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Die by the Sword (PC) artwork

Die by the Sword (PC) review

"Die by the Dated Play Control"

Die by the Sword (PC) image

Around the time of its release in 1998, Die by the Sword sounded like a sweet deal. It wasn't your average fantasy-action title, but one featuring a revolutionary combat system that allowed you to guide the precise movements of your sword. Each slice damaged not only your opponents, but their individual body parts, increasing the likelihood of removing limbs or heads. You could then use those severed parts as weapons, making use of a dead arm while it clutched an axe, for instance. Yes, this also meant you could beat an orc senseless with his own partner's noggin, or some ridiculous thing like that. It's so needlessly edgy and silly that you can't help but say, "Oh, '90s..."

Nowadays, though, the experience is less hilariously gory and more irritating...

You can tell this adventure wasn't built for more complex systems, as getting through the title screen on a modern computer is a nightmare. When you boot the game up, the main menu is supposed to descend while the sound of a pair of swords clanging against each other plays. Instead, the two blades clang repeatedly as the menu lags its way down over a ten second period. I've sometimes had this menu lag so much that I've had to close the game out through Task Master, or even reset my computer. The application really doesn't like to let you out easily. As you can tell, we're off to a terrible start, and we haven't technically started...

Once you're past that mess, you need to figure out the game's confusing and rather dated play control setup. You can chose a handful of methods, with about two styles apiece. "VSIM" style allows full control over your blade, while "arcade" presents a more easygoing approach. In reality, the latter just offers you fewer weapon movements and doesn't feel nearly as useful. Settling on VSIM, I decided to try the mouse, only this configuration never worked. No matter how much I moved the mouse, my sword just sat there and no one died by it. "Gamepad" was selectable as well, but that only allows you to use the lousy "arcade" setting. Since this game was released before dual analog play control became a standard, you can bet an Xbox controller won't function ideally without additional software.

Die by the Sword (PC) image

The keyboard is the only viable option without extra apps on-board. I hope you like WASD tank controls, because that's what you're getting. Thankfully, you can strafe with the Q and E keys, but you seldom need to do so. The worst part, though, is getting your attacks down, because you swing your sword with the number pad. Each number corresponds to a different direction, where 1-3 comprise low positions, 4-6 make up the torso-height cleaves, while 7-9 are your high angles. So if you press 7-5-6, you sword will start over your head and swing downward into a midsection cut.

Ideally, you're supposed to maneuver your sword around your opponent's defenses, or strategically target specific portions to disadvantage them. This is a sound system in theory, but enemies move so erratically that precise aiming is needlessly tricky. It's also difficult to tell when your foe is blocking, so you may not know when to switch up your strategy. Honestly, I've had more success spamming 4 and 6 than trying to approach a battle with finesse. Any time I tried to lop of arms or legs, I felt like I was wasting time. Going for the throat--or the chest, in this case--and ending fights more quickly proved to be a more effective strategy.

You'd think a game that's all about combat would sport some of the finest fighting. However, battle plays out more like a bunch of drunks reenacting a medieval war. Creatures lumber and hop all around the battlefield, occasionally launching calculated strikes. Meanwhile, you can't lock onto any targets, so you end up ambling all over the place while constantly rotating to face the opposition and attack. You might throw in the occasional block, but that only prevents a small amount of damage. Ultimately, nothing feels coordinated, and each scuffle resembles an amateurish performance rather than an action-packed tussle.

Die by the Sword (PC) image

Things only get worse when heftier monsters enter the fray, such as ogres. You might land a slash or two on these guys, only to go flying through the air when they nail you with their clubs. This happens repeatedly if you're not careful. Even if you take a cautious approach, though, you're still in for a drawn out, frustrating conflict.

Die by the Sword thankfully doesn't stick rigidly to combat and tries to offer variety. Some sections feature adventure elements, where you scour the area for event items or NPCs who can aid you. You sometimes need to observe your surroundings for tucked away paths or hidden items. There's one hideous creature you find, for instance, who helps you knock over an obelisk so you can access the next level. The only trouble is finding the dude, because some orcs locked him up in a somewhat hidden chamber.

You'll also bump into your share of obstacle courses, like dodging bladed pendulums. After that nasty bit, you head to a room with a logic puzzle, where you raise and lower platforms using switches on a wall (as well as switches hidden elsewhere). Thought and observation get you through this challenge, eventually taking you to a path that leads back to the pendulums. Only now, you're above the pendulums...

Because you need to jump on them, one after another...

Using keyboard tank controls...

Die by the Sword (PC) image

Did I mention that you don't jump by merely pressing the space bar? You have to hold it down for a second or so to execute a full leap. On top of that, the pendulum doesn't approach at a neat, convenient angle. You'll need to hop from just the right spot, facing just the right direction, while holding down the space bar, moving forward and releasing it at just the right time. Many hairs were pulled out the day I tackled this one...

Ready for an even worse segment? After the one I just described, you have to negotiate a set of giant, moving gears without getting crushed. It's also nearly impossible to clear the second gear without climbing onto one of the first one's teeth. You only have a few seconds to pull that off, and that's assuming the climb function will actually work properly. Then, you have even fewer seconds allotted to turn around and pull off a decent enough leap to get past the second gear's highest tooth. Otherwise, expect to be juiced...

Die by the Sword was an ambitious title for its time. It sought to deliver deep combat mixed with varied segments, set in a high fantasy world without taking the RPG route. Way back, I merely found it rough around the edges, but an otherwise decent hack 'n slash product. By today's standards, though, its an amalgamation of clumsy action and even clumsier platforming. It's not terribly exciting and often feels too complicated for its own good. I'll admit it, though: it's a prime title to remake, especially if its developer can incorporate modern technology into the VSIM concept. Maybe one day...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (August 18, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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