I couldn’t even tell you when I originally played Hexen. Windows 95? Windows 98? I think the last that I played one was Hexen 64 to be honest. Regardless, it was so long ago and loading up Graven brought me all the way back to those days of what we considered high and amazing graphics. Like Hellbound by Saibot Studios that I reviewed earlier this year, Graven brings back that more pixelated first person shooter age but with a design for today’s technologies.
As part of the Video Game Awards, like Echo Generation earlier this week, Graven’s developers treated players to a limited time demo which ended back on Sunday. This demo spanned about the course of an hour and about three quests to start to get a feel for the gameplay mechanics. Honestly making me think of Might and Magic by 3DO back in the day, you’ve got your staff, crossbow, flail, dart gun and both fire and electricity magics to slay your way through hordes of zombies and mutant dogs?
If there’s one thing to be said about the gameplay it is that it is smooth. Running, sprinting, jumping, attacking with a staff or a flail where the timing is different or shooting something with your crossbow. It all happens when you want it to happen. If there is a negative to be said on the combat, it’s that enemies hit fairly hard and your health doesn’t last long. While it makes sense that you need to learn enemy movements, such as zombies will sprint forward so you need to learn to move sideways not backwards, it’s that you’re going to die a fair amount of times if you’re not careful.
Otherwise while taking out all these undead beings that are currently plaguing the village that you find yourself in, you’re going to have a little bit of creative problem solving. Starting off with the task of unclogging the sewage drains from piles of corpses that have piled up during a plague, you’ll also have to relight a lighthouse. To do either of these you’re going to need to find levers, throw switches, fight your way through hordes of enemies and then you’re going to have to make it back in one piece.
It works fairly well as you are slowly given new weapons and new ways to approach situations, but at the same time, I don’t know how long it can hold up in the long run. Unlike Hellbound which is designed as an homage to Doom where you just get more and more weapons as time goes by, Graven feels a little more RPG-like but without the RPG system. So over the course of an hour yes you got new weapons, yes you got some items such as a ring that would allow for more healing after the initial burst, but without picking up floating runes your magic was basically useless and it’s not like it looks like you can level up your mana pools.
On that subject I found that most situations were better approached physically than magically. The reason is a lot of your spells while they look powerful, they don’t do much damage. Setting enemies on fire looks cool but then they still shamble towards you or run full tilt if they were mutant dogs. Using electricity can arc between enemies and even set an entire body of water crackling, but enemies are still going to come at you. It looked cool, but it just didn’t have that oomph that I was looking for and because of this I honestly didn’t even use it as part of my combat solutions. Magic is really going to need a boost if it’s actually going to be useful once the full version drops.