The Kingdom of Hermes has fallen into an age of calamity. In a world where the use of powerful alchemy was once widespread and welcomed, things have gone terribly wrong. The now blood-soaked streets are filled with plague-ridden monstrosities and it's up to you, Corvus, to take out the mutated trash.
OverBorder Studios' Thymesia is the latest in a long line of Soulslike experiences that attempts to capture FromSoftware's magic whilst adding a few of its own twists and gameplay wrinkles for good measure. As is de rigueur with the genre, we've got the same basic ground rules as usual at work here. Bonfires, now known as beacons, dot the landscape and provide a chance to rest and increase your stats whilst also regenerating all nearby enemies. Death sees you leave behind your collected memories, giving you one chance to return to collect them, and there's a central nexus, here known as Pilgrimage Hill, that you can return to when you want to wallow in the game's brooding atmosphere or have a disappointingly short chat with the one NPC who resides there.
Yes, if you've played any Soulslike over the past few years, you already know the general gist of how things play out in Thymesia, but this is a game that has managed to garner some extra attention in the run-up to its release because, well, it looks the business. There's a nice art-style at work here, Corvus is a fast and flashy protagonist, and at first glance the haunted forests and bloodstained streets that you claw and slash your way through give off a little bit of a Bloodborne vibe which, let's face it, is a vibe well worth giving off.
Further to this, the game's combat has got enough fresh ideas to warrant investigation. Corvus attacks foes with a combination of fast saber slashes and a slower, heavier claw attack. The general idea is that enemy health bars have got two elements that you need to work on destroying. Slash at them with your saber and you'll see the white bar turn green, indicating that you're inflicting wound damage. The white will regenerate and reclaim all of the exposed green area unless you then strike out with your claw, permanently removing the green portion and doing actual lasting damage on top of temporary wounds. Whittle the bar down to zero and your enemy will be opened up for a finishing move that's indicated by a glowing red spot robbed right out of Sekiro.
It's a system that encourages you to keep on the front foot, getting stuck into enemies with combos - there is no stamina to worry about here - in order to stop their wounds regenerating. On top of this, Thymesia introduces a neat plague weapons mechanic that sees you steal whatever weapon skill your current enemy is in possession of by charging up your claw attack and then unleashing it, sending Corvus driving forward to pluck the essence of their weapon from them for a one time use.
The plague weapons on offer give you plenty of options to play with, there's a total of 21 to collect, and they cover great big hammers, whips, swords, axes, scythes and more exotic blood-leeching fare, that afford you the opportunity to strategize somewhat as you blast through levels, collecting up memory shards to beef up your stats and skills with an eye on the boss that lurks at the end of every area. After a time you'll also unlock plague weapons permanently in your inventory, giving you the opportunity to set them to a second slot and affording Corvus a mix of permanent and one-time use plague weapons to play with. As you claw at foes you'll receive random drops of weapon-specific upgrade points which can then be used to strengthen the attack stats of your collection. Use your claw to attack a hammer-wielding foe and they'll drop hammer upgrades, sword foes drop sword upgrades and so on.
With regards to upgrading Corvus' core stats, you only need worry about pumping your memory shards into strength, vitality and plague attributes and each level that you gain rewards you with a talent point to use in the game's talent skill tree. It's here that you can freely unlock and then reset various skills at your convenience in order to build a Corvus that suits your playstyle best. You may want to pump all your points into your saber, for example, ensuring it gives you lots of energy back as you attack - energy is what you'll need to pull off plague weapon attacks after all - and there's also upgrades for your claw, dodge, deflection skills, feather darts, and more general stuff like buffs to your attacks when your health falls under a certain level.
The core combat system here really is pretty solid and unique stuff, at least on paper. However, you may have noticed us mention feather darts, dodges and deflections in that last paragraph, and this is where things begin to fall apart somewhat. Thymesia has got far too many systems in play for its own good, some of which feel utterly pointless and most of which feel like they need some refinement and adjustment with regards to how annoyingly tight their windows of opportunity are.
Take the game's feather darts as an example, these are used to stagger an enemy's charged attacks and delay wound regeneration, and are deployed with a quick press of the left trigger. After being introduced to this mechanic in the tutorial we completely forgot about it, it just feels unnecessary, does very little damage - at least until you level it up - and simply dodging out of the way of charged attacks and then moving in for some saber and claw strikes feels like much the better option.
This same issue extends to the game's deflection system. Time your block with the left shoulder button and you'll deflect an enemy's attack. Fair enough. But the rewards for doing this aren't worth how difficult it is to master the extremely tight and tricky timing - there's no opening up the enemy for a fancy riposte here - and so you're much better off simply dodging out of the way. However, even dodging has its issues, it feels unrefined, and for the most part we chose to hammer the dodge button rather than trying to get into a rhythm of perfect escapes.
It all results in combat that feels rather baggy on the defence side of things, never reaching a place where it makes the player feel like they're in total control, weaving in and out of enemy attacks and delivering ripostes when the opportunity arises. In short, on offense Thymesia feels fine for the most part, but outside of this it's a messy bag of mechanics that could, and should, have been streamlined. Take out the feathers and the deflection and just give us plague weapons, saber/claw attacks and a dodge and this may have felt much slicker overall.
Outside of combat and, well, you have to take Thymesia's indie nature and budget price point into consideration here. There are just three distinct areas in the game, with a small hub and a final small boss region to bulk things out a tad. Not too much in the way of variety all in all. You'll run through an area once and face off against its boss, then you'll be offered a series of sub-quests that see you return to a slightly different version of that same area to collect something or battle a secondary boss. This amounts to a lot of backtracking and repetition in both scenery and enemy types and it's an issue that's exacerbated early on by a first major boss we needed to grind for a good few hours in order to beat. Yes, Thymesia's first big challenge is a bit of a badly balanced nightmare and we ended up running through the very first area of the game countless times over in order to eventually best him through brute force. Not an ideal start.
What's more, once we finally defeated this first big bad, we found ourselves feeling entirely over-levelled for the rest of our adventure. Run-of-the-mill enemies who'd presented a challenge could now be brushed aside, we relied a lot less on plague weapons as simply slashing and clawing easily dispatched most foes, and the energy, immediacy and atmosphere of the game mostly disappeared as we blasted through the rest of the campaign with little trouble outside of boss battles.
In terms of these bosses, that very tricky first battle laid bare most of the issues we had with deflecting, dodging and firing off feathers, but then subsequent bosses felt almost too easy, with most of them falling on our second or third attempt. There are some highlights, a face-off against the ferociously fast Urd, and a rather unique God of the Fools battle that requires some platforming, but overall this is a game that feels as though it's lacking balance. It's also a game that fails to deliver on the lore front, there's very little going on story-wise, and level design is also pedestrian stuff involving lots of bland corridors and small areas that very often feel ill-suited to the battles at hand.
With a little more polish and refinement in terms of its combat mechanics, more surprises in level layout and more balance with regards to difficulty across the board, Thymesia could well have been a solid indie Soulslike surprise. The essentials are absolutely there, however it just feels too messy, too short and too imbalanced to earn a really solid recommendation this time around. If you're a huge fan of the Soulslike genre this one may still scratch that itch, but overall it's an experience that ended up frustrating us more than anything else.
Thymesia has all the ingredients necessary to make for a solid indie Soulslike experience, but it falls short due to messy implementation of mechanics, bland level design, weak lore and issues with difficulty balancing. There are some really neat ideas here, for sure, with the game's plague weapons providing lots of variety in how you go about dealing with your enemies, but unnecessary and awkward elements such as an overly tricky deflection system and dodge mechanics that need tightening up sully the overall combat experience. With a little more TLC this could have been a banger, but as things stand it's a fairly average effort that's hard to recommend if you're not a huge fan of the genre.
If its on Gamepass I'll play it.
Shame, I had high hopes for this. Oh well, just gives me more time on Cult of the lamb!
Solid 20 dollar romp probably. I’ll cop on sale
@Dusk_Actual Yeah, for the right price i think it's prob still worth a look if you're into the genre.
@Nightcrawler71 where are you enjoying cult of the lamb? Switch, xbox, steam deck? And how is it, from the management sim side, to the action-y bits.
@PhhhCough I bought it on Xbox Series X in the end. It’s has a great gameplay loop, from going on runs (or “crusades” as they are called here) to managing your cult. Lots of things to unlock. It wasn’t even on my radar a week ago, now it’s my go-to game!
Nope Hermes don't deliver any more
The moment you said Soulslike experience it became a pass for me.
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