Souls-like is a strange genre. What was once attributed to a single studio making a single type of game has mutated into its own bona fide corner of contemporary gaming. Now, each game that steps foot into the Souls-like arena must contend with years of expectation and the greatness which came before (and since).
Enter Thymesia, the newest combatant to take the stage.
Developed by OverBorder Studio and published by Team17, Thymesia is another take on a brutally difficult and arrestingly captive world. It has generated a good amount of buzz before release, particularly with a demo released on Steam earlier this year. People have noted its striking art style, fluid animations and compelling spin on combat. So how is it?
Thymesia is a splendid entry into the Souls-like formula, with it succeeding in perhaps the most vital area: it is fun to fight, and it is fun to die. This isn’t just a copy-and-paste job. There is innovation in the combat that makes it sing a different melody of Souls-like than you’ve played before. Sure, there are some of the same notes but it’s a song worthy of listening to if you like this genre and appreciate the nuances between each game.
When we start to look at aspects outside of player-controlled combat, cracks begin to show, however. A disappointing lack of enemy variety, level variety and an overall lack of challenge, paired with several technical difficulties and confusing expectations from the developer mean that parts of Thymesia feel difficult in the wrong way. They’re not challenging, they’re frustrating – or worse, they’re boring.
Thymesia is an impressive first outing for OverBorder, yet it is still held back by its potential for greatness.
Story – Memories and Mistakes
Thymesia takes place in the Kingdom of Hermes, a place brought to desolation by a terrible plague. The disease turns men into monsters, ravaging beggars and kings alike. You play as a man named Corvus, a mysterious figure donned in black and someone seemingly immune to the corrupting effects of the plague.
As Corvus, you fight through 3 different sets of stages, all of which represent different places in the kingdom formed from your own memory. By defeating bosses and finding stories strewn through each level, you aim to remember how to make an alchemical tool called Hermes’ Answer, which may be able to cleanse the plague once and for all.
You must fight to reclaim the knowledge now lost to you – what happened to the world and can you save it?
Conceptually, there are some interesting bits and pieces here. In reality, it’s lacking what it needs to be compelling.
The main problem is a lack of clarity. There is only the briefest explanation of what you are doing: who are you, what caused the plague, why are you here? You’re exploring Corvus’ memory but that is only shrewdly explained and not everything about it makes sense, either. You lack that immediate connection as the answer is buried in the deep lore and optional dialogue. I don’t care about Hermes so why should I save it?
A lot of the story centres around Aismey, your Fire-Keeper-styled character. Every so often you will find important pieces of the story (confusing titled ‘lore’) that you can show her. She will give her unique insights and perspectives on what you give her, deepening the world and its character. While what she says is interesting, none of it is enough to fix that first problem: it does not make you care. There is another NPC which you find throughout some of the levels who provides new commentary on those same lore pieces. A different perspective to Aismey. This is cool, but the NPC is so hard to find most of the time that you will often forget to visit her.
Overall the story is… fine. Story is never usually the main star of a Souls-like and in this regard, Thymeisa’s serves its purpose. It gives you the excuse to visit some nice-looking environments to play around in and then funnel you to other areas and bosses when you have the urge to kill something new. If you were hoping for something with a deeper plot than necessary, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
There Is… A Lot Of… Lore
Like most Souls-likes, the majority of the story is told through collectable lore pieces and notes as opposed to cutscenes or other storytelling techniques. On this side, Thymesia is a little bit better.
A lot of small details are hidden in each lore piece (confusing titled ‘story’) and there are some nice moments which show how OverBorder thought the world would naturally work. My favourite is in the first level which takes place in a forest slum where the rich sent the infected and the poor. One of the main motifs is a Circus that has become a central force in the area and you can find copies of the same advertisements everywhere. It’s very enriching and shows that while the lore is on the generic side, the developers have clearly thought a lot about how this world is built.
What lore is here is intriguing once you can decipher it. It reminds me a lot of Bloodborne with ideas like ‘Vile-Blood’ and ‘Pure-Blood’. There’s alchemy, there are horrible people, there are test subjects and experiments. Once again, you’ve seen this all before but it serves in building out the world in a better way than the main story does.
However, there is a touch of strangeness to the lore.
Every piece of writing feels almost finished. As in, the person writing it got interrupted before they finished… every single time. They all feel one line too short like they were on the cusp of a great ‘A-Ha!’ moment that never arrives. All the notes you pick up are covered in ellipses and usually only contain one or two sentences, making it feel like sort of a waste to pick up.
If they had been consolidated into more concise pieces with a bit more going on it would have been easier to get immersed. Instead, you feel like you’re constantly being interrupted just as you get into it. It makes a frustrating and strange style of storytelling, even if you have your interest piqued.
The Convoluted Endings of Thymesia
Another feature that this game has is multiple endings. A lot of Souls-likes have this so it isn’t exactly surprising, especially from a game with this short an overall runtime (it took me around 11 hours to beat it the first time, clearing every level and sub-quest). However, the way that Thymesia delivers its multiple endings can lead to some problems.
When defeating bosses, you receive a Core. At the end of the game, you need to combine 2 of the Cores you obtain to create a new formula that will do… something to the Plague. On its own, this is fine.
The problem arises when the game expects you to dig through the lore to figure out which of these Cores need to go together. The story itself never really details what you need to combine aside from one or two lines from Aismey. As such you will be left scratching your head when it asks you for your decision at the ending. What do you do? How does this work?
In total, there are 47 different ending combinations, with only 5 of those unlocking a unique ending. For those who just want to play the main stages and not engage with the lore, it locks them out of an enjoyable ending experience. Because they didn’t engage with the lore, they don’t get to have a satisfying ending. More guidance in how the story is told or more care in explaining some concepts that are stuffed away in deep lore would have mitigated this issue somewhat.
On the whole, Thymesia’s story is easily its weakest aspect. The actual main story has some interesting concepts that are ultimately lost due to poor execution and a lack of clarity. Meanwhile, the lore can be compelling but it is so broken up and hard to manage that you often feel compelled to just leave it alone rather than struggle through it. It serves its purposes but it is not memorable in the slightest.
Combat – Just A Little Lovesick
Combat is the aspect of the game where Thymesia shines brightest – at least if you give it the right situation.
Thymesia’s combat is a lot more like Bloodborne or Sekiro than it is Dark Souls: frantic, fast and risky. Instead of the more tactical and slow approach, Thymesia promotes aggressive play that will keep you moving and keep you engaged. You risk damage because you will heal it back if you executed your foe and because the damage is worth the risk. It’s a system which worked well and kept me more engaged than with a lot of other Souls-likes.
To preface this, I tested Thymesia using both a keyboard-and-mouse and controller set-up. While KBM worked, I preferred the controller set-up and used that for nearly my entire playtime. However, that may be personal preference and from testing both, neither had any gaping weakness in terms of game feel.
Wounds and Plague Weapons: The Best Arrows In Thymesia’s Quiver
The innovative parts of Thymesia are worth the most attention, mainly the Wound system and the Plague Weapon system.
When you deal damage with your sword, you will deplete the enemy’s HP. You only deplete one part of their health bar, though, with the other becoming visible underneath. This is a Wound. If you do not attack again within a set amount of time that Wound will begin to heal. If Corvus uses a special Claw attack on these Wounds, it will lower the other health bar allowing you to kill the enemy. Effectively every foe has 2 health bars, one that must be taken down using sword swings and one that must be taken down using Claw attacks.
What this means is that Thymesia incentivises you to play risky and fast to stop an enemy’s Wound healing. You get into a rhythm when fighting like this: one-two-dash-claw, one-two-parry-claw, one-two. It makes fights with even basic enemies feel tense (if they survive long enough, that is) and keeps you on your toes.
The other system is Plague Weapons. Using the Claw, you can rip out the essence of an enemy. This essence manifests itself as a Plague Weapon – a one-time use attack that takes on the attributes of the enemy you stole it from. For example, if my foe is an axe-wielding enemy and I steal his Plague Weapon, I can use that axe in a special one-time attack where Corvus leaps into the air and slams it back down. These attacks cannot be cancelled after activation, you must master them and learn when to use them at the right time instead.
There are over 20 of these Plague Weapons to collect, with some even coming exclusively from bosses. There are also collectable weapon shards: collect enough shards of a specific type and you can permanently unlock that Plague Weapon for continuous use. Both of these features together mean that you can differentiate yourself in combat with the weapons you permanently steal and the ones you only take for one-time use. It spices up fights at every level, especially group fights where you can steal a lot of different Plague Weapons.
Both are excellent systems that innovate on what came before them. Plague Weapons are a lot like the Prosthetics in Sekiro but I found myself engaging with the Plague Weapon system far more because of how much more approachable it was and how much it augmented every fight I entered.
Skill Trees and Abilities
There are other great parts here too.
You can select tons of different skills and abilities from the skill tree, all of which can be reset and reselected at any time without a cost. You can play around with any skill you want to see if you like it or not. If you don’t, no problem, just reset it and select another. There are skills from all branches of combat: saber attacks, feather attacks, dodges, deflects, there is a lot to try out here to fine-tune Thymesia to your play style.
To go alongside this, some skills have branching paths. You can only select one path, locking you out of the other skills. I can either have a long dodge that covers more ground, or two-shorter ones back-to-back. I can choose a stabbing attack after I dodge or a slash attack instead. Each skill like this drastically changes the way Corvus plays and makes every fight feel a bit more special.
There is an attributes system, too. When you reach enough Memories to level up, you can put points into one of three skills: Vitality, Strength or Plague. These attributes are far more streamlined than most other Souls-likes, allowing for the variety in skills to be the deciding factor in playstyle instead of pure stat points. You get to tune each part to your playstyle: on one playthrough, I did a balance of all three attributes while on another I complete left Vitality alone in favour of more Strength.
Overall, combat on Corvus’ end is just a dream. Everything works so well together with a perfect blend of simplicity and depth. It’s approachable with a high ceiling for dedicated players. Hats off to OverBorder for making an incredible Souls-like combat system on their first go around.
Enemies vs The Wound System
Combat on Corvus’ end may be superb, but on the enemies’ side, it feels a little bit off.
This is mostly due to how stark a difference there is between mid-tier enemies and fodder. With the Wound and Plague weapon system, you would expect that most fights would be a dance where you switch between each part of your kit seamlessly.
Instead, most fights against lower-tier enemies just have you beat them to death with a couple of saber swings. Here, Wounds and Claw attacks can mainly be ignored, aside from the final swing. It acts like a full stop to combat: not a terrible conclusion, but isn’t capable of engaging the best parts of the system, either. You just fire it off and forget.
It’s a shame, too, as when you get to perform that dance it feels amazing. Against mini-bosses, you can kind of get into this rhythm, with their larger health pools asking for more engagement with Claw attacks. If we use the same idea of it being a full-stop against grunt-tier enemies, against a mid-boss you are adding a comma to each fight, dragging it out and making it more complex.
You just don’t need to do it enough, though. Brute-forcing your way through fights is often the easiest way to get through them. The game isn’t particularly difficult, either, which only adds to this feeling of clumsily bashing your way through levels. As I said, it is a real shame because when you get into the rhythm that the game wants you to, it is excellent, but it is often just too rare in most situations.
Thymesia’s Lack of Enemy Variety
The most disappointing part of the combat in Thymesia was the lack of enemy variety.
You start the game fighting regular people wielding knives and axes and polearms, which then evolve into fighting those same people but they have some strange visual twist (either fungus growing out of them or massive red crystals). Then it… doesn’t evolve again. Don’t get me wrong, these enemies are fun to fight, but you will be fighting the same handful of enemies for the entire runtime. It wears out fast and fun enemies become dull as a result.
This lack of variety even begins to hurt some of the more inventive uses of enemies in Thymesia. Taking a polearm enemy as an example, there will be a base version that has one or two moves. There is then the second type of that enemy who is more mutated, often with visuals matching their environment, who has those same moves but with another couple added on. It’s a great way to keep you on your toes and lets you use knowledge from previous encounters to better these new foes.
However, because these are essentially the only enemies you fight and they never get to cycle out, it soon just makes them frustrating. The final level doesn’t even introduce any new enemies. It’s disheartening to load into a new area and have your hopes of new encounters shattered when you see the same sword and shield dude that you’ve already seen a dozen times before.
Perhaps the most disappointing part is that the game explicitly mentions that plague turns people into monsters. Yet I can probably only count about 3 or 4 enemies who fall into that category – all of which are mini-bosses or major bosses. None of these monsters bleeds over into the grunt tier of the enemies. Having some non-humanoid enemies to fight as you go further into the game, like Bloodborne, would have made a world of difference. Instead, the only thing that changes is the visual touches on the infected: whether it’s fungi or crystals or funny-looking green worms, they all play the exact same.
Even if the combat on the player’s end is excellent (which in Thymesia, it is) if the enemies the player faces are lacking it will drag the entire combat system down. What you fight is just as important in a Souls-like as how you fight it, and unfortunately, Thymesia just does not have the variety to keep up.
Big Bad Bosses
Where most of the combat critiques fade away is the bosses. These fights are where the combat of Thymesia truly gets the shine.
Everything about the game just clicks in boss battles. Unlike grunt-tier enemies, bosses can take a hit and their generous health bars mean that you can actually engage with the Wound system. If we use the same analogy as previously, Wounds and Claw attacks aren’t just a full stop here – in boss fights, they’re the punctuation that keeps the fight flowing. Instead of restraining you, they open up more complex possibilities instead.
Another thing to note is that you need to be wary of the balance. Boss fights punish you far more if you do not step into that rhythm. If you just focus on attacking with your sword or deflecting instead of weaving in your Claw, the boss will eventually accumulate more Wounds than actual health. In this scenario, you have to switch to a more defensive playstyle, relying purely on the heavier claw to kill the boss. In this way, you become restrained because you couldn’t keep up with the steps and some may see this as a negative.
If you can keep up, though, it feels perfect. You move to the rhythm, striking down both health bars bit by bit. Weaving between a few sword slashes to lower the boss’s health before coming down with a chunky Great Sword swing, then dodging away to prepare a Claw attack. It all just clicks here in a way that it just doesn’t with most of Thymesia’s other content.
Mechanically, the bosses are a breath of fresh air from the more grounded foes. They have abilities like teleporting or health drain that you have to adapt and strategize around, deciding whether to focus on offence or defence. While nothing extraordinary, the switch-up to a more supernatural realm makes these moments especially memorable when compared to the fodder troops you spend most of the game fighting. Each of the bosses is so visually distinct that they act as a grim exclamation mark at the end of a level.
That being said, these fights are not super difficult. Except for one optional boss and the final boss, I cleared every boss fight on my first or second attempt. If you seek challenging super bosses who can crush you with a simple wave of their tentacled hand, you will likely not find it here in Thymesia. What the bosses are, though, are fun extensions of combat and the world where everything clicks together and Thymesia can deliver on some top-shelf Souls-like action.
Thymesia’s Exploration – Nevermore, Nevermore
The other side of Souls-like gameplay is the exploration of levels. You need arenas to fight in, which are usually just corridors, and Thymesia sure has a lot of those.
You can break down levels into two aspects: main quest and sub-quest. Complete the main quests to progress the game. There are 3 levels each with one main quest, each culminating with a unique boss at the end. Meanwhile, the sub-quests take you back through the same levels but in an enclosed space with new enemy spawns, collectables and objectives. It’s a refreshing change of pace as you explore areas that you know with a new twist.
There are big problems here, though, and one that bleeds over from the enemies is a lack of diversity.
Except for the Royal Gardens (the second level), the Sea of Trees and Hermes Fortress are both let down in two different ways. The former has a cool theme and interesting lore but is dragged down by murky visuals and corridors that all look the same. Exploring this area is a nightmare because even when you a shortcut, you just feel lost. Often, you just need to bash your head against every wall possible instead of intuitively engaging with the level design.
Meanwhile the latter is just a let down as a final level. It’s a big castle that you’ve seen plenty of times before with no new twists or intriguing concepts. There aren’t any new enemies or locations, and you even go stomping around in the tutorial area again. As the final leg of your journey, I was hoping for a little bit more. Hermes Fortress has two of the best bosses in the game, too, so it being so forgetful as a location is just disappointing.
There is just a lack of distinctness to the levels, making them feel bland. You don’t feel particularly compelled to explore them.
Exploration is Unrewarding
Not that exploring is very worthwhile.
The levels are small enough that moving around them feels very easy and natural with a decent amount of shortcuts. There are Beacons which are like Bonfires and plenty of ladders and locked doors. What is lacking here is the incentive to explore. Aside from shortcuts, there are only 3 major things to collect in Thymeisa: ingredients, lore and Memories.
Ingredients are special resources that can be used to augment your Potions with extra healing or a damage bonus or some other effect. You can even combine specific ingredients from recipes you find in lore. While these sound cool in theory, in practice they just aren’t that useful. I didn’t even know about the recipe thing until after I had already beaten the game, so I doubt that they would help you out all that much. You’re never excited when you pick up a bit of mint or thyme.
The other two parts, lore and Memories, are just as lacklustre. Lore is the most engaging to find as it can deepen your connection to the world, but as previously stated the lore always feels one sentence too short. Add onto that how many unique pieces there are to find and it becomes exhausting fast.
Memories are Thymesia’s equivalent to Runes (items which can be consumed for a set amount of EXP) and they too are very dull. These are essentially the only item that populates most of the map and considering how breezy a lot of the game is, you don’t need a lot more excess levels. As such, seeing a shiny thing on the ground becomes groan educing very fast.
What matters here most is that the lack of rewards disincentives exploration. Combatting and fighting more enemies is in and of itself an incentive, but without a tangible reward, exploration feels quite hollow. You aren’t excited when you do go off and explore because new weapons and abilities aren’t tied to exploration. Adding optional cosmetics to change Corvus’ appearance may have helped here but alas, that is not the case.
Many of the levels in Thymesia are pretty pictures of a world dethroned by a plague, but they are mostly surface level at best.
The Royal Gardens
The exception to all of this is The Royal Gardens. While it may seem odd to specifically highlight it, this level is spectacular.
Enemies here are satisfying to defeat, particularly the mini-boss tier enemies who are all covered in red crystals that crack and shattered when they die. This is also the only level which escapes the feeling of repetitiveness when it comes to enemies. 5 new enemy types are introduced in this level alone (and they stay isolated to this level), making it stand out when compared to the rest of the game.
Exploration is still a struggle here, but with a much wider area to explore and a more visceral theme it feels more rewarding somehow. The Royal Gardens are an area I’ve never really seen before, a twisted take on bloody botany transmuted with a ruined library. It is just fantastic.
Compared to the Sea of Trees or Hermes Fortress, the Royal Gardens stand out so much brighter and they will most certainly be the area I remember the most from my time with Thymesia.
Bugs and Glitches in Thymesia – A Slightly Broken World
Finally, let’s talk about the technical side of Thymesia. While I didn’t have any crashes or extreme frame drops, what I did have a lot of were bugs and glitches.
Some of the more humorous glitches I had included one where an enemy would aggro where I was when I entered a room for the first time, even after I left that location meaning that they just would not attack me. Another was a glitch I could reliably replicate when I got two enemies to an executable phase. If I started the finisher on one but looked at the other enemy, it would kill the one I looked at rather than the one I performed the animation on (who would then just stand back up like Frankenstein with all their health back).
The Potion menu would bug out nearly every single time I interacted with it and enemies would glide across the floor or glitch through the terrain. While none of these were deal breakers, they all happened relatively frequently over my 20+ hours with the game.
The most frustrating glitches I had were ones that caused me to die or fail through no fault of my own. Once an enemy hit me so hard that I fell through the floor and I was stuck there until that enemy eventually killed me. Another was that after beating the final boss, if you press the interact button too quickly the game will freak out and lock itself, meaning that you have to do a full game restart to fix it.
Perhaps the worst was a bug that kept happening with one type of enemy. This was a mini-boss knight with a massive sword. You can stun these enemies with a feather attack when they begin to glow green. For some reason, these enemies would sometimes just not stun. I tested it out because it was so annoying and yes, sometimes they just didn’t stun no matter what I did. This seemed to affect the rest of the fight, too, as they wouldn’t stun after this. This enemy type appears a lot through the game and turned an entertaining fight into a sickening one.
Some of these issues may be fixed with a patch later on down the line, and none of these was enough to completely ruin my experience. However, it is clear that parts of this game are still very buggy and if you want a completely polished game, maybe wait a few months to pick up Thymesia.
Ultimately, Thymesia is a good game plagued by the potential of a great game.
So much of it is so close to being great that seeing it fall short and be ‘almost there’ only hurts more. If only there were more enemies, if only there was more to explore, if only the story had more clarity. I could on with this list, of moments where Thymesia almost came together.
Despite this, it is still most certainly worth your time. It’s on the easier end of Souls-likes, so it’s approachable for those who want to dip their toe. For Soulsborne veterans, on the other hand, the combat offered here is entertaining and enticing enough to trounce through some relatively simple levels.
There are sparks of magic in Thymesia that I want people to see and play. When I fought the best bosses in this game, it gave me brief but warm flashes of fights in Sekiro and I’m sure many others will feel the same. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a game worth experiencing.
If you love Souls-likes or if you’ve ever wanted to try them, then I think you should take a chance on Thymesia.
We reviewed Thymesia on Steam using a game key provided by Press Engine.