Starting as a Kickstarter project by Polish studio, My Next Games, Soulblight has so far saw a moderate to good reception on its launch platform of Steam. It is definitely an ambitious project for a small studio to undertake but does Soulblight deliver something other games in the genre couldn’t?
When I launched Soulblight for the first time, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew the basic gist of what I was getting into. Now that I have put time into Soulblight, I’m still really none the wiser. I had previously dabbled in rogue-likes from Binding of Isaac to Dead Cells; but Soulblight is a totally different animal altogether. Playing more like a pen and paper RPG given a facelift and at times feeling more like a Souls game than anything else that exists already in the rogue-like sphere.
Had Soulblight appeared on the Switch earlier than it did, coming on the heels of gems like Dead Cells and so close the Switch release of Dark Souls: Remastered and had I played it before I had ever played either of those two games I think I would enjoy it more than I did.
While it is its own experience it definitely feels derivative at times, pulling from too many different inspirations and wearing them all proudly on it’s bloodstained sleeve. Are these reason enough to dismiss? Or is it still worth checking out?
“It all began with a single drop. From it, two primal forces emerged. Forces of Life and Death.” It’s a cliched premise but cliches are cliches for a reason. It’s a tale as old as time and a tale that will always be told; in a number of different ways. Life and Death would fight one another, albeit in futility. Eventually realising that they could not exist without the other, light and dark, yin and yang etc. From their coming together, the Soul Tree was born and so was the world.
This is where things take a turn for the slightly more interesting. When the Soul Tree was fully formed it spawned a man, kept him fed and raised him. The man was thankful. The man would tend the Soul Tree and build a sanctuary around it. The tree, hidden from the world, would eventually be forgotten and began to wither and succumb to disease due to the neglect of the Man and that was what allowed the Blight to take over. As plagues spread across the land. Until someone came to wash the taint away.
While there is a subtle glimpse of a compelling story here, it never really seems to materialise. Leaving you to wonder if there is a reward for having your head staved in over and over again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there is.
Soulblight aims to guide players into looking at both sides of what it means to be good or evil. Mirroring the themes laid out in the above story description. Light and dark, life and death. Living and killing. That’s where the Taint system comes into play. Taints are basically buffs and debuffs. Augmenting how your character plays in a specific run. If you have played Dead Cells, think along the lines of the mutations and you won't be that far off. While the Taints give slightly more diversity than maybe the Mutations do in Dead Cells, the Taints never felt integral to the overall flow of the game.
It’s this system that subtly dictates how you will play, and synergy between Taints on each randomly generated level and your gameplay style is important to staying alive as long as you can. Which very probably won’t be overly long. Whether that’s from the games Soulsian difficulty or you just end up getting bored with it.
The game plays like a top-down Dark Souls with other mechanics that don’t always hit the mark stapled on. The sneaking mechanic doesn’t always work and on more than one occasion an enemy outside of the screen area was alerted to my presence. Whether this was a bug or the red cone of vision barely clipped my character somehow I will never know.
The end goal of Soulblight is to defeat the three bosses. This will bring harmony and peace back to the land, but the combat mechanics, camera fighting you as much as your enemies and ever so slightly unfinished feeling make this a bigger task than it possibly has to be.
Graphics & audio
For me the graphics are this games main redeeming feature. Almost everything looks fantastic. The top down perspective is a really interesting choice which can sometimes make the environment difficult to read and come across as more cluttered than it actually is. Or causing you to miss paths that may otherwise by obvious through obscuring it with an overhead decoration in the level, but it still looks pretty even when it's really quite annoying.
I say almost everything, while the backgrounds and world look great, the character sprites both for the player and the enemies often feel generic, this is not to say that they didn’t look good as well but they looked like they could have easily been placed in another game in a similarly steampunk-esque setting and work just as well. There was nothing about them that really cemented them into the world of Soulblight.
Though the sprites left me wanting more, the portraits that come up when you chat with friendly NPCs in the Sanctuary were all charming, adding some much needed character to the world they inhabited.
The audio is nothing to write home about either, feeling as generic as the characters and doing nothing to help set Soulblight apart from the competition, and there is competition with beautiful scores and spot on sound. One good thing about the audio in Soulblight is it never feels out of place but when the place it is in often feels generic and uninspired that doesn’t seem particularly difficult to achieve.
While in handheld, I never really noticed any issues with the performance it was when I played Soulblight in docked mode that the issues began to shine through fully.
No longer did everything look as clear as it once did but was now more muddied down. The text became almost unreadable in certain circumstances and the frame rate took a nose dive. This game works at it’s best in handheld for sure, which is how people should definitely play it. I regret docking it to play even for a little while as it really impacted my opinion, but that is the issue with Switch games, they have to work both handheld and docked which gives them a wider arena in which they can fail. While Soulblight never became technically unplayable, it did on more than one occasion slow down to an unacceptable frame rate.
I will admit that MyNextGames are a small indie company and wanted to express a certain vision. That is something they definitely have done. It is always possible that this game just wasn’t for me. I went into it knowing nothing other than it was “hard.” While that is the case, it is a challenging game, I didn’t know it would be hard to want to play for an extended period of time as well.
I like games that provide me with some level of challenge, I love the Soulsborne series for example; but the difference there is the Soulsborne games kept me wanting to come back and experience their worlds. Soulblight didn’t. Dead Cells draws me back with its challenging combat and deep lore. Soulblight has challenging combat as well but it is challenging in the wrong ways, the controls and camera fighting you as well as your on screen enemies often leads straight to the grave.
Soulblight is by no means the worst game I have ever played but when comparing it to other games in the style, or genre it can at times feel like something you have played before, just done worse but maybe looking better in certain areas.
With all that said, in short bursts I can see Soulblight being a game that many people will enjoy. I don’t recommend playing it for long sessions in the way that you would play most other games. It doesn’t lend itself to that. Pick it up, play it for five minutes, get angry with it and put it down. Or if you like it play it some more. Not all games are for all people and it is possible that this is one of those games that doesn’t mesh with me.
|+ Nice art style||– Harsh difficulty with little reward|
|+ The taint system keeps runs fresh||– Poorly optimized|
|– Generic feeling world|