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Blood Knights (PC) artwork

Blood Knights (PC) review

"A good example of how bad sound design can really hurt a game."

Blood Knights is okay. At times, it works well, but mostly it just feels like a good attempt at quality entertainment that could have resulted in something a lot better.

I was intrigued by the design choices Blood Knight offered. It is a top-down hack-n-slash that feels like a dungeon crawler, but without the random loot. You play as two characters that are inextricably linked: the vampire hunter (Jeremy) and the sex bomb vampire lady (Alysa). You can switch between the two at any point with the click of a button (a la Trine), and they each possess different skill sets, equipment, etc.

Blood Knights asset

Jeremy is your standard hack-n-slash brute, soaking up damage while he tears through enemies with twin swords. Alysa, on the other hand, is designed for ranged combat. She fires twin crossbows and pushes enemies away with…vampire magic? I couldn’t tell you much about the lore or powers of these vampires, because the game barely explains anything about them as you play.

This came as a shock to me, because that’s all the game really does: explain what’s happening. You hear about everything second-hand, always trying to catch up to action that seems like it must be interesting, but which you never actually get to experience yourself. The writers seem to have ignored the old storytelling rule of “Show, don’t tell.” If you were to watch the included cutscenes back to back, you’d get to enjoy a bunch of flat characters exchanging clever jokes about events only they could ever appreciate. Kevin Smith might be able to pull it off, but here that setup fails to satisfy.

What you are made to understand is that the world is going to end soon because vampires stole the Blood Seal that, for some reason, is destroying the moon. Without the moon, the entire Earth will be flooded and hundreds of thousands will die. That last bit, by the way, wasn’t explained at all until there were about ten minutes left in the game.

Blood Knights asset

You can imagine how confused I was, then, when Jeremy was turned into a vampire himself and wandered around killing vampires and humans while trying to retrieve the Blood Seal. I knew his quest had something to do with the moon, but Jeremy had already been turned into a vampire and, thus, was now shunned by the rest of society. Faced with such a situation, why would he then expend precious energy trying to save the rest of humanity? There is a thin subplot strand that suggests he might be able to return to his former human self, but such an outcome isn’t specifically promised by anyone. It just feels like you’re wandering around killing people because, heck, what else is there to do?

To be fair, running around and killing people in this game is fun, so I didn’t much care what Jeremy or his chesty companion’s motives were. The action is free-flowing, and transitioning between the characters is seamless and adds welcome combat depth. One minute you’re sniping incoming vampire grunts with reckless abandon, and then as they move in for the kill, you click a button and crash into them with one of Jeremy’s heavy attacks.

By utilizing your vampiric powers, you can cut down a group of soldiers and then play with your hapless victim before draining him of his life essence and restoring your own. It’s fun, if a bit repetitive, and the game throws a few varied enemies at you to try and keep things interesting. Sometimes you are pulling archers into your grasp for a quick sword slice. Other times, you have to smash an enemy shield with a grenade before shooting them full of crossbow bolts. It could still get a bit repetitive, but overall it felt like all of the elements required to produce a fun experience were accounted for.

Blood Knights asset

So, why was I having so much trouble enjoying it? Everything about it seemed fun on the face of things, but whenever a battle was over I just felt unsatisfied. Certainly, the broken fixed camera angles did the game no favors. Enemies love to sneak up in the space you can’t see in order to get the jump on you, killing you handily. The fixed perspectives also make the platforming bits worse, since you can’t see the gaps you’re trying to jump over until you plunge headlong into them. Then you’re transported back to a checkpoint you passed so long ago that it might as well have existed in the Mesozoic Era.

But it wasn’t any of that, believe it or not, that left me so disappointed. It took me a while to pin it down, but the fault lies with one of the least tangible parts of the whole package: the atrocious sound design! The voice acting is awful, but the issues extend far beyond that. Sword hits, crossbow bolts being launched, enemy death screams… they’re all just flat and boring. Nothing has the punch, the satisfying oomph that makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something through your actions. The tension of combat is undermined by forgettable music and sound effects that appear to have been recorded in a deep well with an old “Home Alone” Talkboy.

It’s actually a great lesson for future game designers: you might have brought together an assortment of good combat elements, but without good sound design everything else gets knocked down a peg.

I wouldn’t say Blood Knights is a bad game, though; it just wasn’t very good. It had all the elements of fun, rewarding combat, but without better sound design everything just felt flat. With the weak plot and poor voice acting piled on, you get something that's messy, but with good potential. My guess, based on the ending, is that the developers are banking on a sequel where they can really cash in on that potential. Until then, see if it helps to skip the cutscenes and blast death rock music while you smash up some bad guys and satiate that blood lust.


Clayton's avatar
Freelance review by Clayton Margeson (November 21, 2013)

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