Sometimes I pine for old school games. You know the sort of games that came out before there were 'genres' of formulaic also-rans, back when the entire industry was growing and expanding in exciting directions. One of those old school games that set a new standard for PC gaming was Diablo and its sequel. Of course, as with all successes, there have been many imitations produced over the years. Whiptail and Pixel Studio present Blade & Sword, an entertaining, clone-come-lately of Diablo with a surprising dash of agile, kung-fu gameplay elements.
If my aging, arthritic claws could take it, I would play good hack and slash RPGs all day long. Blade & Sword provides a high-energy game based in an ancient world of Chinese mythology. However, it only offers a single player game. The lack of a multiplayer option in a game of this nature is a big, lost opportunity.
It's striking how much this game looks like Diablo. Granted, the textures and environments are a little smoother and more detailed, but the influence, graphically, of Diablo is immediately obvious. Once you look closer, however, you'll see that this is actually a dark, disturbed world set in China's distant past.
The story itself is rather hard to follow but seems to be your basic deposed-despot-calls-upon-the-minions-of-hell-to-reclaim-his-throne storyline. Told over three carpal-tunnel inducing chapters, Blade & Sword casts you as one of three hero types: heavy melee, light and nimble or a character who falls in between the two. As one of these classes, you'll be called upon to fight seemingly endless hordes of creatures; zombies, wolf men and hell dogs, oh my.
The RPG aspect of the game is woefully simple and fails to afford you, the player any control over your character’s attributes. With each new level your character obtains, his or her stats are automatically boosted thus denying you the ability to customize your own character. Of course this is just one way of making you apathetic about your hero. Another would be the absence of cool new weapons and armor that make it worthwhile to spend hours cutting and cleaving through endless hordes of monsters. You’ll have to be satisfied with finding stones that you can use to attack from a distance. This painful omission really hurts Blade & Sword. The donkey isn’t likely to make it far without the promise of that carrot.
As your character levels up, you’ll earn experience points that can be used to purchase new moves such as the leaf sweeper, a spinning sword attack, and many others. From that point, you can design custom combo attacks that string together a number of these special attacks (or even mundane moves such as a jump) and assign them to the right mouse button. This cool little idea really makes the game worthwhile. Watching your character spinning about and laying a beat-down on a group of half a dozen or more zombies at once is impressive and giggle-inducing. Additionally, once you attain a high proficiency in a certain skill set, you’ll be able to pull off devastating super attacks that will lay waste to many enemies at once.
This would feel all the more impressive if the AI was a little more challenging. Some of the premier creatures and bosses act like they have something of a brain, but a good deal of the lower-level monsters act like the headless corpses they are. There were many times when I’d be cleaving hunks of decayed flesh from one zombie while his buddy stood next to him, blissfully daydreaming of human brains.
Since Blade & Sword is obviously crafted as an ode to the golden oldie dungeon crawlers, I didn’t expect too much of it visually, but one thing that I did expect was to be able to see the action to a reasonable degree. Though all objects in the game become transparent, to an extent, when your character is behind them, there were many times when I just plain could not see my character or any of the enemies around me. Buildings and such could have been a little more transparent in situations such as those.
The environments through which you’ll fight vary from forest lowlands to dungeons, to icy mountains to hell itself. All of the environments are rendered nicely with just enough variety within the same terrain set to keep you from pulling your hair out. The music is forlornly Chinese and repetitive, and the sound effects are very limited. The monsters hardly make any noises while ambient sounds are noticeably missing; a big loss when trying to set mood and build tension.
The crux of the matter is always 'was the game fun’? What we have here is an average imitation of some seminal hack and slash RPG games from the days of yore. Heck, the parts that it does imitate are still outdone by older titles. Those classic games had a more robust and flexible RPG system and they probably possessed better enemy AI, so why is it that I can’t turn this game off? It’s because of the innovative combo system and the number of excellent special attacks that you’ll accrue throughout the games’ three chapters and 40 levels.
Although Blade & Sword is directly and heavily influenced, by Diablo, it fails to live up to the standards set by that aged game. The RPG system is very simplified, and the lack of any new armor or weapons is really a serious deterrent to continuing through to the end, but then Blade & Sword saves itself from being a total disappointment. It’s plethora of special attacks and the ability to then string those attacks together using the customizable combo feature, provide an entertaining experience at the very least. Though simple and lacking in some areas, this game is still hard to turn off, so if you’re looking for some mindless beat-em-up fun, you could do worse.