Our early impressions of this rock hard Soulslike
Where FromSoftware’s offerings weave a mysterious tale, wonderful level design, and meaningful combat into a tight package, Thymesia – like so many other Soulslikes – knows it must excel at one thing to compensate for the others. I’ve spent some time with the game’s early levels and it perfectly captures what I’d consider to be a ‘classical’ Soulslike: a game that’s heavily focused on The Combat Bit above all else.
Does the game’s combat rule? Yes, without a doubt. But will I continue playing? I’m not so sure. From what I’ve sampled, one strong pillar might not be enough to hold my attention for much longer.
In Thymesia, you play as Corvus, an assassin dude dressed as a plague doctor who’s suffering from memory loss, most likely caused by an actual plague that’s swept across the world. To figure out how the heck the land’s become such a disease-ridden hellscape, you must plumb the depths of your memories. For reasons I’ve not ascertained just yet, you’re aided by a spirit child who helps you rediscover those worst of times.
The game follows the Soulslike formula to a tee. Ghostly chairs stand in for bonfires, Memory Shards are your Souls, locked doors signify nearby shortcuts, and you’ll find notes on the ground for touches of lore. If you’ve played any Souls game or Soulslike over the years, you’ll be immediately familiar with how everything is structured. Except that the levels I’ve sampled haven’t been all that memorable, opting for samey architecture and simplistic layouts that rarely – if ever- elicit a “woah” or a “huh, that’s smart” reaction. I’ve explored a yellowy brown circus town and a generic fortress with a bloody hue, and both have left me wanting.
So far, Thymesia lacks any of these tricks, instead opting for what I’ll dub the “Ten Pin Bowling Approach”: knock down all the enemy pins on your way, strike the boss down, and you’re golden.
In many ways, the game’s enemy placement and level design I’ve encountered seem a bit old-fashioned. Having played the likes of Elden Ring, Bloodborne, and Nioh 2 just to name a few, they’re all adept at forming unique challenges at every turn. Twisting staircases might have assassins that’ll drop behind you as you climb upwards, with a big ogre waiting to greet you at the top. But more so, they’re good at breaking up the rhythm of combat, transforming moments of respite into stressful obstacle courses and little puzzles. So far, Thymesia lacks any of these tricks, instead opting for what I’ll dub the “Ten Pin Bowling Approach”: knock down all the enemy pins on your way, strike the boss down, and you’re golden.
And I understand why the game’s obssessed with getting you to fight, because the combat is excellent. It’s more akin to Bloodborne than it is Dark Souls, yet I’d say it has its own unique rhythm thanks to the special health bars it’s rocking. Basically, you can’t knock an enemy’s health bar down to zero with only swipes of your saber, as it’s designed to open wounds, not finish enemies off. Instead, you must wound them, then use your special claw to secure that damage as a permanent sting to the health bar; a bit like hitting lots of one-two combos, until they finally go down. Since fights are fast, frenetic affairs, there’s also a genuine buzz in balancing your saber slashes with well-timed claw smacks.
Do bear in mind that the game’s tricky, though. I spent a good couple of hours trying to best the first boss (a circus conductor man), as he hits like a train and demands extremely precise dodges. Thankfully there are plentiful ways to customise Corvus, from no strings talent trees that’ll let you dodge in quick succession and improve your combo-making, to tweaking your parries and special moves.
Did I also mention that you’re able to deflect with your saber, as well as throw a spectral feather as enemies glint green for a brief second? But, you can swap these feathers out for a close-quarters swipe of your cloak if you’d prefer? And as for those “special moves”, there are Plague Weapons like hammers and axes and cool shadow forms that let you do a big swing, slam or mega-dodge to turn the tides of battle in a pinch. You really do feel like you can tweak things to match both how you’d like to play, but also the kind of challenge you’re facing too.
Combat is a massive buzz in Thymesia, which is why it’s a shame that it’s wrapped up in an otherwise okay package. Perhaps this’ll change as I plow on, but whether I’m motivated to continue or not is another thing altogether. I mean, I’ve got Elden Ring which combines decent enough scraps with a gorgeous world, heck, Nioh 2 offers deeper – borderline overwhelming – combat, combined with a sweet Sengoku period setting. I’m just unsure whether Thymesia’s scraps alone have enough punch to make itself stand out in my already swollen Souls catalogue.