Elderborn is a “Metal AF Slasher” that hit Steam Early Access back in October 2018. After over five years of development, Hyperstrange have announced that the game will finally be getting a full release on January 30th.
The early preview build of Elderborn I played didn’t really have much of a story implemented, with only an incomplete and brief intro cutscene included to give context to the game’s action. I’m told that the full game’s story and lore will be significantly expanded in the full game, however.
Essentially you play as a champion from a barbarian tribe in a heroic swords and sorcery fantasy world, heavily inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard. You have entered a mysterious and ancient underworld to prove your might and become a messiah for your people.
The main focus of the game is its brutal, skill-driven combat system that has frequently been compared to Arkane’s cult hit from 2006, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. There is even a kick attack that can send enemies flying into bottomless pits.
The combat is all about well-timed blocks and parries. You and your enemies can be interrupted during attacks, so you’ll need to learn when you back off, when to parry, and when to exploit an opening to counterattack.
Each weapon has a basic attack and a more powerful charged swing that can deliver a ton of damage, but leaves you open for longer and more susceptible to being staggered.
The weapons I encountered in the demo include a sword, a spear, a massive hammer, and dual sickles. Each has a clearly defined role with their own strengths, weaknesses, and situational usefulness.
The sword is your all-around weapon that doesn’t excel at anything. The spear has the longest reach, and is more precise, allowing you to hit exposed limbs behind an enemy’s shield.
Your hammer is slow but extremely powerful, capable of bashing through guards and hitting multiple enemies at once without much effort. Finally, the sickles are short range and low damage, but extremely fast. The final game will have 11 weapons altogether.
Personally, I found the spear to be the most useful so far. The extra reach and precision are extremely effective in duels, and fights against small groups of enemies. Once I acquired it, I found myself gravitating towards it the most. The developers agree, and have said that the spear will be toned down in the final version.
Enemy variety is fairly good so far too. You’ll spend most of your time fighting various types of undead, including mindless zombies, more heavily armored zombie soldiers with shields, or speedy mummies with dual sickles.
These are far from the only types of enemies you’ll face however. In the dungeon’s flooded, swampy areas you’ll often encounter bloated, frog-like humanoids called Drowners. There are also multiple types of giant scorpions, including lava scorpions that explode, or stone scorpions that will try to curl up into a hardened ball of rock to regain health when near death.
The game has some minor Souls-like elements that play into the game’s progression and save system. There are fountains scattered throughout the game’s levels that act as a save point. They allow you to heal as well, but every time you use one, all the enemies respawn.
These fountains are also where you can spend your accumulated experience points on new skills and stat bonuses. The game’s character progression screen is divided between Might, Speed, and Resilience, which increase your damage, movement and attack speed, and health, respectively.
Putting points into these branches allow you to buy skills, like allowing you to parry projectiles back at enemies, or the ability to tear the heads off of enemies as a one-shot projectile weapon.
As with most games in the genre, you’ll drop all your held experience when you die, but can recover it by returning to where you were slain.
Elderborn also features a great soundtrack that can really get the blood pumping. It blends elements of ’80s-style heavy metal with some electronic music. My only real complaint is that the soundtrack isn’t used frequently enough. The game generally reserves the music for larger engagements, and its oddly silent a lot of the time.
While the preview build I played is far from complete, Elderborn is an extremely fun and promising game. Its shaping up to be a tense, atmospheric first-person melee combat game that perfectly captures the look and feel of a Conan the Barbarian-esque fantasy world.
I’ll be back with a full review once the game has left Early Access.
Elderborn is in Early Access on Windows PC (via Steam), and launches January 30th.
Elderborn was previewed on Windows PC using a preview code provided by Hyperstrange. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.