1C Entertainment recently released a limited time demo of Slipgate Ironworks’ upcoming retro-inspired action game, Graven. The demo contained around two hours of content, representing what appears to be the very beginning of the game. Here are my impressions so far.
Graven is a mix of first-person shooter and melee action game, with some light RPG and puzzle elements. The game markets itself as a spiritual successor to classic hybrid shooters from the ’90s, most notably the Heretic and Hexen games by Raven and id Software. You play as a disgraced priest from the Orthogonal Order, exiled after murdering another priest in defense of your adopted daughter.
You are now cursed to wander a dark and grim medieval fantasy world besieged by a deadly plague and eldritch monsters, offering your services to townsfolk in need. You arrive at a dirty, run-down town in a dank swamp, surrounded by hordes of undead creatures.
Graven‘s world is broken up into several semi-open regions. Upon arriving at the swamp village, you are given your first task: to travel into the town’s sewers to burn several piles of corpses before the undead plague can reanimate them. After that, you are tasked with igniting a sunken lighthouse beyond the village’s walls, in the hope that the flame will guide away some of the undead.
While the demo is fairly short and set at the very beginning of the game, Graven will presumably have central hub villages where you can get quests from townsfolk, and trade some of your hard-looted gold coins in for useful items or weapons. At only two hours, it acts mostly as a lengthy tutorial, with little in the way of NPC interaction and some moderately linear (albeit large and packed with secrets) areas to explore.
The levels look to have a decent amount of puzzle solving and quest item chasing. The quest in the sewer requires you to find some levers, which allow you to open gated rooms that contain the explosive barrels used to burn the corpse piles.
You’ll want to be on the lookout for those aforementioned secrets too, because the game has a fair amount of resource and item management. One such secret involved a brief jumping puzzle along a cliff edge off the beaten path.
Combat involves a mixture of melee instruments, ranged weapons, and magical spells. You start with a staff that is pretty weak on its own, but you will apparently be able to enchant it with new abilities later on in the game. There is no blocking or dodging; instead you have a kick that can be used to stagger enemies, push them into hazards, or simply gain some distance so you don’t get overwhelmed.
The more interesting of the two melee weapons in the demo is a large, heavy flail. This weapon has a slow attack speed, but it can obliterate zombies in a single swing, turning them into a fine red paste. The flail has two attack types, those being a wide horizontal swing, or a more focused overhead strike.
The demo also featured two ranged weapons. The first is a wrist-mounted crossbow that features a pretty fast firing speed, good range and accuracy, but fairly modest damage. The other is a larger crossbow that acts more like a blunderbuss, firing lots of small rocks that deal heavy damage at short range.
Finally, you have access to an arcane tome that is used to channel the various spells you’ll pick up throughout the game. The two spells you have in the demo are a short-ranged stream of fire, and a chain lighting spell.
You have two types of mana to manage in the game, those being red and blue mana. The red mana is used to power your fire spell, while the blue mana channels your lightning. Presumably other spells will be associated with specific types of mana as well.
The two spells in the demo are less about annihilating your foes, and more about setting up combos. The fire spell deals steady damage over time, but its probably just quicker and easier to whack weaker enemies with your staff than wait for them to burn to death. The fire spell’s main use is igniting flammable objects in the environment.
Likewise, the lighting spell isn’t there to outright kill enemies, but to stun them so you can get some free hits in. Like the fire spell, your chain lightning blast can interact with the environment as well, namely sending electricity coursing through a body of water to expand its effects over a wider area.
As you’ve probably noticed already from the screenshots, Graven has a really awesome retro aesthetic. The game looks and feels a lot like a game made in the ’90s, but with higher resolution visuals that make the details more clear.
There are some pretty nice visual effects too, especially when it comes to combat. Stronger weapons tend to make enemies explode, and are accompanied by some nice, meaty sound effects. The game runs really smooth so far too, with no performance issues to speak of. Considering that the game has intentionally dated visuals, it probably comes at no surprise that the performance is smooth.
There doesn’t seem to be any voice acting in the game yet, which is something I hope is only temporary. The intro cutscene’s narration was pretty good, and your boatman has a humorous, stereotypical wise old hermit tone. While you can hear cries of agony and coughing in the town, the quest givers don’t have any voice acting, and instead present you with a block of quest text.
Looking at the year ahead, 2021 is going to be packed with old school shooters inspired by classics from the ’90s. Most of these are more along the lines of Quake or Doom clones, so it’s certainly nice to see a game that is leaning more towards Hexen.
While Graven‘s demo is pretty short, it was incredibly fun. The game definitely shows a lot of promise, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long until the full release.