Do you love 2D medieval battling? Of course you do, who doesn’t. Well Griefhelm gives that to you in spades, not literal spades to be clear.
Griefhelm puts you in the shoes of a knight facing off against enemies, sometimes singular that have to be defeated under differing conditions and sometimes multiple that again have conditions for your victory.
If you’ve played Nidhogg, you’ll certainly be at home with one of the main modes, Tug of War, that involves getting passed your enemy to the end, then defeating a ‘Last Stand’ version of your attacker.
The element that will put off most players is going to be the difficulty, as Griefhelm has an extremely steep learning curve. Seriously, we’re talking Cooper’s Hill of the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling steep.
Most of the hits you take will be a one, or if you’re lucky two shot kill on your knight, that makes starting the game very difficult.
Phasing straight through the wall, just like the knights of old.
Rock, Paper, Flail?
Starting Griefhelm you’re given the options of Campaign, Encounter, Online or Tutorial. Luckily the game throws you into the Tutorial initially to hone your skills and make sense of what exactly your character is capable of.
Learning about stances is vital, as learning how to parry (due to the ease of which you can get killed) will constantly save your life, as will the dash, which is your dodge mechanic and the shove/kick option to give you room to attack from distance.
The games has three stances, high, mid and low, which can make it feel like you’re playing rock, paper, scissors with knights. Matching your opponents stance will execute a parry, otherwise you take the hit. Likewise with your attacks, though the speed of your enemies and distance will sometimes amount to little time to match their stance and defend yourself.
The effect is considerably less in depth than a game like Nioh where the stances have more ranging effects than just average rock, paper, scissor gameplay.
You can also jump, but it’s not really that useful. You can jump as high as Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace.
Fighting for the entertainment of the genitalless man.
Node Modes (patent pending)
Tug of War: The game can feel slow, like a slow motion Nidhogg at times when passing your opponent is the goal.
Skirmish: Kill him till he is definitely dead, maybe kick him to make sure, the fucker keeps getting up!
Free-For-All: Battle to be the last knight standing. By, you got it, killing everyone else, how did you know that? Damn you’re smart.
Horde: Defeat the horde of attackers; men, women, or children they’re all going down. (Disclaimer: there are no women or children in the game, well they all wear armour, so could be *shrugs*).
Battle: You’ve brought your mates, maybe let them do the work, so you can die a little later than if you go full Leroy Jenkins. Push your enemies back to their base and finish them to the last.
There isn’t a lot of explanation in regard to the story, game modes for each node or even what your goal is bar, kill the guy again and again.
The goal of the campaign effectively is to choose your path through the horizontally scrolling map to reach the end, with different nodes having varying battle types and difficulty.
Campaign In The Arse
My first challenge, bar working out what is going on, came in the form of a man with a spear. Seriously, who brings a spear to what I thought was a sword fight.
You start with just a sword so getting other weapons in the campaign depends on rewards from completing nodes, which are the stages the campaign is broken up into. Weapons include the Longsword, Zweihander, Mace, Warhammer, Spear, Halberd, and Flail. but not forgetting the wee Dagger you can use when dropping your main weapon.
Is that being honoured?
Obtuse sentences before and after battle give you some idea of the world, as if talking to a particularly annoying bridge Riddler (see Monty Python and the Holy Grail for reference).
Hitting a node with new equipment is like finding the grail (continuing the theme), when I found my first piece of armour, it finally made me feel protected rather than entering battle feeling as vulnerable as a sheet of cheap wet toilet paper, or a new-born mole.
But I have to mention the word that may turn you off for good, permadeath. That’s right the campaign gives you a set amount of life’s that you can gain and lose, but if you hit zero it’s back to the start with you.
For a game with such a steep learning curve, it’s a bit of a kicker to have your campaign run ended so easily. I’d like to see a tweak that offers the option to turn off permadeath, just to help players who may only casually be playing Griefhelm.
Co-op is available in the Campaign, which is something of a work around but not exactly the answer.
A typical thrust to a shapeless mass to finish.
Health, Bar None
The lack of a health bar for either you or your opponent can be somewhat disorienting, as you don’t know how many hits you or the enemy could be from death, making you play more conservatively and worry about every misstep or movement. It had me dodging and backpedalling away from the enemy quite a lot and using the thrust to give me distance or just a minute to plan my next swing.
The Tug of War mode can be thrilling once you have the buttons down. But if you don’t, dashing through an attack can give you the chance to sprint away and maybe make it to Last Stand, the final enemy to defeat for the win.
Skirmish can offer single combat or tag team, but unfortunately you can’t bring in a Dudley or Hardy Boy, just some generic guy I couldn’t even name, let’s just call him Jordi for now.
It felt nice to have backup, but your tag team buddy cannot really be relied on, you’re going to have to do it yourself, usually against multiple foes. Which did not help my fear of abandonment, let me tell you. Damn it Jordi, I thought you were the chosen one, midi-chlorian levels off the charts.
The Cheek of Flame Boy
This perk can let you set enemies aflame when struck, giving you the chance to dash past and on to the Last Stand boss, who I once again, set on fire.
Flame sword beats non-flame sword, that’s just science.
Empty Lobbies, Lobbies Lobbies, Lobbies
The game does feature an online option, which can be fun, unless you end up fighting players better than you, in my case everyone. It was like my sword was wedged in butter like the little trombone playing fella in the Lurpak adverts.
Sadly, the online multiplayer is sparsely populated, so actually getting into a game is harder than teaching a quadratic equation to one of the horses that you can mount and ride into battle.
The Perks of Perks
Riding a horse into the fray by using the Mount perk is fun, but can give you a sense of overconfidence. Though I did fight worse mounted than on foot, to each their own, I guess. But the health boost of being able to take more hits mounted is a big advantage when overwhelmed by multiple foes.
Other perks include Gamble; where you risk 2 life’s, to gain 2, Sharp Elbow; where shoving an enemy causes damage and the aforementioned Flame Sword which is my favourite by far. There are numerous perks that will help you in battle, but they are one time use items that have to be collected throughout the campaign.
Though what I found to be the most effective attack style was always to back away and poke, not just for the game, but in life.
Miscellaneous Medieval Thoughts
I found the game to be a very slow burner for me, hard to get into, but fairly rewarding when you’re there.
Encounter does offer the chance to try specific stages that you unlock through progression, as well as challenging duels with foes who seek you out, with equipment rewards for winning.
I’d definitely recommend playing a fair bit of encounter to get your eye in before starting a campaign game.
Griefhelm is a game to be enjoyed with friends and online against others, but solo just doesn’t offer much of a reason to keep playing. A few hours is enough really, with not much in the gameplay to keep you interested and the difficulty really holding it back to most players.
It lacks the fun of Nidhogg whilst offering a slower experience that doesn’t pay off. Though there is a good game buried inside.
- An option to change the game speed (double speed)
- Adaptive difficulty options in the campaign mode
- Add health bars for reference
- More of a story than just obtuse snippets
Griefhelm was reviewed playing on PC with a key generously provided by the developer. The game is currently only available on Steam.
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My Grief(helm) at what could've been
- Overall - 6/106/10
- Rewarding when you understand combat mechanics
- Exciting Tug of War gameplay
- Co-op campaign
- Not much depth
- Lack of story elements
- Very steep learning curve
- Slow movement
- Some elements aren’t explained in enough detail
Human, friend to the animals and serial procrastinator.
Pessimistic Pompey fan and chocolate addict.
@Zeus_Eagle on Twitter