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Smite Evil, The Way Priests Were Meant To! Graven Game Review

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hello world!
Dan Morris
| June 27, 2024
hello world!

Grab your staff, kill monsters, praise the lord, in Graven.

Developer: Slipgate Ironworks™
Publisher: 3D Realms, Fulqrum Publishing
ON: PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series
Demo: No
Release Date: Console release June 25th 2024

Graven is a dark-fantasy action-adventure FPS in the vein of classic 90’s PC RPGs with a modern twist. After witnessing an attempted murder of his beloved adopted daughter at the hands of a fellow priest, a once devout Orthogonal priest strikes down her would-be killer. He is swiftly tried and exiled without a chance to look at his daughter again.

Have you ever wished to return to the 90s to play classic hardcore RPGs? Then, Graven will be your genie. The feel of those beloved classics is immediately felt as you start exploring the plague-riddled towns, monster-filled dungeons, and putrid sewers full of corpses. You begin with only your trusted staff, useful for bashing barrels and the skulls of the damned. Shortly after, you will start collecting an arsenal of weapons, magic spells, and elixirs to aid your quest to find your daughter. Much like the games that inspired it, Graven has minimal direction. Quests are given by NPCs that you are then meant to solve and find on your own, with only a base objective to guide you. There are no map markers, floating waypoints, or compasses with a pointer here.

Combat is brutal, and resources are scarce. You will need to keep a close eye on your ammo, mana, and potions or suffer a quick death. You can utilize all of your skills as a priest and upgrade gear and spells with gold found while exploring. Allowing you to be a more lethal vanquisher of evil. 

At the core is your staff, which you will use to smash every box and barrel in sight, looking for precious treasure and loot. You can then upgrade your staff to make it more effective on enemies. The first spell you come across is a simple fire spell that you can use to set things ablaze. Although not very effective at first, you can learn stronger versions of the spell from the apothecary.

Your first weapon is a wrist bolt launcher called the Cuff Arrow; Ezio would love this! This small ranged weapon has low damage but great accuracy, allowing you a chance to breathe when overrun. You then find a sword, Flechant gun, crossbow, and many more weapons and additional spells. All of these can be upgraded via blacksmith or apothecary. The upgrades themselves usually give your weapons or spells additional perks or characteristics rather than just a damage boost. Cash is king in Graven, as gold is the most vital resource in the game. You will need to grab every spare coin you come across, as upgrades are expensive, and when you die, you lose some gold. This is a light souls-like mechanic as there are no experience points. Your priest is only as good as the tools at his disposal. Plus, some small stat boosts you receive when you find and bless totems hidden in the realm. This also leads to a very satisfying treasure and loot system. Finding a stash of gold in Graven gives me the nostalgic high of collecting gold in the old Gauntlet games. Ka-ching! It is soul-crushing to die and lose a good chunk of your hard-earned loot. But you’ll keep coming back for more.

I found myself playing Graven even after work hours, not because I had to but because I wanted to. Let me make the distinction of how vital this is when you play games for a living. This is something that speaks to the enjoyability of Graven. It got its putrid claws in me like Dark Souls or Metroid. When I died, I felt compelled to keep pushing forward and defeat the foe that ended me. Oh, and you can play the full game with up to 7 friends in chaotic coop.

Graven is not without its faults. I am playing on Xbox Series X and have not played the PC version, which was released on Jan 23rd, 2024. I can not say if it’s an optimization issue or bugs, but there were certainly some technical hiccups. Enemies seemed to hit me when I was out of their reach. I randomly took damage from an unseen, unknown assailant. The checkpoint system is either broken or very flawed, as I never seemed to respawn at the last checkpoint I crossed. I also made the mistake more than once to stop playing while I was out in the field, only to come back in at the town and have to make the trek back to where I left off. I have also experienced a few random difficulty issues. I started the game on the “normal” difficulty, which seemed fair. I then started a new game on a new save file on the hardest difficulty, which was hard but not brutal. After which, I went back to my normal game to find it was pantsing me, chopped my ass off, and handed it to me hard. Thankfully, it sorted itself out, and I was back to enjoying my adventures.

The art style is very fitting, and character models and monsters range from dull and basic to horrific and gnarly. If you are the type of gamer who judges a game purely by its looks, you probably won’t like this. But it is a good looking game if you appreciate nuanced and graphic novel-style visuals.

Graven is a game that I have had my eye on for some time now, as it looked like a modern version of Hexen. I am very happy to say that it stands on its own based on that assumption. Where it certainly takes inspiration, it adds clever level design and unique gameplay that feels weighted, challenging, and rewarding. If you think this sounds like something that’s been missing from your life since you retired your old Packard Bell from 1999, then you should play Graven.

A Review code for Graven on Xbox Series X was provided by 3D Realms and Fulqrum Publishing.

What do you think? Does Graven look like a game you’ve been waiting for? Let us know in the comments!

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