With all the talk of the PlayStation 4 opening up support for Indie developers, it is easy for us to forget that there are quite a few Indie Games on the PlayStation Store already. One such game is Strength of the Sword 3, developed by Ivent.
Strength of the Sword 3 is an arena based hack and slash game, but one that focuses on a more thought out approach to swinging a sword. The game tells the tale of a mechanical Knight, who must use his Sword and Shield, along with a fair helping of magic and other weapons, to push back the forces of darkness. There isn’t much in the way of a story line, just something that gets players from fight A to fight B. But what is there is told in little animated videos, which have great style.
“Now, what happened to Strength of the Sword 1 and 2?” I hear you cry. Well, they don’t exist, it’s just a little ploy set up by the developers, who said that they’re not interested in making a franchise, so they just decided to go right ahead and make the final chapter of a game trilogy. It all seems a bit odd; especially when the ‘third’ game in the trilogy does little to try to explain what happened in the fictional first two installments. Still, I guess it’s something different.
Craziness aside, SOTS3 has a lot going for it. First and foremost is the combat system. As with most combat games, players will find all of the standard attack buttons on the face of the controller. Characters have two main attacks – slash and stab, along with the ability to jump and dodge. Players can also use L2 to activate a rush move; which depending on what other button is pressed with it, can help with both attacking and evading. On its own, this wouldn’t stand out from any other type of arena combat game, but when combining moves and rushes, players can unleash some pretty devastating attacks.
The game does a great job of informing the player of their combo moves, by displaying them on the side of the screen. It encourages everyone to try them out on opponents and then rewards players for completing them. However, if players think they can just fire combo after combo until the opponent falls down, think again. Each combo move takes up some energy. No energy means no combo moves. Characters can recharge energy during the fight, but by doing so leaves them open to heavy attacks.
But this game isn’t all attack, attack, attack. In fact, if players go into each fight swinging their sword around like some kind of numpty, then they aren’t going to last long. The enemies here are cool and calculating and will easily block attacks, even from the early levels. Players must watch their movements, wait for them to make their move and then block, parry and attack. Each type of enemy has their own style of fighting and it is all about learning their patterns, especially the boss fights. It took me well over twenty attempts to beat the first level’s boss and I did become quite frustrated. It’s all about patience, defending and finding the right moment to attack.
This kind of game play lifts SOTS3 above many other Hack ‘n’ Slash games and gives it more depth. Obviously, the problem can sometimes be impacted by the fact that when I got frustrated at a game, I tended to become more aggressive in my approach. In this game, that attitude will easily get players killed over and over.
Each level is made up of several fights, ending with a serious boss battle. To start off, players will only have one enemy to fight within a match, but the game soon ramps up the difficulty by having players battle multiple foes at the same time. Often these are different types of enemies as well; meaning that I had to change up my fighting style mid-battle. To help players overcome the odds, they are given magic and items for aid. These range from throwing knives to grenades, and even health packs.
As players defeat more enemies, these items level up, making them more powerful and increasing the character’s inventory. These items are crucial if players want to succeed in the later matches, and can often turn the tide of battle just when needed most. The great thing is that the leveling up of the items is persistent, so even if players lose and have to restart a level, their items remain leveled up; giving an extra edge when going back to retry.
Players will also unlock new Swords and Shields as they progress through the game. Each of them has their pros and cons; some may do extra damage, at the expense of speed. While others allow a faster recharge in energy, but do less damage. It is a balanced trade-off system that will require players to pick their weapon based on what foes lay ahead.
Each level is set in a different area, as players make their way to the source of all the evil. Although the arenas are good in terms of their size, moving to the edge of an arena will sometimes cause the camera to go a little haywire. This means that if I was in the heat of battle, it was difficult to get my bearings and to see what I was actually doing. More importantly, what my opponent was doing. I ended up trying to keep to the middle of the arena, which then became a problem when I needed to evade my enemies, recharge my energy or needed to take a few seconds to compose myself. Although this isn’t a game-breaking issue, it did cause my untimely death a few times, which was rather annoying.
Another thing that the game gets right is the design. Ivent has created a game that has a semi-comic book feel to it, with great character models. The Mechanical Knight looks quirky, while the goblins and monsters look comical but terrifying at the same time. The game moves at a fast pace, with very few issues. However, it did get annoying when I got low on health, as the action went into slow motion when I took a massive blow. It felt out of place against the rest of the action.
The game is lacking a multiplayer mode, which may not be the end of the world, but the inclusion of it would have giving it a little more bulk. Not that it is lacking in that area, as the game also has a Challenge Pit mode. This mode is a time-based game, which sees players fighting waves of enemies until they either die, or the timer runs out. What’s great about this mode is that players can still level up their items while playing, and then take the improved arsenal over to the main campaign. SOTS3 also includes an Online Ranking system, which lets players compare their skills with the rest of the world.
Strength of the Sword 3 is one of the better combat arena games that have been released recently. By concentrating on skill over button mashing, you have a game that requires more attention than most. It may have a few issues, but seeing as it was made by just two guys trying to make it in the game development world. The game may be frustratingly difficult sometimes, but deep down you know that by taking a breather and slowing down a little, you can overcome what lies ahead.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.