God of Blades: Not a Religious Experience

God of Blades is exactly the sort of game I would have died for when I was thirteen years old. At that time, The Return of the King was a hit movie and smacking things around with swords was top priority for any guy my age. It’s also around that time that God of War came out on PS2. It was a cool time to like swords.

In that sense, God of Blades feels a little bit nostalgic for me. I feel a little bit like I’m revisiting my youth. But the older part of me — the part that prefers Letterpress over hacking and slashing — really disagrees.

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How It Works

In God of Blades, your character is a resurrected king. The king runs perpetually forward, slashing down foes in his path with a small variety of attacks and an array of weaponry that boils down to half-decent timing and a lot of glitzy visual effects. I can’t stress how perfect this is for the thirteen-year-old mind — the younger me was in heaven (The older me was having a good time, too). The graphics are stellar, and the art direction simply knocks it right out the park. The screenshots don’t quite capture the beauty of the moving backgrounds. Really, it’s all too easy to get distracted by the backgrounds and die.

It's pretty, but it isn't complicated.

It’s pretty, but it isn’t complicated.

Beyond that, it’s nice to play a simple hack ‘n’ slash game. You know already if you’re into stuff like this. You really don’t come and play games like this because the gameplay is incredible. Let’s just get this out and say it: mechanically, this is a game that wants you to swipe your finger across the iPad screen as furiously as possible to survive. There are a couple combo attacks and a few different ways you can swing your sword (and a few different swords to try out, each with their own regenerating power), but the actual gameplay mechanics aren’t meant to be obsessed over.

White Whale Games know this. The company’s fans and supporters, who initially funded this game via Kickstarter, must also know it if they ponied up hard-earned cash for a game like this. White Whale Games chooses to focus on style over substance, which isn’t to say that the gameplay is boring, but it’s not the main attraction. I will say that, as with most sword-based iOS games (if you’re thinking of Infinity Blade, so am I), the touch-based mechanics allow for really intuitive swordplay.

Style

God of Blades has some serious pizzaz, though. The whole thing just looks spectacular. The animated story sections look even better than the gameplay, and the design of the swords is really cool, too. There was clearly a lot of geeky thought and time spent developing the fantasy appeal to the game. From an art design standpoint, I couldn’t help but feel reminded of Lord of the Rings and some of the science fiction novels I read when I was younger. And the king looks like somebody out of Elder Scrolls.

Drop-dead gorgeous.

Drop-dead gorgeous.

The story is a little bizarre, though. The Campaign started to feel too weird to me after a while as well. I’m fine with weird storytelling, but this felt really forced, and I ended up not finishing the Campaign and trying out the arcade modes instead. I understand the decision to write a pulpy story, and I think that’s great when it’s done well, but this was something I would have written when I was thirteen and dreamt about publishing. The bad guys are called the Cult, and they’re just bad. And so are the even more evil other bad guys who are their leaders. They come up too, sometimes. You need to kill them all. That’s really all I got from the story, but it was expressed in the most bizarre way imaginable.

Even the short cutscenes told the story in a weird way. Text flies across the screen (from right to left, which feels really bizarre — kind of like manga) like it’s on a mission of its own. The art was great to look at, but I stopped reading after a while and started daydreaming or just paid way more attention to the visuals. Thankfully, the story isn’t the only thing there is to play through.

Multiple Modes

Beyond the Campaign, there are two other arcade-style modes called Revenant and Eternal. Eternal is the pure arcade experience. You will play through an endless wave of enemies until you die, gaining points for each successful defence and attack you make. As you gain them, kind of like they would in the Tony Hawk games of old, you’ll see the points and multipliers accumulate in the centre of the screen. I thought it was a really nice touch that made it feel very much like an arcade, but if you’re easily annoyed by that sort of thing, you can turn that off in the Settings Menu. I thought it was great. For me, I could instantly see this as the most addicting mode of play.

The menu even feels a little too cluttered to me.

The menu even feels a little too cluttered to me.

But Revenant sort of eliminates the need for Eternal. The Revenant mode allows you to create a character and take them through a similar endless waves mode. When the mode is over, the points turn into experience and your character’s level will slowly increase. When I say slowly, I mean very slowly; Revenant Mode is as frustrating as it is alluring as a result.

Getting Nit-picky

The excessive modes highlights the problem with God of Blades: there is simply too much here. If Revenant mode had a faster (and frankly, more understandable) levelling system with a little bit more information and accessibility, the Eternal mode could be removed and the entire experience could be streamlined and better. That’s the sort of thing that separates an average app from a great one.

The Revenant mode: accumulate points, level up (very slowly) and get involved in a sort-of multiplayer mode.

The Revenant mode: accumulate points, level up (very slowly) and get involved in a sort-of multiplayer mode.

The same thing applies with the story and the cutscenes. Take away all the pulpy word choices and the bizarre story and just give me something classic. Make me an undead warrior fighting in the War for the Ring. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I know that this story is a little too bizarre for its own good. Streamline it, make chapter breaks less frequent, and make bosses more intimidating. Three easy fixes for a great Campaign mode.

How I look in pyjamas.

How I look in pyjamas.

Finally, let’s talk really briefly about the Back button. If I’m in a menu and I hit the Back button to go back to the main screen, I shouldn’t have to sit through the opening title of the game for the hundredth time. I shouldn’t have to wait to choose my character in Revenant mode whenever I hit the Replay button either, it should just restart the round.

Wrapping It Up

I don’t want to give off the wrong impression: I enjoyed playing God of Blades. I think that there’s something tremendously gratifying about swiping the screen like a maniac to attack bad guys, and I’m sure that a thirteen-year-old version of myself would have loved this. I’m sure your thirteen-year-old son will love this too. But for me, I’m too old and cynical to forgive the game’s quirks. I really want to love God of Blades. It’s frustrating, because there’s a great game buried in here somewhere. But at the end of the day, the game isn’t anything close to its namesake — not yet.


Summary

God of Blades is conceptually fun, beautiful to look at, and mechanically well-executed, but it misses the little things that separate good games from great ones.

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