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April 2021


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 1C Company (EU), 3D Realms (US)
Developer: Slipgate Ironworks
Release Date: 2021


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Graven'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 23, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Graven is a dark-fantasy first person adventure puzzler, where action, mystery, and a chance for redemption await you...

The resurgence of retro-inspired shooters hasn't stopped yet. From the new version of Doom to HROT, fans of classic shooters have plenty of choices now, and there are a few on the horizon. One of those is Graven, and based on the demo, it isn't exactly what's expected.

When the game starts, the impression is that it was inspired by the original Half-Life. You're standing on a boat as it travels down a swamp, where the dark and gloomy environment is lit by funeral pyres. Once you leave the boat, the game starts to feel like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind as you enter a port town full of screaming and unfriendly villagers. Guardsmen block your path, and the only way to get through is to help clear a sewer blockage. Get down to the sewers, and you'll get your first spell, which allows you to conjure fire from your hands.

This is where things become a little different, as the fire spell is terrible for fighting enemies. You can do some damage with the flame spell, and later on, you get an electric spell to stun enemies. These are some tools in your arsenal, and other tools are better served in killing enemies. Your staff does a good job of knocking out the lowliest of foes, and the sword is better than the flail as a main weapon. Your crossbow does some damage at a distance, whether you're using the more accurate wrist crossbow's bolts or the shotgun-like version.

The weapons and the focus on combat remind you of the more horror/fantasy-themed games like Hexen. Movement is fast, but the combat feels measured. From the wind-up time of the flail to the not-so-rapid switching between weapons and spells, there's more thought to how you fight. Some mainstays like exploding red barrels are present, and there's no reloading, but you can heal via vials and positions. Pick up mana tablets to recharge, and pick up ammo for projectile weapons. All enemies can die in glorious bloody explosions, and you can even dismember the corpses. The bestiary is presently small, as the demo had zombies fighting alongside venom-spitting birds, large beasts that look like they came directly from Quake, and giant trolls with large swords.

Throughout the demo, you get the feeling that Graven does everything to keep the mix of influences going. You get quests, and you get hints about items and lore, but you don't get explicit directions about where to go. You can shop for weapons and items, but it works just as well to ignore all of that and find things in the field. The demo only showed off two quests, but the balance seemed to work fine. Depending on how long the final game is, the balance can be key to ensuring that the game doesn't feel stale.

To complete the retro vibe, Graven takes on a decidedly retro look. Everything in the game, from the monsters to the weapons, is done up with low polygon counts. Except for a few items like the pick-ups and fire, expect a sea of grays and browns that bathe the environment. On top of that, all of the textures are heavily pixelated to where you'll feel like you're playing an older title. Aside from the artistic benefit, the frame rate is high almost all of the time, with only a spot or two with any stuttering.

Based on some earlier interviews with the developers, there's more in store for Graven, and that includes some light environmental interactions that make the combat more dynamic. As it stands now, it takes those classic game formulas and places them in a nicely open and dark fantasy world with a semi-retro look. While we have no other release information aside from the general 2021 date, we're looking forward to seeing more of Graven as the year goes by.

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