Reviews

Blood Knights – Review

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Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Reviewed On; Xbox 360
Developer: Deck13
Publisher: Kalypso
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: 2-player local co-op

After about 4-hours of playing the single best thing I can say about Blood Knights is that at least it’s over relatively quickly. From start to finish this is a perfectly executed example of how to do everything completely wrong when developing a hack and slash RPG, creating something that is not fun but rather bland and devoid of anything that could be called entertainment other than its own hokey stupidity. It’s not a bad game, per say, it’s just a boring one, and in so many ways that’s worse.

You play as the cunningly named Jeremy, a renowned vampire hunter who is trailing behind a priest in order to stop an army of blood suckers who have stolen the Blood Seal, a magical artifact which the theft of somehow shattered the moon. Because that’s just too simple Jeremy has also been “bonded” to a female vampire for reasons that are never really explained. In fact, nothing is ever explained in Blood Knights to a satisfactory degree. What’s the Blood Seal? No idea. Who made it? Er. How and why did it shatter the moon, when its job is apparently just to stop demons from invading Earth? Not a clue. How does this bonding thing work? Pass. Who is that guy and why was he never mentioned before? I dunno.  Just how the hell did that person survive that fall? Because. And if that wasn’t quite enough it isn’t long into the game before Jeremy himself is transformed into a creature of the night, turning his former allies against him. Lovely.

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Thus begins the long list of Blood Knights many problems, the first of which is the truly awful writing which manifests itself as a horrible, nonsensical storyline with numerous plot holes and dialogue that is so terrible it may just cause your ears to bleed. The characters are bland and lifeless entities devoid of the ability to blink for some reason, the relationship between Jeremy and his vampire chum is never explored past a few lines of banter,  nobody seems to do anything for a good reason, all the interesting stuff happens off-screen, information is poorly conveyed to the player and listening to people converse is horrendous. There’s one  line of dialogue within Blood Knights that cannot be described as anything more than clumsy, poorly written and painful, every line spoken flowing with all the natural grace of a cat on a pogostick attempting to navigate a minefield. Characters often repeat themselves, a problem which becomes worse when any sort of exposition is involved, and will even ask questions that were just answered, prompting yet another explanation of something you’ve already been told about three times in the past minute. One example of the game’s brilliant lines is, “I suggest we don’t talk anymore. What’s your name anyway?” Really? Perhaps most of the story and dialogue problems come down to translation problems as this game was made in Germany, yet if an indie developer like Daedalic can manage to translate their game while retaining its sense of humour then I see no excuse for Deck13’s work.

As for the voice acting there’s not a single performance in the game that manages to rank above dismal, therefore, along with the dialogue, managing to propel conversations past the mere realms of bad into some hitherto unknown dimension of such horribleness that even the Borg would be taken aback. There is some magical point where such things are so bad that they’re sort of funny, but Blood Knights doesn’t manage to pull that off, either, simply being bad. I will, though, give credit where credit is due and say that there were a few genuinely funny moments within the game that were actually meant to be funny.

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The bond between Jeremy and Alysa should be the driving force behind the game’s narrative, providing some enjoyable character conflict and emotion, but considering she’s bound against her will Alysa remains both strangely quiet for most of the game and completely happy to just go along with everything. And thanks to the inclusion of incredibly generic armor which exposes as much of her flesh as possible coupled with the lack of personality she never amounts to more than a pair of breasts running about the place. Meanwhile Jeremy hovers between being likable and being an arrogant douche, the writers seeming unable to settle on exactly what he’s supposed to be like. Later Jeremy and Alysa’s relationship starts come together a little more as they begin to banter and converse a bit, but it’s still just nowhere enough to make it all work, and strangely they act like they’ve actually known each other for years. Which they haven’t. Seriously, who wrote this?

The plot is just full of holes and glaring problems, covering up the few glimpses of something that should have been enjoyable. There are hints of what could have been a fascinating world and lore lurking in the background, none of which is ever given a chance to shine through. On occasion you’re allowed to make decisions which  suggest Jeremy is actually enjoying his newfound life, and others which actively help vampires, and yet these decisions go against everything else the game is telling you about the character. There are vampires with nefarious plans that you must stop because you’re human a human at hear, except you’re not and earlier you made a decision which seemed to indicate you were accepting your vampirism with open arms. There was a great opportunity here to allow players to either attempt to remain human and deny their blood-drinking ways, or embrace their darker, newfound nature while still retaining some humanity, but the way it’s portrayed just makes the game feel completely at odds with itself most of the time.

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And then there’s the end. This is a game filled with plot elements that simply don’t add up, but the final 30-minutes are without a doubt the worst of the game, attempting a plot twist that simply makes absolutely no sense. None. Zero.

With two characters in place Blood Knights is designed as a co-operative game where you and a friend take control of the sword-swinging Jeremy and crossbow-loving Alysa, except somewhere along the line the developers failed to understand what actually makes a co-op game good, and also forgot to add in online play. Having co-op limited to local play only is a massive missed opportunity because with a second player involved the game actually manages to become sort of enjoyable, but do not let that sentence fool you – Blood Knights isn’t fun in co-op because of the game itself, but rather because of having your friend along for the ride. Other than having two-players combating the on-screen enemies and healing each other there’s not much actual co-operation going on. Between this and the lack of online play Blood Knights squanders its own potential.

When playing solo you can swap between Jeremy and Alysa at will by tapping Y, but rather than having the AI take control of your partner they’ll simply disappear, leaving you on your lonesome. I’m going to assume that the developers simply didn’t want to attempt to craft an AI to control whichever character you were not using, and considering the lackluster enemy intelligence that’s probably actually for the best.

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As vampires you both have the ability to suck a foes blood in order to regain some health, done by holding down the correct trigger which hoists your victim into the air in the strangest way of drinking blood I’ve seen, more closely resembling the capturing of someones very life energy. Grabbing an enemy in this manner slows down time, but still leaves you vulnerable to attack, so it’s naturally important to learn when is best to work this into combat. Depending on whether you’re playing as Jeremy or Alysa you can also drag the enemy closer or shove them away respectively. By all accounts this and the fact that water is deadly to you (really?) are the only indications that you’ve actually transformed into a vampire, as you exhibit no other abilities that human you did not already have. Being able to consume the life force of those attempting to kick your ass is great, but its let down by an inability to actually target foes, instead the game picks the enemy for you, and therefore numerous times I found it grabbing the baddie way over there over the one right in front of me. Thanks, game.

If there is not an enemy nearby there’s usually a convenient soldier  impaled on a spike from which you can consume some blood. Exactly why there is some many people impaled on spikes remains a mystery, but in my head I concocted some story in which angry harpies plucked soldiers from battlefields and dropped them on sharp poles that they placed threr earlier for amusement. Look, if the game is never going to explain things then I’m just going to make crap up.

Save points give you the chance to teleport yourself back to the city of Godskeep, which sounds great on paper until you realise that it has a population of four, or five if you count the vampire that resides there very briefly. It’s an empty place that, for some obscure reason, contains exactly one side-quest that I could find, which only involves you lighting four torches around the city, a mission complicated by absolutely nothing else – you just go to four places, shoot a fire arrow at each and collect the XP reward. Other than saying about two lines to each of the NPCs within the city your primary reason for heading back to town, even when it makes no sense within the plot to do so, is to visit the local trader where you can buy and sell gear. However, I only felt a need to visit him a few times out of general curiosity because the game sends you a constant stream of ever-so-slightly-better stuff that is equal to or better than what the trader tends to have in your price range, while everything else he owns that is actually useful is usually well out of your price bracket.

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Yes, the loot is frankly boring. The armor, swords and rings that you acquire are devoid of any interesting abilities, usually just providing a very small stat bonus that you’ll likely never notice. Every chest you come across has an item that is always marginally better than what you’ve currently got equipped, so there’s no weighing up your options to determine whether one sword with this buff is better than the other. A good loot system provides gear that requires the player to weigh up the pros and cons based on their style of play, but in Blood Knights there’s no real pros or cons to any of the items, so you just equip the better piece of armor and move on. I also discovered that you get the exact same loot in each chest on any playthrough.

As an RPG you are presented with a levelling up mechanic that allows you to invest points in upgrades every time you earn enough XP. The downside is that none of the upgrades really warrant talking about as they’re generic things like increasing the chances of a critical hit or bumping up the fire rate of Alysa’s crossbow, none of which actually feel like they impact the game. I never felt more powerful, and there’s no extra unlockable moves to help make combat more entertaining. The extra abilities that can be unlocked are also pretty boring, such as giving you a trading discount or a basic shield.

More importantly levelling up just feels…pointless. This is a linear game where you must defeat every monster to progress, so the amount of XP is completely pre-determined, just like the loot seems to be. That leaves it up to the upgrades themselves to at least give you room to personalise Jeremy and Alysa to your style, which you can’t.  Between the loot and the levelling system there’s really no room for customisation with Blood Knights.

Graphically the game is pretty terrible, to be honest, although the PC version is far prettier, from what I hear. The levels are well enough designed, but there’s a lack of detail to everything and a lot of rough lines and edges. Facial animations leave much to be desired, and there’s some truly bad characters models on such, some even boasting some strange proportions such as absurdly large shoulders.

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In its combat Blood Knights manages to at least redeem itself partially, delivering almost okay hack and slash gameplay, albeit it with some hefty flaws holding it back. As a vampire hunter Jeremy wields dual swords, and by hammering away on X you can link together strikes, which is where the game scores a positive point: Jeremy’s attacks are incredibly fast and feel quite savage, giving going on the offensive a nice feel. Other than a standard attack Jeremy also has a heavy-hitting strike which you’ll likely ending up spamming due to its effectiveness and a whirlwind move that helps you deal with crowds, which is good as Blood Knights doesn’t have any form of block or parry system in place, something you may find yourself cursing a lot as enemies like to crowd you and your health decreases fairly quickly. Jeremy also has access to a dodge move that the game never actually tells you about. I only discovered it quite by accident when I forgot that Blood Knights uses pre-determined camera angles and attempt to adjust my view using the right stick, which resulted in Jeremy hurling himself into deadly water. Thanks, game.

As it turns out, though, Blood Knight has a good reason not to inform you of Jeremy’s dash maneuver: it’s useless. Outside of combat simply shifting the right stick in any direction will send Jeremy hurtling away, but during a fight, where one would expect to dodge the most, it becomes somewhat pointless as it does not cancel your current attack animation, leaving you to flick wildly at the stick as you watch an enemy’s sword swing at your face. Listen, developers: a dodge move needs to be able to cancel you out of any current attack and get you away from harm, especially in games where enemies crowd you, like this one thus making it hard to see any attacks coming toward you until the very last second. If the dodge move can’t do this, what’s the point in having it?

So, fighting as Jeremy could most aptly be described as a shallow and utterly unrewarding experience, which is a problem given that the vast majority of your time playing Blood Knights is spent fighting stuff. It’s button mashing, really, and yet somehow even that is done poorly. Because enemies can damage you even when you’re hitting them, tend attack in hordes and whittle down your health bar down quickly you can never fully wade into the battle like the game seems to want you to, and yet holding back doesn’t work, either. In the end it’s best just to spam the hell out of the heavy strike, and then while waiting for it to cooldown use the spin attack to gain a bit of space so you can suck up some blood. The game’s attempt at adding some variety through enemy types also falls flat on its face as the only one that really changes anything is the shield-wielding foe whose defense must be crushed using a heavy attack, which you’ll probably be using all the time anyway.

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As for Alysa she relies on her twin crossbows, with the right stick used to aim attacks. The right bumper launches a steady stream of crossbow bolts, while the left bumper unleashed a fire arrow and the right trigger chucks a grenade. As it turns out when the aiming system graciously decides to co-operate Alysa is a far more effective killing machine as you can simply strafe enemies and the AI don’t seem to have an answer to it, a tactic that proved most effective on the majority of the game’s bosses, especially if you invest a few points in increasing movement speed. Using Alysa I discovered several stupid design decisions: firstly enemies will only chase you a short distance before forgetting you exist and returning to their starting position. Second, numerous times I found that I could shoot enemies from afar, and the only one that would react was the one I had shot, so as he ran toward me full of blood-lust I could simply mow him down and repeat the tactic with the next foe. Finally, Blood Knights is fond of placing you on a cliff overlooking a group of enemies, but this means you can simply shoot them all before descending. Now, in all fairness these are exploits that you can simply choose never to use, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they even exist. They simply serve to prove that this is a poorly designed title from start to finish.

Like Jeremy fighting as Alysa is just dull. Combat is not truly bad, and is of better quality than the rest of the game, hence my claim that combat manages to redeem the game partially, but saying it’s better than everything else in Blood Knights is like saying sand tastes a bit better than mud.

When you’re not waving swords in people’s faces the game likes to subject you ropey platforming sections which are completely undermined, as is the combat, by the game’s idiotic camera which doesn’t so much track the action as it does forget about. There were far too many occasions where I had to spend  up to a minute trying to get the camera to look at a distant enemy who was pelting me with arrows so that I could fire back. Sometimes it was even an enemy close by on a low cliff, yet the camera stubbornly refused to assume a decent viewing angle. The platforming is lifeless, and when coupled with the irritating camera and inclusion of insta-death drops and water makes for some really poor sections. Leaping around is passable. That’s it.

A whole host of other irritating problems reside within Blood Knights, all ready to make playing the game feel even worse. Arrows will hit invisible walls constantly, your character will get snagged on scenery and the game stutters often, which is completely unacceptable in a title which is neither pretty nor pushing the boundaries of what consoles can do. There are plenty of other plot problems which I have neither the time nor energy to describe, and the entire ending makes no god damn sense. I know I’ve said that already, but it needs to be repeated.

Blood Knights stands without anything with which I could recommend purchasing it. As a singleplayer game it features a stupid plot that’s full of holes and awkward dialogue, all backed up by dull combat and basic RPG features that will leave you yearning for the many, many, many better games out there.. As a co-op game it’s more enjoyable, but remains a drab game Simply said on every fundamental level Blood Knights just isn’t fun.. Your money and your time is far better used elsewhere.

The Good:
+ Combat is fast.
+ Has a few genuinely amusing moments.
+ Can sometimes enter the land of So Bad Its Funny

The Bad:
– The story.
– The dialogue.
– The gameplay is boring.
– Voice acting.

The Verdict: 1.5/5 – Bad, bordering on being okay.
Blood Knights simply has nothing that would make me want to recommend it to you. It’s a boring, poorly put together title, yet I can’t quite give it a 1. I don’t hate Blood Knights, I just don’t care that it exists.

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