Griefhelm is a side-scrolling medieval-them-up made by Johnny Dale Lonack and published by Thorrnet Publishing. It see’s you, yes YOU dear reader, enter a series of duels in a quest to, well, erm, it’s not actually clear, but still, QUEST! During a series of battles you’ll progress, level up and achieve ultimate victory.
Does it land the kill, or are we parrying out of, erm, fun?
Let’s find out.
Griefhelm pens itself as a medieval tactical combat game and see’s you fighting in-side-scrolling arena’s where you’ll face off against multiple foes in a number of different scenarios/game modes. The meat of the game is these encounters which will usually have a number of rounds to them, until you can progress across to the next encounter on the map. The map has multiple routes with varying difficulties and rewards and you can earn more lives (you start with only a few, and lose them all and it’s game over), weaponry, armour and perks (which are effectively things like extra health, better attacks etc etc) as you progress along.
A number of different game-modes are also present and each, ostensibly, give you slightly different win-conditions to try to add some variety to the combat. Unfortunately the game modes themselves only really vary in the number of people you have to kill, and you end up doing the same thing regardless.
This is a theme that carry’s on to the combat. During combat your character has 3 stances, high, low and medium. Holding a particular stance allows you to attack at that height, or parry an attack AT that height. A lot of my early time in the game was learning how to identify the stances and matching mine to my enemies whenever they attacked to allow me to parry their blow. It’s a nice idea, though I feel it doesn’t quite work. The stance switching is so quick/fluid that often it’s more luck than judgement when you land a blow, or parry an attack. Most of my duals devolve down to kiting the opponent and running in and out trying to land a lucky blow. In fact, the ability to ‘run away’ means the parrying system is mostly redundant, making each encounter a ridiculous affair where each of you run forwards and backwards flailing your weapon, trying to connect. The damnable thing is though, that that tactic works, and works well enough that I flat-out stopped trying to play with stances and just resorted to that every battle. It made progressing through the game ridiculously easy and right there I realised we had a problem.
The game-world, such as it is, has a distinct aesthetic which is quite pleasing. The characters are all pretty well modelled and look genuinely like knights of olde. The attention to detail on the armour, helms and weaponry is great, and it’s genuinely a joy to see people swinging hammers, pikes and other weapons- alongside the more ‘vanilla’ swords. The scenery, except for the beaches, are nicely detailed, often with little parts you can knock over and on the whole it’s a pleasing game to look at. There’s nicely modelled blood and the character models move believably. I also think it’s worth pointing out that when a character dies, assuming it hasn’t been cannoned into the air/offscreen by a physics-fail, it has some of the best ragdoll effects I’ve seen. People fall over really convincingly; the weighting and roll of the people is just right. It’s a shame that it’s only about 60% of the time they do that, the rest they’re flying through the air like a truck has just hit them.
There is something here. There is a genre here that would work (and has in such titles as Niddhog), but the execution just isn’t there. The core mechanic; combat, is undone by the effectiveness of the kiting tactic and the difficulty in matching stances. It….. just becomes, well, boring.
The lack of any meaningful story, sense of real progression or investment in your character just highlights this issue further. There’s no incentive to carry on, and if the main combat in a game revolving around combat isn’t good-enough, then there’s really no reason to keep playing.
I like the idea, there’s some great little touches in here, but it’s let down by a core-mechanic that just doesn’t work as it should, and I’m afraid I just can’t recommend the game because of it.
The Verdict – Off Target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.