I pondered for quite some time on how best to describe Death’s Gambit. The sheer brutality of the game somehow melted all my thoughts away and that is why I must write this review. Let’s see if I can articulate this complex dive into death’s grasp.

Death’s Gambit is a 2D Metroidvania side-scroller about the death of Sorun and his deal with death. The setting is a medieval world filled with immortal souls and while everything in the game is trying to kill you there is a cast of characters that warn you continuously to stop. The game actually gives you this out as well. You can tear up your contract with death which makes you mortal essentially putting you in perma death mode.

Now if that wasn’t enough to sway you from continuing then the bosses just might. Seriously, I was reminded of what it was like to be a kid again stuck and almost in tears from frustration. This is a really…really…good thing though. Death’s Gambit challenges you at every turn and the bosses are larger than life, in some cases. Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves though. I’ll explain some of the key points of the game for you.

Starting off the game you get to choose what class you prefer. There is a Soldier, Assassin, Blood Knight, Wizard, Noble, Sentinel and Acolyte of Death. I chose the Soldier because he was supposed to be the all-around fighter. I am not so sure about that now. My soldier seemed to get his ass kicked more often than not.

Leveling/Attributes/Talents

In order to level up Sorun you will need to collect SHARDS (Souls) from defeating enemies in the game. These will be used to upgrade attributes like Vitality and Strength. In order to level up you need to find shrines throughout the game. These are also save points. There you can level up, reclaim your feathers (healing) or change out your abilities. My advice is to farm for shards early on in the game, no really you better. These bad boys are vital and you need a lot of them to level up later. Your weapons and armor can also give you a bonus added on to your attributes as well, I’ll touch on that later. You will need to keep an eye out on what you are leveling up and which weapons require certain attributes in order to wield them.

Talents are gathered as you complete parts of the game and are used to unlock things such as character gains more shards after blocking with a shield. I honestly needed to use this more often but forgot about it during the game. It didn’t seem readily accessible so I hardly gave it a second thought. That was my mistake.

Weapons/Inventory

A cool aspect of the game is that you can actually carry two main weapons at any time. They range from swords, daggers, bows and huge hammers. Your character is fitted with slots for a helmet, cape, boots, aura, heal, weapon 1, weapon 2, shield and then four item slots. The item slots can be used for healing, items to speed up stamina or magic items that will damage enemies. A piece of advice, do not drop any of your weapons or armor. You will need to disenchant those items in order to enchant the weapons and armor you want to equip. This is when you will get the bonus attributes added. Pay close attention to your weapons and armor, it is important.

The World/Characters

The world of Death’s Gambit we all know by now is metroidvania and is set in medieval times. Paying close attention to your surroundings is a must. You do not want to miss that key item or tome. What is a tome? I’ll explain soon. More importantly for you to know is that all sorts of things want to kill you in this world. Not only do you have to worry about enemies but there are falling spikes, spike traps in the ground and fire amongst other things. There are hidden spots with goodies all around so keep an eye out for that as well. I really loved how you climb up ladders and then can jump off of them. I thought it was a cool feature and feel to the game. Almost as if you were mega man holding on to the side of something. The scenery might appear dreary in most areas but its pixel beauty and one of the parts I enjoyed the most.

As you venture further into the game you will run into plenty of new characters. Some you will need to rescue, some you will need to fight. This part of the game kind of blew me away. Each character throughout the game is unique and the voice over work is phenomenal. I mean when you run into Vrael you will know exactly what I am talking about. The developers put in the time in creating a great cast in this game and that’s not even accounting for the bosses. These characters will help you as well by selling you items or teaching you specific abilities. All for a bunch of your shards of course.

Bosses

I won’t touch on this too much because at the heart of the game is the epic boss battles you are going to encounter. Some big, some small and some downright god like. In each area throughout the game you will eventually run into a boss fight. Once you are locked in there is no turning back. Each boss has a set of moves that changes as you reach different stages in their health meter. There will be quick attacks, slow attacks and attacks you won’t see coming but they all do some serious damage. To make things worse each time you die and come back you are shown a death counter to remind you just how bad you’re getting your ass kicked. The one helpful thing besides learning their moves is finding the tomes to each boss. There are two and if you find them both you will get an added damage boost and some insight on them. You need to find these!

Conclusion

Death’s Gambit essentially took me back to my childhood. I have a soft spot in my heart for pixel games like this but I was blown away by how much fun/frustration I had playing. From the story to the characters to the weapons everything in-between seemed to work in harmony. The areas throughout the game are creative and the bosses are epic. Hell even dying in the game can take you to a cut scene of a memory from Sorun. The level of thought put into Death’s Gambit is refreshing and the difficulty is welcoming. The developers decided enough with the holding of the hands and said here, you figure it out, oh and by the way good luck surviving. The combat is brutal, the deaths are kick ass and will at some point make you ask why you even exist. The music, the art, the story, the voice over, I could go on and on about why you should give this game a play through.

So with all the praise there has to be some negative right? Yes. I didn’t feel as if the combat was fair at times. Why you ask? Because there would be times the character wouldn’t respond to what I wanted him to do. The attacks didn’t seem on point when they should be when I was fighting a boss. If the same attack I used earlier fighting a normal enemy all of the sudden stops working against a boss it can get frustrating as hell. Hence why you will die a lot. Don’t worry though because the boss adjusts to all your deaths and starts to take it easy on you. Did you believe that? I hope not. Nope, the only chance you have is to learn precisely every move and hope that he doesn’t hit you one more time before you land the fatal blow. I am sure the developers designed the game this way though.

I also wish you could get shards at a better rate in the game. I found it very difficult later on to level up and purchase items or abilities I needed. That is why I wish I had farmed a little earlier in the game and stock-piled some shards. At the end of the day though the game is set up to challenge you and for you to die a lot. That is why they call it Death’s Gambit.

Rating: 9 out of 10