It’s been a tough time to make a Souls-like action RPG these days. The market is stuffed to the brim with them, and standing out from the pack gets tougher and tougher every year. After six hours with Thymesia, the dark fantasy hack-and-slasher by OverBorder Studio, I’m not quite sure it will be the one to make waves. There are a handful of differences, both aesthetically and mechanically, that make it more than just a carbon copy of genre staples like Bloodborne, but they require patience and a lot of trial and error to truly discover in earnest.
As an agent codenamed “Corvus” you slice, claw, and stab your way through your own scattered memories of a kingdom that has fallen to calamity due to an alchemical plague. The location I explored, the plague infested Sea of Trees, was interesting if not a little familiar. The forest covered in boils and noxious gas made a striking first impression, but the winding tree paths rarely revealed anything new outside of its initial introduction. The vibes are spooky for sure, but “haunted swampy forest” is a pretty familiar trope nowadays.
Combat in Thymesia heavily favors aggression. Corvus is fleet of foot and quick with his blades, opting to overwhelm enemies with a storm of saber strikes and dodge out of range just before the enemy can strike back. There’s no stamina here, so attacking and dodging are limited by combo strings and animations. This can sometimes feel too limiting, because once you’ve started an action, you’re committed to it until it’s over. This is doubly the case for the deflect, your default defensive measure. In combination with its tiny effective window and its awkward wind up, parrying is a skill that takes an outsized amount of practice to develop. It was time that felt poorly spent, since successful parries don’t do anything except prevent damage done to you and return a small amount of it back to the attacker, unlike in genre contemporaries where a good parry opens enemies up for counter attacks. I was almost always better off just avoiding attacks altogether, because the risk of missing a parry is far greater than the reward of landing it successfully.
Enemy health comes in two forms. Doing damage reduces the white bar and reveals a green bar under it. So long as there is some green left, the white will regenerate. Both your light saber attacks and heavy claw attacks damage both bars, but the former is better for white damage, and the latter better for green. The key to cleaning enemies up efficiently then is weaving these two types of attacks together to whittle them down as you dodge their counter assaults. It’s fun to a point, but the whole system seems unnecessarily convoluted, especially since light and heavy attacks don’t naturally chain together the way other frenetic action games like Bayonetta’s or Devil May Cry’s do.
Many of the most interesting combat actions are unlocked in the trait tree with points earned by leveling up at beacons. This is where you can really define a playstyle for your Corvus, turning his claw attack into a multi-hit combo or adding a teleporting follow-up attack to his long-ranged feather darts. There are alot of options to consider, and luckily you can reallocate spent points at any beacon, which gives you the freedom to try new things. Some talents, like widening the parry window or exchanging your deflect with a block, feel like options that could be added to Corvus’s default kit and make the early game a way more forgiving experience without compromising the challenge that the chaotic combat can create.
My favorite feature in Thymesia are the plague weapons. Collecting plague weapon shards from enemies allows you to unlock and equip a plague weapon associated with them. These weapons allow you to unleash powerful attacks at the expense of plague energy to poke holes in enemies with a spectral halberd or control the area around you with the wide-sweeping scythe. You can use shards to upgrade weapons after unlocking them as well, which start as just straight stat buffs but can eventually add new functionality to the attack all together. You can reave one-time use versions of these plague weapons with your claw attacks, which I found very useful against tougher elites or bosses that had plague weapon abilities that I found very handy.
It took some time, but after sticking with it I found Thymesia to be enjoyable in its current rough form. Combat is fast and furious, but unforgiving in the early going. Learning its peculiar timing and rhythm can be a grind, but once you level up enough to engage with its deep upgrade system and powerful plague weapons, there’s a unique action experience to be had, even if it is over a backdrop of a mostly unremarkable setting.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey