The first person fantasy genre has pretty much been dominated by the likes of Bethesda for some time now. Setting out on an adventure, questing through the lands to help the good people, and generally becoming the hero of legend are all par for the course when it comes to fantasy games, but what about taking the idea back to basics? From developer Hyperstrange, Elderborn looks to create a first person fantasy experience based around minimal content and all skill.
While still in early development (and soon to be early access on PC) I went hands on with Elderborn at PAX West this year and I was impressed with how far the game has come. Made by a small team, Elderborn is a first person action game that pits you as a barbarian trapped in a labyrinthian dungeon with no map, no waypoints, no markers. It is entirely up to you, the gear you find, and your skills in combat to find your way out.
Exploring the dank caves of the dungeon I quickly learned the importance of skill based combat in Elderborn – perfect blocking, timing your attack, and swapping weapons mid-combat can be essential to survival. Enemies will quickly swarm and try to fell you, so lining up and properly timing your blocking is incredibly important. Each weapon has a different percentage of damage blocked, with the massive hammer blocking all damage but also taking up nearly the entire screen. The feel of combat when it comes to responsive controls and satisfying crunches of weapon to enemy is visceral and hits home just how badass your barbarian is – you aren’t some hopeless wanderer trapped in the dark, you are a fearless warrior.
Weapons can be swapped to chain moves to great effect. I used my hammer to block two skeletons and then smash their shields away. I then swapped to my sword to cut one down, booted the other across the room into the wall, then drew my dual blades and hacked an enemy to the ground fluidly. Hyperstrange built combat for the game to be seemless and powerful and that intensity really shines through. It also helps they’ve pumped the soundtrack with heavy bass and metal music; it feels like just another adventure for Conan the Barbarian.
The demo only featured a handful of different enemies, but their intensity and attack patterns made it feel like real combat and not simply swinging a sword and absorbing damage. If you don’t block or dodge you will die quickly and it makes combat that much more interesting. Admittedly I did get turned around and lost a few times but it didn’t take much to get back on the path. Simple door puzzles are unlocked by finding corresponding colored keys much like the DOOM series and it’s crafted in such a way that you always feel like you are moving forward in your attempt to escape the dungeon.
Despite being on the cusp of early access, the presentation for Elderborn is quite impressive. Hyperstrange has done a great job creating an atmosphere with the intention of feeling lost and in danger, but not powerless. I was happy to complete the demo in its entirety and wanted to keep going to see what other denizens and challenges awaited me. Elderborn is a title that deserves peoples attention for its minimalist style and ability to imbue the player with a sense of power and badassery using only music and awesome weaponry.
Elderborn is currently slated to launch on PC, Mac, and Linux and should be entering Early Access soon. For more information, check out the game’s official website.