The theme of light versus darkness is a motif often on display in classic adventures. It usually goes like this: some hero overcomes evil with great feats of virtue or reveals injustice through revelation of shining truths. What about the gray area or morally ambiguity in these tales? Are acts of great heroism still virtuous if they are achieved through seductive compromise? That is the question that I found myself pondering as I played through this title. This is our review for Soulblight for Nintendo Switch.
Soulblight began as a Kickstarter project by Polish indie studio My Next Games. Having released to moderate reception on Steam, the team migrated it to the Nintendo Switch. This ambitious project sought to deliver a story that blurred the lines between good and evil. But does it deliver?
This top-down rogue-like is set in an ever changing landscape with survival mechanics to boot. It is meant to be challenging – and that it is. In each run, you will need to strategize to what lengths you are willing to go in order to achieve your goal. What goal is that, you ask? Let’s take a look at the story. It goes like this:
Before the dawn of creation, life and death fought each other in what would seem to be an eternal conflict. After seeing the fruitlessness of their war, they struck a pact over the acknowledgement of their need for one another. Out of this union, the Soul Tree was born and through it, all that exists followed. After years of being protected by humanity and enshrined in a lofty fortress, the Soul Tree developed a blight which would taint the land with a crystal plague. It is up the you, brave pilgrim, to find your way into the fortress, reach the Tree, and cleanse the taint… but can anyone embark on such a task with the same purity that they set out with?
This is where we get into Soulblight’s most unique mechanic: the Tainting system. As a rogue-like, you will be playing through a randomly generated world, but with the choice to take on Taints which will aid you in your journey. While some of these Taints seem to borrow from Evagrius Ponticus’ early teachings on seven deadly sins (Greed, Pride, Lust, etc…), there are more subtle Taints which seem far less insidious. Such taints can have immediate benefits, but prove costly in the end. Promises of power at a price; the nature of sin on display – costing much more than the trespasser is willing to pay.
However, there are Taints serve as a more literal roleplaying system. For example, the Hypochondriac Taint gives you extra Synergy power, but wounds will decease it at a greater rate. This means that, as you are playing, you might need to think like a hypochondriac before using that filthy cloth to bandage your wounds. Speaking of stats like Synergy, let’s talk a little bit more about it and its associated stats.
In Soulblight, there are four stat types along with four categories which will impact your game. These stat types are Attack, Defense, Mobility, and Synergy. Both Attack and Defense have two numbers associated with them: one for at a ranged distance, the other for up close and grappling range. Mobility determines how much stamina an action will cost and Synergy determines your amount of damage and resistance.
The other categories which impact your gameplay are the previously mentioned Tainting system, any injuries you obtain, and any conditions you might develop, such as hunger – which will reduce your Synergy by a percentage. Soulblight opts for using these four categories rather than XP to determine how you will progress within the game.
You do not have to take Taints to progress your journey. It just might make it a bit more challenging. Either way, one thing is true: you are going to die… a lot. Once you take on four wounds, you will expire. When you die, you will lose all Taints and all of the equipment, inventory items, and money you found along the way – unless you places it in your very limited stash. You begin the game with two stash slots, but I never did find a way to expand it.
The place where Soulblight feel like it falls apart is in combat. Because everything is based on Mobility, every action feels very labored, not to mention punishing if you miss. While the grappling system gives the game a different twist on close combat, it felt far more effective to sneak up on enemies and assassinate them to avoid combat altogether.
I have an opinion on rogue-likes that Soulblight galvanizes it in my mind: Rogue-likes should give you a reason to keep playing. They should provide engaging gameplay with meaningful progression for your next run. Deaths in rogue-likes are expected and they are meant to be challenging, but they should not result in a zero-sum game. I never did find my reason to keep coming back with Soulblight, but I am also not one who finds enjoyment in the Souls-style games which this seems to be drawing some inspiration from.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by PR.
COMPARE TO: Torment: Tides of Numenera, Tangledeep