Blade of Darkness by Rebel Act Studios originally released in 2001 to generally favourable reviews. It inspired future generations of fantasy action-adventure games. Drawing inspiration from ‘sword-and-sorcery’ movies and notable fiction like Lord of The Rings the game should have been a hit. However, due to its one mode – very difficult – this wasn’t the case. Ironic now that years later the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games have built a legacy on this same concept. Both rumoured to be inspired by Blade of Darkness. In 2021 the game was re-released on PC and having struggled to get my own physical copy from 2001 working on a modern PC; I’m thankful it did. Blade of Darkness is a fun, challenging, gory, medieval fantasy adventure game that is worth your attention.
Blade of Darkness Plot
My biggest criticism of Blade of Darkness is the plot, or rather lack thereof. There is very little information given to you in terms of the story. You get a brief introduction to each area you visit and that’s really it. What you can work out is that you need to vanquish a dark force. That’s really all there is to it.
It’s a shame because a game like this deserves a rich, fantasy storyline of good triumphing over evil with some stake raising and tragedy along the way. Or at the very least, something to make me care about my hero and the world they occupy. The world itself is overrun with villainy, derelict fortresses and temples giving it the sense of a rich heritage; but sadly, it’s one you never really learn about. The plot we do get, an evil force needs destroying, is derivative at best. In a way, it’s all kind of forgivable though, because you can pick you favourite hero (a knight, barbarian, dwarf, or rogue-like character) and just enjoy fighting your way through fun environments.
Blade of Darkness Gameplay
One of the biggest draws to Blade of Darkness is the gruesome and gory combat. You can quite merrily hack off limbs from your foes. There is something weirdly enjoyable about seeing the head of an orc fly off and roll on the ground. What makes this gruesomeness even more entertaining is when you pick up a limb and promptly use it to beat their orc friend to death. Is this necessary? Absolutely not. Is this entertaining? Ashamedly so. There is a rhythm to combat. A sort of dance you as the player must learn if you are to survive. Monsters in this game hit hard. You need to learn to block and dodge at the right moment if you want to win. Thankfully, if you’re familiar with Dark Souls or Bloodborne you will have a head start in understanding this.
The game will take you all over the fictional world which is nicely diverse. From European medieval fortresses to Indian and Egyptian inspired temples you’ll never think the world feels stale or samey. A bonus is that each of the four characters you can play as all have a different starting point along with different strengths and weaknesses. This rich diversity is also seen in the monsters and beings you come across. Orcs, knights, skeletons and more await you at every turn. All with their own unique combat intricacies. For example, watch out for the poison found on Orc blades, it will wipe your health quickly.
In terms of progression, there isn’t a lot of NPC dialogue in this game, in fact it’s mostly absent. There are also no real side quests to speak of. To that end you would think the game is a linear adventure. However, this isn’t the case. In between each level you will get a small narration and then must pick where to go next. This can be as confused as the story. To access the true end level of the game for example you need to have collected six runes along the way. The issue is the game doesn’t tell you any of that. It doesn’t really tell you much at all beyond a vague introduction to each area. This makes the gameplay feel a little disjointed.
The controls for the game are basic, but clever at the same time. Drawing inspiration from fighting games there are several combos and moves you can make your hero perform. By utilising this combo mechanic, it provides a variety of attacks that make combat feel fresh. This also makes combat feel organic and flowing which is a nice change of pace from ‘click to activate’ or limited/random basic/heavy attacks. I struggled to get precision while using a keyboard and mouse, indicative of the game’s age. However, Blade of Darkness has full controller support, and this was a gamechanger. I very much recommend going this route for a less-frustrating experience. Once you get used to the control layout it is easy to master. Although occasionally lining up perfectly with an item to pick it up can take far more time than should be necessary.
While graphically the game would now be considered dated (look at any game from 2001 and you’re likely to form the same opinion) it has a nostalgia about it. The level of detail, especially in the physics of the limbs you’ve invariably hacked off, is impressive. Combine this with the detail of injury you as the player receive as well as the blood detail, and it makes for an immersive and gory experience. Sure, it won’t live up to the latest and greatest modern AAA titles; but it doesn’t need to. Environments are well rendered and a joy to explore. Sometimes, you yearn for the ‘old-school’ experience and Blade of Darkness delivers. The updated version has taken modern screens into account very well and I’m glad they did this.
Whether Blade of Darkness inspired the likes of Bloodborne and Dark Souls will forever be a mystery but if you like that type of game; you’ll thoroughly enjoy Blade of Darkness. It’s a nostalgic romp through a classic action-adventure sword-and-sorcery type game. Blade of Darkness blends a fighting game combo system, gory and challenging combat that requires mastery, and variety of locations and monsters. Visually it all looks good and interesting. If you overlook the lack plot and plug in your favourite controller then Blade of Darkness gives you an idea of what a ‘Soulsborne’ game from the early 2000’s would have been like. If nothing else… beating an orc with an arm is enough of a reason to check it out.