Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Having originally taken a look at Graven through a limited time demo in late 2020, this dark fantasy first person adventure has just seen its final Early Access update before full release next year. While I can only compare from the original limited time demo to what is now available, Graven overall seems to be in a good shape for its upcoming full release.
Having taken the life of a fellow priest, who was in fact a cultist that sacrificed the life of your adopted daughter, you were found guilty and sentenced to die. After what must have been some time, you fall to your knees in the burning sands and close your eyes for what should be the last time. Praying to find some peace as you do… you instead somehow find yourself in a small boat being ferried through a swamp wondering how you got here…
Arriving at a town that has seen better days, you disembark with nothing more than your staff. With the front gates locked to outsiders, you’re tasked with heading down into the sewers to clear it from the mountains of the town’s corpses that are blocking the waterways. You thought I was going to say rats didn’t you? Nope! Both the dead and the undead are your problem right out of… or right before the gate.
This introductory section serves a player really well to get into the swing of things. Armed at first with only your staff, you’ll soon have access to magic and it won’t be too long before you start picking up other weapons. One thing that worried me a bit in the original demo was how long some of these could remain useful as some felt quite underwhelming outside of puzzle solving. Thankfully that worry has been taken care of as you can upgrade both your weapons and your magic for the low cost of your soul.
Just kidding! Upgrading only costs some gold coins and while they don’t seem to accumulate fast at first, that’ll change rather quickly. While upgrades seem to start between 800-1000 gold pieces, picking up only 1-3 off the ground can make you wonder about the affordability of these upgrades. Thankfully (yes using this word again), it doesn’t take long for gold bags to drop in much higher quantities. This makes it fairly easy to accumulate the amounts that you need, providing that you don’t fall in combat as you’ll lose a substantial amount each time that you do.
This is where things can get a little bit tricky. While you may have some combat training to swing your staff around like a pro, you’re still only wearing cloth while going up against the undead and other manners of beasts. These enemies often pack a hell of a punch and you won’t last more than a couple hits at best. Graven is tough even on “Normal” but there are a few elements that will help you to survive these horrors.
The first of these are stackable healing potions that you can drink to restore a part of your health. The second are smaller healing potions that you can find while exploring that restore 5HP per vial. While this doesn’t sound like much, it does add up and enemies will often be dropping these. So if you’re a bit clumsy like me and keep getting hit by the basic enemies more than anyone else as they have a nasty leap, these will help you continue to keep your health topped up.
So between these and some extra armor that can be picked up, there’s enough support to keep you alive as you figure out your environment and your enemies’ patterns. If you are having trouble with this, there’s going to be plenty of opportunities to learn. On top of losing gold if you die, enemies will also “generally” respawn (more on that later) meaning you need to take them out all over again. This is one way to remake and even get more money providing you don’t simply die again to the same enemy or group of enemies. If you do, prepare to cry a bit as your gold pile decreases.
Another way to get around this would “generally” be to save and leave your game. While this will also respawn enemies, it will also respawn the small vials of health, ammo for your ranged weapons and runes to restore your magic gauges. Add in that you can get more gold to level up your gear? It’s one way to give yourself a leg up. Is it the best way however? That will really depend on you and your own gameplay style.
Because otherwise? While enemies do hit hard, the combat itself is rather smooth. You move around a 3D environment and then basically hit things up close with a stick or a sword. If that’s not what the situation calls for then you can either shoot at them from afar with a ranged weapon or your magic. What’s interesting about magic, other than a puzzle solving mechanism, is you have either fire or electricity and each have their own mana gauges. You don’t have to worry about one mana pool for both.
Finally, meshing in both the obvious and the less so, Graven’s environments so far seem well done. There’s some intrigue, there are secrets and then there’s danger lurking around most corners. Whether inside a structure or outside under the sky, with plenty of enemies that will maul you if you give them a chance, it’s tough, but it’s fun once you properly learn the ropes.
While generally all positive, I did hit a few bugs here and there that caused some frustrations but these are the types of things that you can expect while in Early Access. Certain traps not spawning back to their original space. So a crushing horizontal pillar that was actually a full character’s width away from the wall that it’s supposed to come out of meant you had to go behind it to get by. Enemies being invisible, or just not rendered on screen, but able to hit you. They show up once you land a blow, but if you don’t know it’s coming, that’s going to cost potions or money on a respawn.
The parts that seemed a bit more wonky however would be in the areas that I marked as “generally” above. The reason I want to highlight these specifically is because while these weren’t game breaking issues per say, as they didn’t stop Graven’s progression, they could cause some grumbling and could potentially affect a player’s experience. In some of the later currently available sections, the respawning of enemies and items didn’t exactly work right and started to make me think that my save data was corrupted.
As mentioned above, when you die, enemies will respawn into place and you have to tackle them again, but sometimes they didn’t. Running back to where you died, you could still see the bodies of the defeated before you yourself were defeated. While at first I didn’t complain about it thinking that maybe it was area specific, there were other issues that came along for the ride. Saving and quitting to menu, or saving and quitting to desktop, in either case, items alongside enemies were not respawning. Or, my personal nightmare, enemies would literally spawn out of midair as you’re walking through and if it didn’t cost me potions, it certainly cost me gold on another respawn.
The fix that I think I found for myself was to re-exit Graven from inside of town and then things seemed to have placed themselves. By that point though, you’ve already had to respawn all the way back in town more than once and then have to make your way all the way back and through all the respawned enemies. Thankfully though there are shortcuts, but as I said above though, Graven is still in Early Access and there’s plenty of time to fix these kinds of issues before full release. Because otherwise? The rest of the experience seemed to run rather smoothly.
Overall I’m very much looking forward to the full release of Slipgate Ironworks, 3D Realms and Fulqrum Publishing’s Graven to see where this dark fantasy adventure will lead.Score: N/A