With some of the year’s biggest titles just released and a new console about to drop any day now, it seems like an odd time for a smaller developer to release their new XBLA title when it’ll be sure to be missed or forgotten with all of the gaming excitement happening lately. Developed by Deck 13, the studio who brought us the very underwhelming Venetica has no released Blood Knights on the Xbox Live Arcade. The release timing couldn’t be worse with all the massive titles just released, but I sat down with it from beginning to end in hopes that it would be a decent Hack and Slash title with a story revolving around a human and vampire war that’s been done many times before; I should have hoped a little hard I guess.
The story centers around a mystical seal that has prevented demos from invading Earth that a human guardian is sworn to protect. When the guardian dies, the vampires attempt to steal it for their own reasons and mankind is sending Jeremy, one of the world’s best vampire hunters, after them. Essentially failing, there’s only one last option to take if he wants to save humankind; he must be placed under a spell that bonds him to one of his worst enemies, a vampire. Doing so makes him much stronger but he’s not bound and has to fight alongside the vampire known as Alysa.
Things do not go to plan and Jeremy actually becomes infected by another vampire, turning him into one of their kind. With the bond still intact, he still marches forward in his original quest to save mankind, though his own people turn on him now that he’s one of the dark kind. Formally enemies, Jeremy and Alysa now have to work together not only to save mankind, but to also find a way to break the bonded curse and hopefully cure Jeremy in the end.
The bond between the two main characters has a lot of potential to set up many plot points and character driven motives, but this is never realized or fully developed. Alysa just seems to go along with whatever Jeremy says, even if he’s deciding to side with humans instead of vampires in the few parts you get to make a moral decision in the narrative. This isn’t helped with the poor script, terrible one-liners, and even worse voice acting beginning to finish. Jeremy and Alysa’s personalities never shine through (other than Jeremy staying ignorant lines against vampires even when he is one now) and their relationship never develops outside of a few lines of dialogue here and there. Sadly, you’ll be able to see the ending coming half way through the game and it is not surprising in any way once you finally do defeat the final boss.
The core of Blood Knights is your standard hack and slash, though obviously with its own unique twists. You have your regular attack that you can spam as fast as you can press the button, but is a much weaker attack than your more powerful abilities. You have two power attacks (in the beginning) that are on a cooldown timer that will do much more damage and will be needed in the latter half of the game where you’ll need to break the defenses of enemies with a power move before being able to damage them. Both characters are also able to use their vampiric abilities to suck the blood from their enemies, damaging them in the process, or use them to push or pull enemies off a cliff or towards you. Taking the blood of enemies will replenish your health, but once you figure out how to break the combat in your favor, you’ll rarely ever need any healing. Once you learn how dumb the enemy AI really is, you’ll have no problems in combat all the way to the end of the game. Enemies don’t generally know how to maneuver along the Z-axis and if you’re above them, you can simply pick them off with Alysa’s bow attacks. There are even maximum distances enemies will chase you if you become overwhelmed and once you learn that magically tethering spot where they retreat, you can also simply pick them off without worrying about any damage. It’s such an advantage that I can count the times I actually used Jeremy in combat throughout the whole game.
You have the ability to switch between Jeremy and Alysa whenever you want (aside from the small cooldown timer) but it’s odd when you notice that the character you aren’t using simply disappears rather than following you around or helping you in combat. Jeremy is your standard up close fighter with twin swords, many hacking and whirlwind abilities, and a bigger health pool to take more damage up close. Alysa on the other hand is your quicker and more mobile fighter that uses her dual crossbows to quickly shoot enemies from afar. Eventually combat becomes a little more interesting in the last half of the game when you face off against shielded enemies that require your stronger attacks to open up their vulnerability before you can damage them. Aside from that, combat stays pretty bland throughout once you know how to beat the system.
Killing enemies will earn you experience, and once you fill the bar you level up and then can spend a skill point on making your abilities stronger or learning completely new abilities as well. Finding treasure chests will yield you new loot and it comes often enough that you’re constantly getting upgrades for your armor or weapon slots. There’s two problems with this though. The first is that when you do upgrade, you don’t really feel all that much more powerful. The stat numbers say the new item is better, but you’d never guess it if you didn’t see the stats. Some weapons definitely look cooler, but having a flaming sword didn’t seem to do anything special other than looking stylish. The other problem with the loot system is how you actually equip and manage the loot in your inventory. Items will have an up or down arrow on the picture to indicate if it’s an upgrade or not, but you have to delve into the menu’s, swap loot, then categorize your old armor and weapons as junk so that it will automatically sell for you the next time you visit a trader. That’s another issue, where the trader’s you do meet do sell upgrades for you, they are generally either too expensive or much higher level that your current level. More than once I saved up for a specific weapon, only to find the exact one shortly afterwards or free in a treasure chest.
I was hoping to have some climactic battles against the few bosses that are within the game but they are general nothing more than a stronger standard enemy with a lot more health to shoot away. Most of the bosses consist of either healing themselves when they get to a certain percentage, throwing waves of enemies at you periodically, or a combination of both; hardly imaginary or exciting. Even the final boss was a breeze and I don’t think I got hit once from any of the bosses, so don’t expect much of a challenge.
There are a few instances where you’re forced to make a moral decision in the plot line, essentially deciding to side with humans or vampires. In theory this could have had a very interesting effect on the storyline outcome or actually make you think what is right or wrong. Instead, you’re given this choice that once decided, isn’t really referenced again and your decision seem so minimal that you won’t probably even remember what you had to decide or what the outcome was. There’s achievements that play into this, but that would require you to play through the game twice; I’ll just leave it at that.
If you have a friend that is willing to play Blood Knights with you, there is a local co-op mode available where each player gets to control one of the characters. When playing cooperatively, there are apparently specific co-op puzzles that will be needed to complete to progress forwards. Sadly, I was unable to test any if the co-op abilities of Blood Knights so I’m unable to speak in depth about it. I could see the combat becoming even simpler though with two players killing enemies at once. Sadly online co-op is not an option, so you’ll need someone to come over and play through it with you to test out the features.
While personally it doesn’t bother me either way, it should be noted that apparently every woman in Blood Knights was designed by a teenager in puberty. Every woman, even Alysa, has a massive bust and nowhere near enough clothing to cover up her ampleness. I understand it fits with the theme, but it’s really overdone at times and feels childish, especially when there is shine coming off certain body parts in cutscenes.
With a set camera that will rotate and move automatically depending on where you are in the levels, expect to have I cause you an ample amount of problems. Many times you won’t know where you are getting hit from with arrows because the camera isn’t showing the proper angle. Many times you’ll also get ambushed, not because of level design or staged sequences, but because the camera failed to show you the half dozen enemies waiting around the corner.
Not helping the situation is the poor visuals with bland and muddy textures, but the voice acting is even worse? More than once my wife who wasn’t even watching my play the game commented on how badly acted the lines come across when she heard it across the room. With little to no animation in the faces, cutscenes don’t help matters very much. One liners only make this worse and it’s more than laughable how terrible the voice acting is when the narrative is trying so hard to keep you interested in a plot line and ending you will see coming well before you finish the game in a single sitting. Simply put, Blood Knights feels incredibly shallow, not only in production values, but in gameplay and mechanics as well. It’s not terribly long of a gaming experience, but sometimes that’s a good thing.
Railway Empire - Complete Collection includes 13 free updates, 8 extensive DLCs spanning iconic locations such as the Rocky Mountains, Sweden and Mexico, and brings to life 83 historically authentic locomotives.