The ambitious creation of the talented twosome at Ivent Games, Strength of the Sword 3 isn’t actually the third in a series, but rather a standalone title. Peculiar naming tactics aside, it does do a lot to impress despite its developer's diminutive size.
As is often the way with budget fantasy titles, a hellish army is marching forth across the peaceful kingdom of Couldn’t-Happen-to-a-Nicer-Place-donia, and only a knight sent from the Gods can stop them. At least, this is what we understood from the simple yet charming Game of Thrones-esque cutscenes. The graphics are endearingly cartoony, with caricature-ish character models and lopsided buildings and environments. Fortunately, the combat doesn’t maintain this trait.
In the plainest of terms, this is a fighting game. Every level takes place within a self-contained arena-like space in which a few waves of enemies will try to take you down. It sounds simple enough, but the combat has a depth to it that may surprise you. It’s not a brainless hack and slash, in which running around swinging your sword will net you the victory, but a more tactical step-by-step-focused experience.
Levels begin with selecting a sword and a shield – more of which are unlocked as the game continues – which affects your offensive and defensive abilities, as well as your movement speed. We found that speed is one of the most vital aspects of maintaining a successful combat record, as, in a similar fashion to Demon’s Souls, there’s a great deal of circling, rolling, and dashing in for quick attacks. You’re perpetually focused on one of your opponents from a third-person perspective, which helps contribute to the ‘locked in mortal combat’ attitude that the game tries to capture.
Dash is the most useful feature on offer, allowing you to dodge attacks and land some of your own, and is indicated by a gauge in the corner of the screen. Below it is the health and mana bar, which allows for devastating combo attacks. While it’s still possible to perform these combos without mana, a full bar will take at least a quarter of the health from an average enemy.
Items are unlocked as you progress, including the likes of grenades, throwing knives, and health potions. These replenish at the beginning of each level, which is excellent because you will need all of them. You must never underestimate even the most average of enemies; they dodge and block just as you do, and while you’ll rarely find yourself fighting more than three at once, they won’t hold back if you slip up in the smallest of ways – even if it seems massively unfair.
As such, one of the largest issues with the title is its incredibly steep difficulty curve – so much so, that most of the notes that we penned while playing the game aren’t fit for a fine establishment such as this one. It’s not just because it's a 'hard' game – it most definitely is – but because it can sometimes be downright unfair. When it comes to similar experiences in Dark Souls, more often than not you know why you died, and you can learn from it. Here you’ll find enemies spinning 180-degrees on the spot and hitting you with a devastating attack, or even striking you while you’re defenceless on the ground – and then coming back for a few more cheap shots.
These issues are compounded when you’re faced with more than two enemies, as the cool-headed tactics that you may have applied earlier no longer apply. It feels like more of a game of chance, as you wildly switch from enemy to enemy, making sure that nobody’s behind you. It’s a real shame because the combat can look incredible at times, with slow motion dives and power attacks presented from different camera angles.
Thankfully, it is possible to complete the levels – a feat that rewards you with an online leaderboard position to remind you that no matter how gifted you are, there will always be someone more talented.
If you’re some kind of sadist, there’s more punishment to be had in survival mode. Taking place in a coliseum, you accrue points from besting enemies that can be spent mid-game on health and ammo. While this doesn’t necessarily make the experience much easier, it does beg the question why something similar wasn’t included in the campaign.
Strength of the Sword 3 is a tough game. You’ll flit frequently from God-sent knight to obscenity-hurling peasant, and it won’t always be your fault. It’s certainly an impressive effort from a two-man team, and by no means an average game, but it fails to step away from the pervading notion that it's little more than a series of challenging boss fights.