Every once in a while a game comes into my possession that is so ill conceived, so undeniably wretched, that the only reaction I can muster is laughter. Blood Knights is one of those games. It’s not a mocking laughter, it’s a genuinely confused laughter. The type of laughter that is usually accompanied with a dumbfounded facial expression, and a simple question, “Who ok’d this?”
Blood Knights is an action RPG with light platforming sections, developed by Deck 13.
Blood Knights has a narrative. I could never quite follow the convoluted, contrived narrative, but there is one there. What I know for sure is that Jeremy, a Blood Knight (I think), is bonded to his vampiress prisoner, Alysa, by the priest Bartholomew. Why were the bonded? Honestly, like I said, I do not know. Everything about Blood Knights plot is unfathomably stupid, and that stupid is poured over some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard. The dialogue? Shudder inducing. Let me give you an example of the type of award winning banter you can expect. After losing the blood seal, Jeremy angrily says to Alysa, “lets find the priest so he can undo this bond, and the mean time maybe you could stop talking. What’s your name?” Yes, Jeremy tells here to shut up, then asks for her name. Not only does it make absolutely no sense, it makes the main character, Jeremy, a jerk. Sure, Alysa is a vampire, but she’s still a lady. How about a modicum of respect.
There are also dialogue choices in Blood Knights. These choices are supposed to add a morality system to the game, but I never felt as if there were any consequences for my actions. At one point, Jeremy and Alysa find themselves in the home of Roya. Roya tells me to chose between two vials on the table, and since morality systems in video games are always black and white, the choices are essentially good, or bad. The problem isn’t the choice being black and white, the problem is the games inability to properly articulate the consequences of these choices. The game is asking me to make decisions that affects the world, but I don’t have a tangential grasp on what Bloods Knights lore is, or how these consequences, if at all, will affect the world.
The majority of Blood Knights consists of brainlessly pressing the X button to dispose of the baddies, with your occasional heavy attack to break a shield thrown in for variety. Enemies in Blood Knights range from punching bags to punching bags that fire projectiles. Jeremy and Alysa have abilities that are gated by cooldowns, which include, Jeremy’s whirlwind ability and Alysa’s fire arrow. But Blood Knights’ core mechanic is the ability to switch between the two bonded protagonists. Most action RPGs require players to commit to the characters that they roll. If you choose to be a head-down, hack and slash warrior you will have to be one for the duration of that play-through, or until you decide to create a new character. Blood Knights gives players control of two staple action RPG classes, Jeremy the brute force, and Alysa the range. It’s an interesting mechanic that is underutilized, unfortunately. Deck 13 fails in creating combat scenarios that force players to use the mechanic. Most encounters can reliably be dealt with using the ability of Jeremy, or Alysa; I rarely used them in tandem.
Every RPG needs good armor, and Blood Knights’ happens to be pretty good. For one, everything that is equipped shows up in-game on the character, which I wasn’t expecting. While the characters, and artistic vision of Blood Knights seem uninspired, the armor and weapons are quite the opposite. Alysa and Jeremy were well-equipped by the time I completed the game. Chests are scattered throughout Blood Knights containing the armor and weapons. There’s no rarity attributed to the armor or weapons, and every chest seemed to drop loot that paralleled my characters progression. Chests, when opened, display the level of the item, whether it’s an improvement over with you have currently equipped, and how much it would sell for before you even pick the item up. That little touch ensured that my inventory was never overflowing with useless items.
There are some light platforming sections in Blood Knights, and regrettably the game is not well-equipped to deal with them. The controls are clunky, and thanks to the game’s technical issues, on more than one occasion the frame-rate dropped in the middle of a jump, leading to my death. The platforming tries really hard to be challenging, but never achieves it. The funniest part of Blood Knights’ unnecessary platforming? The narrative justification as to why you have to jump from platform to platform, instead of cutting across the water. Well, if you didn’t know, and Blood Knights makes the explicitly clear, vampires happen to be deathly allergic to water. The game is also unspecific when it comes to fall damage. Falling from opposite ends of the same platform will yield different results, which makes judging what navigating from a high point annoying at times. In addition to platforming, Blood Knights flirts with the idea of environmental puzzles, but they don’t deviate from standing on switches, and shooting other switches.
Checkpoints in Blood Knights are few and far between. With no quick save, players will have to rely on inconsistent checkpoint placement. Checkpoints also serve as the gateway to trade, but when players do return to the trader all previous progress is reset. A mild annoyance that shouldn’t surface, because there isn’t a reason to return to the trader. You’ll have sufficient gear throughout the game just from chests.
Blood Knights progression system is equal parts incomprehensibly bland, and surprisingly inventive. Both Alysa and Jeremy have about fifteen different perks, and some are upgrade-able using points acquired after reaching a new level. Most perks have a three tier upgrade system. Each time a player upgrades a specific ability, the game gives players exact and immediate feedback with a percentage displaying the effect the upgrade will have. The perk system isn’t so focused on personalizing playstyle, and is more focused on maximizing the abilities of Jeremy and Alysa. The lack of a branching skill tree is a bit constraining at first, however, the game is relatively short, and the lack of unnecessary perks streamlined the experience, even at the risk of being linear. By the end I had most of the character perks maxed out and felt I experienced the majority of what the game had to offer.
Attribute progression takes the form of collectible and might I say, poorly hidden, Blood Coins. In order to upgrade luck, strength or health, you’ll have to find five Blood Coins. Finding five allots you a generous boost to one of the three previously mentioned attributes. I’m not one to usually make all encompassing generalizations, but collectibles universally suck. They are usually uninspired gameplay filler, and don’t offer anything interesting to game mechanics. Blood Knights attempts to subvert the stats quo of collectibles by making them the crux of the upgrade system. It’s a weird choice, especially in an action RPG. It works in theory, and forces players to use the unnecessary platforming to explore the game so they can upgrade their players attributes. Initially, I sought the Blood Coins out, but the mechanic falls apart due to Blood Knights lack of interesting combat. There isn’t really a need to upgrade the characters attributes. On the normal difficulty the game is mind-numbingly easy, and didn’t force me to stray away from my strategy of circle strafing and shooting with Alysa.
Technically speaking, Blood Knights is a mess. At best it runs poorly, at worst it’s unplayable. Frame-rates drop to single digits often. It is plagued with screen tearing, and the occasional five second hiccup had me pressing the guide button on my controller ensuring the game didn’t freeze. It feels undone, even if I were to give it the indie game handicap.
Blood Knights is an underwhelming experience, that possibly could have used a little more time in the oven. There are nuggets of interesting ideas that seem uncooked, but could potentially be really interesting, especially, the Blood Coins and switching between protagonists. Narrative aside, what Blood Knights really suffers from is forgettable combat that isn’t half as interesting as the systems built around it.
[-Convoluted Narrative][-Boring Combat][-Underutilized Mechanics][-A Technical Mess]