Graven, the tried

Graven, the tried


A priest sentenced to death. A land plagued by disease and demonic creatures. Blood and violence in deliberately retro graphics for a FPS that pays homage to the past without losing itself. These are the main ingredients of Graven, a first-person shooter inspired by Hexen (in particular Hexen II) and developed by Slipgate Ironworks, recently working on Ghostrunner: a game that could not be more poles apart from the path of revenge and justice undertaken by cyber ninja Jack, in both graphics and atmospheres, but his potential helps him stand out in his own right, without clinging to those past glories from which he draws inspiration.

We let ourselves be enveloped for a few hours with the gloomy tones that the dark fantasy setting carries with it, redeeming a hopeless place with hard ways while we look for answers about our daughter. We must admit that, despite the very good premises and some very valid aspects, Graven is a game that still needs a lot of refinements: if it should have escaped your radar, however, our tried Graven is the right opportunity to get to know it better. .

Welcome to Cruxfirth

It wouldn't be a dark fantasy if there wasn't a bit of tragedy at the base of our adventure: in a very well made introductory video told through illustrations, Graven explains that the protagonist is a priest condemned to exile: his guilt is having killed another priest to save his daughter, chosen to be used as a sacrifice.

Sent, in essence, to die in a desert whose end is unknown, man yields to insolation, hunger and thirst. However, when he wakes up he finds himself aboard a boat cruising through a mysterious swamp. We cannot deny that the situation seems to recall the moment in which Charon ferries souls into the afterlife (the ferryman is not lacking, but he is rather talkative), so we could in fact be dead; for the moment the game revolves around this doubt - after all, how is it possible to have passed from the boundless desert to a landscape that, regardless of the misery that one breathes in it, could not be more the opposite?

Our companion leaves us at the dock of a small town, remaining enigmatic about the situation but leaving us a cane and a book of spells to take the only possible way: that of the hero who will try to destroy the evil nested in Cruxfirth, also looking for answers on what really happened to him.

A setting of Graven. If there is one aspect that strikes Graven it is the aesthetics. The town, if we can define it that way, where our journey begins is the most distressing we can think of: surrounded by swamps, it has fallen victim to an epidemic that has transformed most of the inhabitants into undead, forcing those who still resist a devastating survival. Everywhere you look, there are piles of bodies that testify to the gravity of the situation and from the few houses still occupied there are gloomy moans, while everything around Cruxfirth has fallen into disrepair, becoming the home of undead, monsters and of course other corpses to serve as furniture .

One glance is enough to understand that Graven embodies dark fantasy, offering a convincing macabre, unhealthy and desperate atmosphere; all accentuated by the deliberately retro graphics, enhanced by more modern lighting effects. The desperation that the game exudes, to the point of making it feel like a sticky and suffocating patina on you, is among its greatest strengths.

An FPS with a few additions here and there

Graven Graven is, as already mentioned, an FPS. It must be said that more emphasis is being placed on hand-to-hand combat right now, but don't worry, long-range weapons still play their part in the game's economy - it's just that sometimes it's more practical to shear off limbs and heads armed with sword, that's all. In spite of a few light RPG elements, such as inventory management, the diary that keeps track of missions and some rather rudimentary dialogue, its main genre is clearly the first person shooter. Very interesting is the fact that Cruxfirth is our main hub, from which to start and to return to in our comings and goings: in a hint of metroidvania, it is not uncommon to have to return to places previously visited to discover new areas or passages now accessible thanks to the powers acquired elsewhere.

Mission after mission, we will delve deeper and deeper into the horrors of this land, facilitating our path thanks to a very well structured level design which, through shortcuts and interconnected passages, makes it all a single large map. Furthermore, not having the objective indicator, but only the observations in the diary as a clue where to go and what to do, is another point in favor of the experience: a more genuine exploration emerges, with a map that is built at gradually and requires an effort of memory to remember where to go when it comes to retracing our steps in search of the next goal. Between atmospheres and level design we are at excellent levels, a pity that the gameplay does a little trip to these two elements, not presenting itself very bright for now. There is room for improvement.

Game design still immature


The biggest surprise was to discover that the game does not feature mechanics, or concepts, in able to intertwine with others: everyone works on their own and is presented in such a simplistic way that the involvement we talked about at the beginning of the article is mainly based on aesthetics and level design. We want to go on to learn more, discover a new secret or see for ourselves how far the misery of Cruxfirth and its surroundings goes, but in doing so we rarely feel in danger: after the very first few minutes to get carried away, enemies are very slow and obvious when it comes to undead, predictable in the case of some non-definable four-legged creatures (except when they jump covering an exaggeratedly ridiculous distance, as is their animation at that juncture), just barely annoying those flying spitting acid.

Even before finding or buying the sword, armed only with our trusty cane and a wrist crossbow, we made massacres without too much effort. Once grasped with solid iron, there was no monstrosity that was not torn to pieces without the slightest effort, even when it comes to dealing with skeletons warriors and another type of enemy difficult to frame, a sort of killer vampire with the passion for throwing weapons. No one has ever been a real challenge.

At this point, one wonders what magic can be for. Even if only for fun we would have used it willingly, regardless of its actual usefulness against uninvolving enemies, the problem is that the only one available for now is not offensive: while learning a fire spell, this is limited to being useful. to light some bonfires and occasionally use the explosive barrels to destroy the surroundings, collecting loot more easily. It has never happened that we could exploit it in battle, because we are not talking about a long-range magic but a simple flame that, in fact, either acts as a trigger or lights a source of light nearby. The synergistic use of spells and environment to defeat creatures with a pinch of ingenuity, as promised by the developers, is not at the moment and the magic is really reduced to the bone: we hope that the long period of Early Access brings the changes needed to make the fight feel more participatory, not a simple swipe without worrying too much about being killed.

Graven Speaking of dying, another aspect that weighs heavily on the gameplay is the rescue system: structured with checkpoints distributed with a certain generosity, it allows us to respawn on site, but leaves the situation exactly as it was at our death. Enemies killed, items collected and in general any progress made is maintained; in short, no penalty whatsoever is envisaged.

If this choice makes sense for the cooperative mode that Graven promises to have in the future, it is absolutely illogical as regards the single player: in doing so, not only the sense of challenge is missing, but also the very concept of risk / reward and, ultimately, a cautious and reasoned approach like the one we have maintained all the time is not valued. What is the use of healing or using the minimum of strategy to deal with enemies, if by dying we are not punished in any way?

So Graven loses his bite when, with an absolutely well thought-out graphic sector and level design, he slips where he should have intrigued the most: if even death is a formality, what is the meaning to wander in these cursed and, theoretically, dangerous lands?

At present, Graven is a game that does not seem to have clear what it wants to do: if the aesthetics and the level design promise, or at least give the idea of ​​a game involving atmospheres and complex in structure, the actual gameplay betrays these expectations. Its mechanics are both simplistic and ill-conceived, creating a bland and uninteresting experience: we are facing a wasted potential for now but the road is still long, there is all the margins for a game that is truly worthy of it in the end. be Hexen's spiritual sequel.


Atmosphere dark fantasy fits perfectly Well structured and functional level design DOUBTS Bland, simplistic and uninvolving gameplay The rescue system removes any sense of challenge Did you notice mistakes?

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