me feel just a little on edge when I was in a new and unexplored area of the map. I personally wish there had been any sort of dialogue noise of some sort, even if just a Sims-style mumbling, to make it feel a little more lived in. As it stands dialogue with characters is entirely silent in a way that just seems to stand out against the rest of the sound design.
For being a souls-like game the difficulty curve is not as high as I had expected. Although, my first hour or so with the game became quickly frustrating until I ‘got it’ and understood how the game wanted me to tackle combat. Right out of the gate, when you first enter the Ancient Catacombs you will no-doubt be immediately greeted by a spear-trap from the ceiling, then you will fall into a pit of spikes. If you make it past those unscathed, the first enemy will undoubtedly knock you into the spikes you just cleared even if you shield. It’s a very harsh set up to teach a few lessons that the game wants to impart. Always look before you leap, expect the unexpected, and shielding will prevent damage, but you will still get knocked backward. My personal takeaway from the shield lesson was “throw it away, and never use it again”. Spikes will kill you instantly, no matter how good your run in the dungeon has been going. I wish the game had chosen a slightly more fair layout to impart these lessons because the spear-trap is almost entirely hidden in the dark, and even later in the game I was still falling for it every once in a while.
Now, I played most of my time with a controller, which has your weapon’s attack on the right trigger, and the weapons secondary ability on the left trigger. This can be a shield or unique dodge. In addition to this the left and right bumper are left and right dodge rolls that provide invincibility frames to roll through attacks. While it can seem nice to have a dedicated dodge button to either direction I wish I actually just had a dodge button that would dodge whichever direction I’m facing. There are many times I would be facing an enemy in one direction and keep dodging backward to get out of the reach of their attacks. Then when I came to an enemy facing the other direction I would be dodging the wrong way as my brain just felt like the button I had been hitting was a “dodge backward” button, but since my directions were switched I would just keep diving towards the enemies attacks. This led to many clumsily lost fights and accidental slips into spike pits. There is also not much in the way of verticality options. You can’t jump or clamber up ledges. You can only move up if you find a ladder. However, exploring in the cave is often about dropping down from ledges into areas. It keeps pushing you forward, so if you miss something often there is no way to go back for it unless you start the run over. After playing games like Dead Cells where you feel so agile and mobile, the movement here felt a little stiff and limiting.
Dark Devotion does bring some interesting systems to the table. There is a series of boons and curses you can be afflicted by as you traverse the dungeon. These can either give you some more stamina regeneration, give you faster and more accurate arrow shots, or even give you health every time you enter a new room. The problem I found is I have no clue what triggers these effects. Sometimes it seems like picking up an item, opening a chest, killing an enemy, or just rolling can randomly cause these effects to trigger. I’ve tried to take note of the actions I was doing but I’ve had a stamina regeneration boon activate when I rolled past an enemy one time, but not other times. It’s a system that I wish I had any better understanding of or tutorialization with because the boons can be quite beneficial, and the curses are generally to be avoided. While delving in the dungeon you will also come across a variety of altars, statues, and mechanisms that require a cost in faith. Your faith is charged by taking down enemies. These statues are often used to heal your character, get better items, or open doors with more chests inside to loot. Keeping your faith topped up is always helpful in the depths of the dungeon.
Between each life in the dungeon, of which there will be many, you will find yourself back at a sanctuary in the depths. A place where some have been revived in the dungeon for unknown reasons. Here you can change your gear loadout, upgrade your characters stats, and take shortcuts back into the dungeon. There are also teleportation altars you will find in your runs that you can activate to return to in the event you die. These are only one-way trips from the sanctuary back into the dungeon, but it helps you keep pushing further into the dungeon even when the going gets tough. Reaching far enough into the dungeon can even unlock new shortcut routes to help you start further on into the depths. You can also find a quest giver that will give you some targets to take out within the depths of the dungeon, usually rewarding you with some items for your trouble. It’s a nice little added side-quest touch that helps to breathe a bit more variety into your crawls into the abyss.
To unlock new weapons and items to include in your starting loadout you unlock new items for the camps forge by picking them up in the dungeon. This seems to happen entirely randomly when you pick up a new item. Sometimes it will unlock at the forge, other times nothing happens. After picking up a good number of bandages over a number of runs I randomly picked up one and unlocked it to the forge. There didn’t seem to be any other unique identifier of that particular bandage that I picked up, so much like the curses and boons, I have no clue what is the trigger for unlocking some items. One particular rare boss weapon I unlocked immediately after picking it up for the first time while finding common double daggers took a handful of pickups to unlock.
For all of its issues, Dark Devotion is still a solid game. The combat, once you get a feel for it, is as precise and dodge heavy as you could want from a souls-like game. Giant powerful enemy attacks will hit all around you as you deftly roll, stab, and move your way through a dangerous crypt. The main problem, however, is that it just feels like every other 2D souls-like game I’ve played, minus some polish. If you’re a ravenous fan of the genre, definitely pick this one up for some more souls-like action. If you’re unsure, I would say maybe hold off, or pick-up a game that is a bit more polished, like Salt and Sanctuary or Hollow Knight.
Note: A digital code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Plenty to explore
Unique blessings mechanics
Tough but fair difficulty
Very dark artwork
Dialogue really needed some sort of sound