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May 2024

Bleak Faith: Forsaken

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Archangel Studios
Release Date: March 10, 2023


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PC Review - 'Bleak Faith: Forsaken'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 29, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Bleak Faith: Forsaken is a third-person open world survival horror action RPG set in a universe you've never experienced before.

The success of Elden Ring and the previous Souls titles can be difficult to pin down. There are some many interconnected elements of gameplay that go together, so it can be tough to pick out each one. For all of their intentional obscurity or odd mechanics, they are meticulously designed, and careful work is put into making the games feel right. Unfortunately, that is also the hardest thing for a game: attempting to follow in the footsteps of FromSoft. Souls games require a lot of effort to avoid falling into the traps of being frustrating instead of engaging. Unfortunately, Bleak Faith: Forsaken falls on the former more than the latter.

Probably the most distinctive element of Bleak Faith is its world setting. Set in a massive Omnistructure, an interconnected and surreal world, it goes above and beyond in presenting one of the most bleak and depressing settings imaginable. The world is a decaying postapocalyptic hellscape where a pseudo-medieval civilization has barely eked out survival amid the decaying ruins of modern society. The ruins are filled with bizarre creatures that meld machine and flesh, and surreal surroundings that make it stand out from the usual postapocalyptic cyberpunk dystopia world.

The graphics are among Bleak Faith's most engaging parts. The art design is absolutely phenomenal, and I was frequently awed by some of the areas that I explored or monsters I encountered. The game looks incredibly good for an indie title, and it goes a long way toward showing how much can be done with little. As of this writing, there's some controversy over the game using assets stolen from Elden Ring, but that appears to have been a genuine mistake that is being removed, and the rest of the visual design is strong enough that I find that very easy to believe.

Unfortunately, the core problem with Bleak Faith is that the wonderful art design and visuals are all that it has going for it. One of the biggest risks of making a Soulslike is that they depend heavily on extremely tight game design and balancing challenge with feeling fair, and Bleak Faith doesn't succeed at either. Everything feels a bit underdesigned in a way that builds upon itself and leads to a world that doesn't live up to the potential. For a genre that thrives on polish, Bleak Faith doesn't have enough.

Combat follows the Soulslike tradition of stamina management and learning when to attack. If you've played anything in the genre, then you know what to expect. Pretty much every basic mechanic you've learned to expect from Soulsborne-style games is here. You can hop right in without needing any tutorials — which is good because the game basically offers none — and it's difficult to discuss anything that makes it stand out. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is that combos have a timing element. If you want to do combos, you need to attack just as your weapon hits the enemy. This allows for faster attacks and reduces the stamina cost of attacks, which is essential to survival.

However, where it sours is on balance and pacing of combat. FromSoft's games have gradually worked toward encouraging aggression even with tanky play styles because being passive is boring, and it's a lot more fun to wade into combat. Bleak Faith doesn't hit the mark. For one, the game is terrible about offering iframes, so combat styles that focus on aggression and dodging are far too risky for their reward. Despite the combat system seeming to want you to go all-in, it rewards being passive and poking at enemies much more, so it felt pointless to take risks.

That is really my biggest issue with Bleak Faith. The Soulsborne genre has long since learned that you need to encourage players to take risks and wade into the fight, or they'll default to the safest and most boring strategies, and that only gets worse when the game punishes you for mistakes. It doesn't help that the boss battles end up feeling overly long and tedious more than exciting and engaging.

Likewise, the level design is awkward. I get what it is going for. The vast Omnistructure is a huge, interconnected sprawl where you can see areas and have to find a way to get there. You gradually open up paths backward and forward. I like this element quite a bit, but it's soured by a lot of basic design flaws. It can be difficult to tell where a viable location is, it's far too easy to clip through walls, and it can be difficult to trace paths. In general, the idea is great, but the execution is lacking. FromSoft games do a similar thing, but they are careful to not overcomplicate things, and the biggest game offered more subtle guideposts toward locations of interest.

The same sense of obscurity applies to the story. There is a story here, but it's even more obscured and minimal than the older Souls games. I don't mind a minimalist story, but I had the hardest time connecting with any element of the game world because I didn't feel like I had an actual focus or comprehension. I probably can't tell you all of Elden Ring's lore, but I could tell you enough of the basics that I am OK missing out on the most obscure bits of history. Lore-hunting can be fun, but Bleak Faith doesn't give me enough. All I can say is that you're a robot in a big, spooky structure and things happen.

Bleak Faith: Forsaken has a lot of potential, and the developers seem dedicated to updating the game, so it's possible that a lot of this review will be outdated in a few months. At the moment, it's a testament to the difficulty of making a good Soulslike. All of the pieces are there, but they don't fit together properly, which exacerbates the genre flaws more significantly than any other type of game on the market. Bleak Faith has some strengths if you're willing to work past its flaws, but it doesn't stand out among the absolute glut of similar titles on the market.

Score: 6.5/10

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