Griefhelm is an award winning project from Johnny Dale Lonack that looks to offer players medieval combat with a bit more tact than you’d usually find in a fast paced side-scroller. Does it manage to rise to the challenge? Let’s take a look…
The games campaign sees you start out as a lowly soldier turned knight seeking their destiny in the search for, and to be ultimately worthy of, the legendary Griefhelm. Your journey is one of many choices, with branches in all directions that will leave you carefully picking the destination after each fight. This is mainly because the different pathways can offer equipment & abilities that differ from other paths alongside difficulty changes that can impact your campaign. In a way this make the game highly replayable too, as it could take more than a few playthroughs to see everything the campaign has to offer.
Luckily the whole thing can be played in co-op too, local 4 player is also an option, which can make the tougher missions easier – though you will need to keep an eye on your lives (can be replenished via some mission rewards) Outside of the campaign you also have access to local & online matchmaking against other foes, which is sure to attract its own audience given how the gameplay pans out.
Surprisingly the game is visually impressive, with plenty of atmospheric effects such as rolling fog, blazing fires etc alongside some impressive particle effects later in the game. The games style is also striking, with an almost monotone look to environments at times aside from certain aspects of the characters & scenery. As you’ll be spending most of your time duelling and not admiring scenery, it’s good to see these carry on the good work too. The clash of sword & steel are complimented by the bloody and visceral nature of the combat, with dismemberment a regular occurrence. The games use of ragdoll can lead to some amusing moments as bodies fly of or flail around uncontrollably, but it’s not a regular occurrence.
Performance was great with the game, there are some options that can be tweaked just in case, though my GPU (RX5700XT) seemed to be pushed a bit more than expected at max settings given the style. The only real downside is the game resolution, which isn’t selectable really aside from within the options and goes from Low – Max. On my 4K display the game ended up looking a little too noticeably pixelated when set to Max, with no smoothing option or anything similar within the options to try and mask it.
You may be forgiven for thinking this to be some kind of side scrolling medieval action adventure, but it’s much more tactical than that. Whilst you can just run and bash buttons, it won’t get you very far. This is mainly due to way combat is handled. When using a controller, the left stick acts as your ‘aim’, think of it as high/middle/low sword placement, which applies to your attacks and you will swing your weapon in that direction
Now it also applies to blocking. You’ll need your sword low to block a low attack for example, which means you’ll constantly be jostling & parrying for that opening to deal a killer blow. The whole system gets amplified once you head online and start duelling with other people as the rock/paper/scissor style to attacking and blocking can lead to some lengthy duels. Usually the winner will be decided by ones mastery of their weapon, with the different weapons all handing uniquely enough with their own pros & cons to add another tactical layer. Judging from the steam page, there is a roadmap for post launch content which looks to add more to the game in the form of equipment & modes, so it seems as though the game will continue to expand it’s surprising depth to combat.
Griefhelm surprised me in a few ways from it’s striking visuals to the tactical nature of its combat, and the robust multiplayer offerings that look to be expanded upon post release. There’s plenty here to separate it from others in the side-scrolling genre for fans that like those games & want something different, with those fond of medieval combat certainly getting their money’s worth. It’s even better with friends.
As tactical as a duel between medieval knights, or as simple as rock/paper/scissors with claymores & dismemberment. Either way it’s fun.