Guild of Darksteel

Guild of Darksteel has the look of a Soulslike/Metroidvania hybrid, which means I was expecting sort of slow, deliberate action-style combat. So when I first started playing the game, I was a little confused by the fact that I had no basic attacks while exploring.

As it turns out, combat is separated from the exploration side of gameplay, sort of like enemy encounters in old JRPGs. When you bump into an enemy, there will be a whoosh sound, then some battle music kicks in. You’ll only have access to your attacks during combat encounters — during the rest of the game, you’ll simply be running and jumping and occasionally interacting with things in the game’s pixelated world.

At first, I didn’t like this at all. But as I got deeper into the game, the combat really started growing on me. After maybe 45 minutes or so, I had to admit that I was starting to like it.

See, combat almost feels turn-based here, but it’s actually not. The reason it feels this way is that every battle has a specific rhythm to it. If you find the rhythm, you’ll fall into the groove and each encounter will feel more like, say, Thumper (or like playing Guitar Hero with a standard four-button controller rather than a guitar peripheral) than something like Dark Souls.

Basically, you have a block button (A if you’re using an Xbox controller) and a basic attack button (X on the Xbox controller). However, you also have two more buttons that allow you to build combos off of your first attack. Various combos do different things. For example, there’s one combo called Blood Bath, and you’ll eventually upgrade it with an effect that cancels out the damage of your last attack but causes you to heal yourself. This comes in handy later in the game when checkpoints start to feel like they’re spaced just a little too far apart.

On top of that, combos are grouped into two categories, yellow and purple. Some combos will increase the strength of purple combos, and others increase the strength of yellow. So if you chain combos together in the right order, you can do excessive amounts of damage.

Guild of Darksteel - Combo List

It all sounds very complex, but due to the rhythmic nature of combat, it starts to feel like second nature way quicker than you’d expect. One enemy type attacks three times, then blocks, then attacks two more times, then has an open window in which you have just enough time to pop off a four-button combo (or two two-button combos). So you’ll block, block, block, wait, block, block, then combo.

It gets even more fun once you realize how wide and forgiving your block window is. You can start sneaking attacks in between the blocks I mentioned above and still have time to get a successful block in. In fact, you can block mid-attack if you push the button quickly enough, and once you really start cooking, you can even block mid-combo.

Toward the end of the game, you’ll encounter fully armored knights, and when you block, there’s a clank sound, but when you attack their armor, there’s another clank sound, but with a different pitch. As the knight is gearing up for a jab attack with a halberd, there’s sort of a crunch sound. If you successfully manage your blocks, squeezing attacks in every opening, it starts to sound like the beat of a song. It’s really neat.

I wouldn’t say Guild of Darksteel is hard, per se, but I think it does require a certain set of skills. If you have good rhythm, you’ll adapt to combat really quickly. If not, well, I guess I don’t know what will happen, but I assume the game’s combat system might be a little trickier to master.

Guild of Darksteel

Either way, combat in Guild of Darksteel feels a bit like a rhythm game, and I ended up really liking that. It’s delightfully satisfying, almost like learning to play a new instrument for the first time. Not everyone is going to dig that, but I think if you’re at all musically inclined, you probably will.

Disclaimer: I was given an early review code for Guild of Darksteel for this article, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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