Blade of Darkness has made its stunning and revitalizing return, featuring a good restyling that brings forth waves of nostalgia, memories, and… blood, rivers of blood. And we love it, oh how we love it!
Severance: Blade of Darkness, umm I mean, Blade of Darkness is back! Exactly 22 years after its original release on PC, the fantasy action-adventure by Rebel Act Studios is now available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One, following its earlier release on November 24, 2022, for Nintendo Switch and on October 7, 2021, for PC (via Steam and GOG).
It is a remastered version of the original game, designed to invigorate the gameplay with a fresh and immersive high-definition edition. It features revitalized game mechanics that have been renewed and rejuvenated to keep up with the times. At the same time, the game strives to maintain utmost fidelity to its original work, preserving its core identity without altering it drastically.
This is the mission that SNEG, the publisher tasked with breathing new life into Blade of Darkness, has set out to accomplish. They have embraced both a significant risk and an extraordinary and unmissable opportunity. Have they successfully hit the bullseye?
What a Nostalgia
Released on February 21, 2001 in North America and February 23, 2003 in Europe, Severance: Blade of Darkness marked the 2000s as a true milestone with its excellent texturing and cutting-edge technical features for that era.
The original work, developed by Rebel Act Studios under the guidance of Game Director Xavier Carrillo Costa and published by Codemasters, made its debut in 2001 exclusively for PC.
Over 20 years after its official release, the game celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new remastered version for PC and a definitive entry into the world of console gaming under the new title “Blade of Darkness.”
SNEG, a renowned publisher of D&D-themed RPG games, has taken the initiative to revitalize and refresh the title, delivering a impressive remastered version. The team has done an excellent job, making Blade of Darkness a fairly smooth and well-optimized product, albeit not without some technical limitations and imperfections inherited from the original work.
Among them, we can notice the slightly imprecise controls, lack of fluid button responses, and somewhat poorly aged graphics and texturing. Some players have also reported occasional issues with motion sickness, although personally, I haven’t experienced any.
On the other hand, SNEG has implemented a multitude of notable improvements, encompassing upscaled textures, bug fixes for the game’s save system, as well as introducing new visual features like enhanced anti-aliasing, HDR, bloom, motion blur, and SSAO, camera rework, and gamepad support.
To optimize the game for modern PC hardware, SNEG has refined the textures and integrated widescreen support, enabling resolutions up to 4K. With Valve’s recent approval, Blade of Darkness is now fully playable on Steam Deck as well.
Can Blade of Darkness be considered a precursor to the Soulsborne genre?
To address this question, let’s take a step back. Many of you might be wondering, what is Blade of Darkness?
It is an immersive fantasy action-adventure game with unique combat mechanics and RPG elements. It takes place in a dark fantasy world that draws inspiration from mythology, and you’ll quickly notice parallels with Conan the Barbarian, along with nods to The Lord of the Rings and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Blade of Darkness is an intensely merciless video game, featuring ruthless and occasionally cowardly yet overwhelmingly powerful enemies in combat. The dungeons are particularly challenging, and the combat mechanics and puzzles are not exactly recommended for newcomers or less experienced players.
These and other features have led to Blade of Darkness being considered as a proto-Souls, a precursor, a pioneer of the Soulsborne video games, which FromSoftware itself would have drawn inspiration from for the development of Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls series. Even the game’s Steam page states that it developed elements and mechanics “that pioneered the Soulsborne genre.”
As the saying goes, the truth lies somewhere in between. While it is indeed true that we can identify certain similarities between these games in terms of atmosphere, dark-fantasy game world, and combat mechanics, both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls also possess their own distinct features and identity. For example, the “bonfire save system” and the non-linear level design are typical features and elements of FromSoftware games.
There are indeed similarities, but also many differences, especially when considering how both software houses have developed and evolved the lore through completely different and unique approaches.
Blade of Darkness itself may have been inspired by King’s Field, a dark fantasy action role-playing video game by FromSoftware, which was released exclusively in Japan in 1994.
It is difficult to say who was the precursor to whom. Therefore, it is not my intention to provide absolute judgment or lean too heavily in one direction, but rather to present a more balanced perspective.
We cannot say with certainty whether Blade of Darkness was the true pioneer of the Soulsborne genre, but it undeniably may have left a significant mark, a trail to follow for future productions. Nevertheless, can we truly be certain that it was the very first pioneer of the genre?
The Sword of Ianna
The lore of Blade of Darkness is highly enigmatic, mysterious, and “silent.” It doesn’t reveal a lot of information or details to the players, but rather remains mostly veiled in darkness. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will feel lost, but rather that you should pay attention to the subtle details. The game world will communicate with you, as will certain characters.
Often, you may need to rely on a sense of interpretive freedom or your imagination. You won’t find detailed notes describing what happened in a specific location or explicit clues. And that’s part of the beauty of Blade of Darkness.
So, without further ado, here are some important things you should know about the lore, strictly spoiler-free.
The Lord created Chaos and divided it into Light and Darkness. From these, the Spirit of Light and the Prince of Darkness emerged. The Prince, desiring to overthrow his Father, tried to create a new being but failed. The newborn rebelled and created monsters and demons. A great war ensued, weakening the entity until its defeat. The Father withdrew, and the younger gods shaped the Sun, Moon, and Earth. However, the Prince of Darkness aimed to corrupt humanity in a new war fueled by his own dark creatures.
The Earth was in extreme danger, so Ianna casted a powerful spell that expels the gods from their dwelling place and keeps the Earth closed to them. The Spirit of the Light went to the Sun and from there protected the Earth during the day. Ianna went to the Moon to protect it during the night. Thus, the cycle of Day and Night began, ushering in a new era of balance on Earth.
Unfortunately the struggle continued until a young hero emerged to defeat the Darkness. Chosen by Ianna to wield the Sacred Sword and fight the Evil. The Darkness was defeated, but the hero was mortally wounded, and his friends buried him with his Sword in the Ianna’s Temple. Then they hid four magical gems, able to unlock the tomb, where the sword is kept.
Yet, the Darkness has returned once more. Orcs roam the land, and menacing creatures prowl in the shadows. The world’s hope lies in the legend of Ianna, the mother of all life, who once bestowed a mighty sword upon a hero to venture into the abyss and conquer evil. The world awaits a new champion who will wield the blade and vanquish the enemy once and for all. And it so happens that the hero everyone is awaiting is none other than you!
I also advise less experienced players not to settle for the first ending they come across in the game. There is a secret ending that can be achieved by gathering scattered runes throughout the game world, granting access to a new area, an exclusive boss fight, and the true ending of Blade of Darkness.
Choose your Hero
Your adventure in Blade of Darkness cannot begin just yet, not until you have chosen your indomitable hero, your virtual alter ego. And the choice can only be made among four extraordinary characters, each belonging to completely different lineages from one another.
Choose from the fearless Barbarian Tukaram, the valiant Knight Sargon, the loyal and mighty Dwarf Naglfar, or the brave Amazon Zoe.
Keep in mind that each character has their own introductory level, unique backstory, and specific stats, including health points, attack power, defense, age, height, weight, and their house specialty, which refers to the weapon they prefer to wield. Most of these statistics can be improved and upgraded as you progress in the game, including the health bar itself.
Each character begins in a different area of the game, with equally different circumstances. Unlike the Barbarian, who starts his adventure in a mountain fortress area, free and armed, the poor Knight finds himself imprisoned in a cell, with the objective of escaping. This means you will have to fight bare-handed for a while, at least until you find a weapon.
But, without further ado, let’s analyze and get to know our four heroes who will bravely save the world from the looming darkness!
Tukaram: The Barbarian
If it seems like he walked straight out of the Conan the Barbarian film, well, you’re not entirely wrong.
Tukaram is precisely the opponent we would never want to face on the battlefield. Brawny, mighty, and relentless, equipped with a powerful two-handed greatsword, our hero embarks on his adventure in a captivating location surrounded by hills.
Independent, elusive, and mistrustful, barbarian tribes are renowned in folklore as unrivaled warriors and tireless travellers. They hold no fear for death or the edge of a sword. They recognize no higher deity and offer no homage to any authority. Tukaram’s tribe upholds the values of armed might and the ancient wisdom passed down by their shamans.
And, by the way, among the 4 selectable protagonists, he is the one with whom I’ve found the best fit in Blade of Darkness. His unmatched versatility in melee combat and raw brute strength give him a distinct advantage that makes him truly unstoppable.
Below are all the statistics and the initial level of Tukaram, including his specialty:
- Life: 80
- Attack: 2
- Defense: 0
- Age: 25
- Height: 225 cm
- Weight: 130 Kg
- Speciality: Two-handed axes and swords
Sargon: The Knight
In service to the Sovereigns and guided by principles of honesty, loyalty, and faithfulness, knights are unwavering warriors shaped by authority, discipline, and strictness, fueled by an unwavering sense of justice.
Generally equipped with a sword and shield, adorned in shining armor, knights uphold the code of the sword and embrace an honorable approach to combat. However, you have the freedom to customize Sargon’s weaponry according to your preferences, as the game offers a wide array of weapons to choose from.
Furthermore, there is no code that will punish your dishonorable actions in battle or your cowardly attacks from behind. You have the freedom to choose the approach you find suitable, but always remember that you are a knight. You have a code of honor to uphold…
Sargon is a powerful and bearded knight who will embark on his adventure in Blade of Darkness at a disadvantage, locked up in a maximum-security cell, perhaps not exactly the most secure one… Your first duty will be to search for a weapon to defend yourself, just to avoid dying immediately, at the first blow inflicted.
Here are all the stats and the initial level of Sargon, including his specialty:
- Life: 100
- Attack: 1
- Defense: 1
- Age: 40
- Height: 180 cm
- Weight: 78 Kg
- Ability: One-handed swords and shields
Zoe: The Amazon
Ah, the Amazons. Fearless, brave, and wild warriors, unparalleled in their bravery, skill, and grace on the battlefield, forever in pursuit of legendary treasures scattered across different corners of the world.
Zoe perfectly embodies the myths surrounding the Amazons. She is young, graceful, and skilled in combat. Nimble, resolute, and daring, despite her young age, Zoe is an adventurous spirit who is drawn to the allure of myths and legends.
Skilled with combat bows and long-range weapons, Zoe excels at keeping a distance from enemy monstrosities, aided by her trusty combat staff, Bō, a beautifully swift adaptable weapon of Japanese origin. However, if you truly want her to wield her favorite weapon, opt for the spear.
Like any self-respecting Amazon, she is enchanted by the desire to explore the world, captivated by the allure of mystery, and driven by the thirst to obtain riches and treasures of immeasurable value.
Feel free to venture into ruins in search of treasures, explore the vast world around you, and seize riches without any hesitation.
It’s no coincidence that by selecting Zoe, you will start the game in an area that is perfectly tailored to the young Amazon. Just mere coincidences? I don’t think so!
Below are all the statistics and the initial level of Zoe, including her unique specialty:
- Life: 60
- Attack: 1
- Defense: 0
- Age: 19
- Height: 170 cm
- Weight: 58 Kg
- Speciality: Spears
Naglfar: The Dwarf
We all know Dwarves, don’t we? Stubborn and proud. Sometimes, they don’t even trust their own shadow.
Tireless workers, skilled miners, and talented craftsmen capable of creating weapons, tools, and invaluable jewelry. Beneath their rough and gruff exterior, they are kind-hearted individuals.
And our dear Naglfar perfectly embodies this profile. Often unlucky and occasionally clumsy, our loyal companion is a friendly and bearded dwarf, but he will also prove to be a fearless and valiant warrior.
If you’re well-versed in the fantasy world and RPGs, you’ll know that dwarves hate orcs as much as they love a good mug of beer. Despite their small stature, they possess great strength and are formidable fighters. However, there is one thing they trust implicitly—something that holds immense value to them: their axe, the adventuring faithful companion of every dwarf.
Naglfar’s purpose will be to uncover something of utmost importance, the horrifying truth that his lands must prepare for.
However, his entrance onto the scene won’t be the most graceful, to say the least. In fact, the dwarf will have a calamitous tumble down a cliff, reminiscent of a comedic film like Laurel and Hardy, which will bring back fond and memorable memories, especially if you remember the misadventures of that other lovable dwarf. Does Gimli from LOTR sound familiar?
Although in terms of gameplay and combat system the character that best suits my style is Tukaram, Naglfar will always hold a special place in my heart.
So, without further ado, since I know you’ve been eagerly waiting for them, here are Naglfar’s stats and his specialty:
- Life: 120
- Attack: 2
- Defense: 1
- Age: 153
- Height: 160 cm
- Weight: 80 Kg
- Speciality: One-handed axes and shields
Traditional, sometimes dated, but still so awesome!
“But then, how does the gameplay work?” Well, if this is one of the questions that has been constantly on your mind, now you’ll have the answer you’ve been looking for.
First of all, let’s make it clear that, just like the lore, the gameplay and combat system have not undergone any changes, alterations, or new features. As mentioned earlier, these aspects remain absolutely untouched.
Blade of Darkness still retains all its beauty from the past. The charm that characterized the original work remains beautiful and mysterious, along with those damn jumpscares that scared us back in 2001.
The gameplay remains incredibly classic and faithful to its origins, featuring excellent and enjoyable exploration mechanics infused with strong RPG influences.
The level design of Blade of Darkness is incredibly traditional, and dare I say, somewhat retro, especially when compared to more recent action video games. It predominantly follows a linear and sequential structure, without the sprawling complexity and non-linearity commonly found in modern action RPGs’ level design.
However, it is in the extensive variety and heterogeneity of the areas and environments that Blade of Darkness’ level design can truly be considered unique in its genre and, at this point, almost unmatchable.
The areas are filled with puzzles to solve, deadly traps to evade and deactivate. In other words, the game will do everything it can to kill you, so stay alert!
I understand that this type of level design may not appeal to all players, as it is considered too traditional, particularly for those accustomed to the different standards of today. However, I can assure you that with a gamepad in hand, you will find it satisfying and enjoyable. And I guarantee that it is precisely one of the unique features that makes the game a timeless old gem.
But it is in the combat system that we find the true beating heart of Blade of Darkness, the engine that breathes life into our enjoyment. And believe me, it is damn fun.
The combat in Blade of Darkness is incredibly challenging, sometimes to the extreme, but it is highly rewarding. It is characterized by rivers of blood, decapitations, mutilations, and body parts soaring through the air at lightning speed.
The difficulty is undoubtedly high, especially for newcomers and inexperienced players due to its intense and fast-paced combat. It’s not uncommon to die with just a couple of hits. But that’s also part of the beauty of Blade of Darkness, isn’t it?
The dungeons, above all else, offer a highly challenging experience. However, for those with enough courage, rest assured that they will become your favorite outlet for catharsis.
Unfortunately, Blade of Darkness inherits some flaws from its original release, retaining its roughness in certain aspects, including imprecise character controls, rigid animations, and occasional faulty hitboxes.
However, all of this does not compromise the overall excellence and satisfaction of the gameplay experience, which truly deserves all the fame it has garnered.
Classic, Imperfect, yet Immortal
Let’s wrap up the review of Blade of Darkness with a brief mention of the sound design and the original soundtrack, which are truly rare gems that shine once again in this remastered version.
The excellence of the sound design has remained intact, splendid just as it was before, with detailed and subtle sounds such as the deafening noise of the wind, the grunts of the monsters, the unsheathing of the sword, and the sound of a spear shattering barrels.
The musical score has also received commendable work, perfectly suited to the context, with tracks that delicately accompany the player on their lonely journey and thrilling, breathtaking music that sets the stage for a boss fight.
The work of SNEG on this project is not about achieving perfection, but rather to breathe new life into Rebel Act Studios’ work, making it a must-play for those who didn’t have the opportunity to experience the original game in 2001, as well as for anyone who wants to revisit it with a completely new re-engine and greatly improved resolution settings.
Our experience with this title once again demonstrates how Blade of Darkness is an immortal and timeless video game. It teaches us that imperfections are not solely a negative aspect, and often, it is it is better to execute an imperfect project with soul that resonates with players, leaving an indelible memory.
After exploring, playing, and replaying it in all its nuances, even on console, I can confidently and joyfully say that SNEG has truly succeeded in taking me back to 2001, to those memories, to that sense of nostalgia. And it’s truly magnificent!
But then again, is there truly anything perfect in this world? Is there something devoid of flaws or imperfections?
Blade of Darkness
- Renewed, optimized, yet faithful to its origins
- Optimal old-school level design
- Engaging and enjoyable combat mechanics
- Impeccable sound design and musical score
- Classic, traditional, nostalgic, but a bit too dated for modern times
- Occasionally, the controls may lack precision
- Some hitboxes don’t work as they should