Dark Souls, Sekiro and Bloodborne have the reputation of being challenging games. They are unforgiving yet fair and this has attracted a huge number of fans hoping to ‘Git Gud’ and enjoy the lore. Playing them took me ages to even get halfway through, and sometimes, even completing them was never achieved. However, Usurper: Soulbound broke me down and punished me for every mistake I made.
In Usurper, you start the game as an adventurer looking for glory. One tutorial run later, you lose your body find yourself trapped in the depths of the dungeon. Thus begins your story of climbing out the depths and returning home. But how do you return without a body? Luckily, you receive a dagger which grants you the ability to take over the bodies of your enemy. With this, your challenge begins but it never gets easy. Usurper keeps you challenged with crafty traps, challenging monsters and the crushing realisation that you’re probably not good at the game.
“Usurper threw me into four vs one in the blink of an eye.”
Combat is this games main focus and it functions like any souls-like game; Time your parries, manage your stamina, and just don’t get hit. Where other games gave me time to learn in the first stages with slow-moving enemies, Usurper threw me into four vs one in the blink of an eye.
Normal weapons can be found from enemy drops or inside chests, and they deal more damage. Though, only the Usurper Blade charges up the energy needed to steal your enemies bodies. I have been a big fan of the usurping mechanic as now, not only are enemies an opposition I must face, but they are also resources. I love finding rooms with one enemy and planning whether I should avoid him for an easy body to Usurp later or kill him and move through the room. This is a really unique mechanic that changes the entire game.
Usurper threw me into the deep end and told me to swim. Unfortunately, I couldn’t swim. I found my stolen body destroyed countless times and surrounded by monsters staring at me with a sword and no magic energy to steal bodies. Needless to say, this is probably why I died a lot. At all times, Usurper balances on the line between fair enemies and unfair weapons. One moment you kill an enemy easily then all of a sudden your weapon is too short to get near the hulking monster with a shield. Usurper will challenge even the best Soulsborne veterans.
“Usurper’s parry system never felt worth the investment to learn.”
As I progressed through the game, I did run into a few issues with the parry system. Dark Souls‘ parry system is based on a timing window. If you parry as you are hit then you are rewarded for performing a difficult task with something cool and powerful. However, Usurper feels a lot more punishing.
Usurper‘s parry system never felt worth the investment to learn. Parrying felt as if it was based on animations connecting, and the only successful parries I performed involved the parrying animation connecting my sword, pixel for pixel, with the enemy’s weapon. If this was the intended design, although challenging, I hated it in contrast to other souls-like games. Remembering the different frames to get a perfect parry isn’t worth the reward of a big damaging attack the enemy gets back up from. Especially when it’s easier to bait an attack, dodge, and then swing till the health bar is zero.
Weapons in Usurper intrigued me. They perform differently enough to feel like individual weapons. Though, the differences in the first dungeon just seem to be the size of the weapon. If it’s bigger, it can hit enemies further away. If it’s smaller, its attack animations are faster but you need enemies right next to you. While I appreciated a difference in weapons, the minimal difference made me see most initial weapons as useless. Every time I saw an enemy with the biggest weapon, I would take their body to avoid having a difficult run as small weapons couldn’t deal with multiple enemies at the same time.
“Usurper gives you a creepy store vendor who mentions he killed his competitors and that’s about it.”
In Usurper, magic is based on one-use scrolls that you lose when you die. Personally, I support this design. Usurper tells you to use everything you find or prepare to die as saving them could mean you’ll die before ever using that Freeze scroll. Hopefully, as the game progresses, the developers update the game to allow usurping magic-wielding monsters. Who wouldn’t like to take the body of a warlock and blast enemies away?
The lack of story did leave me a little disappointed. There are no enticing lore-based items that had stories of other souls or even why I am in a dungeon at all. Usurper gives you a creepy store vendor who mentions he killed his competitors and that’s about it. Two hours into the game I found myself asking who took my body and why? There is no information on why the soul-stealing dungeon has monsters, chests or the store vendor demanding gold for you to steal the bodies of monsters. Hopefully, the developers will develop the story while the game is in Early Access.
Variety is one of Usurper’s strengths; every room and enemy is different. The monsters are detailed enough so that you can notice the difference, but the rooms are incredibly designed. Every area felt unique, meaning I could create mental images of each room in my head. I could remember every item and scenery placement, so I knew if I had already been in a room. The traps are also easy to point out amongst the greys and browns of the dungeon. Though, I hope more colour is used in future levels as the greys, browns and blacks could get repetitive.
“For Souls-like fans, Usurper: Soulbound is definitely one to keep an eye on.”
Overall, Usurper: Soulbound offers a solid experience that will only get better with time. The game already provides solid combat and may only need to improve if more complex enemies are introduced. Despite the current lack of narrative, the game still provides to be an enjoyable experience. I’m looking forward to how the game transforms through its 1.5 years in Early Access. For Souls-like fans, Usurper:Soulbound is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Usurper: Soulbound is out now in Steam Early Access and will be for 1.5 years. You can wishlist or pick the game up here.
*Disclaimer: Previewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.