Title: Hyper Light Drifter
Platform: Windows, Steam, Mac, Linux, PS4 & Xbox One (Planned)
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Action RPG
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 6th April 2016
While not purely related to gaming, Kickstarter projects have always seen a sizable amount of debate on whether such endeavours are worth investing in. Way back in 2013 I myself took the gamble and effectively pre ordered myself a little title by the name of Hyper Light Drifter, and much like The Last Guardian or Final Fantasy XV I eagerly waited to get sunk into.
Now after two and a half long arduous years I can present to you a solid argument in favour kickstarting projects. But is Hyper Light Drifter just a good game that will drift away or a great game whose light will shine ever brighter?
You take the role of an unnamed drifter, a silent warrior draped in a red clock with only his sword bathed in ethereal light and a small robotic companion by his side. The wanderer’s sleep seems to be plagued by a swarm of nightmarish images; a strange dog, a horde of goliath beings, a futuristic city gone in a explosive flash and an ever consuming darkness.
It seems these are memories of what has become of the world, now the wanderer travels what’s left in search of answers to these nightmares -
What first struck my attention back then and now proves to be one of Hyper Light Drifter’s strongest aspects is its fantastic aesthetics both visually and audibly. Sprites are simple but full of life as the animate against the equally lively and jaw dropping backdrops including vivid forests, ominous mountainsides and ethereal temples. Each locale is beautifully put together with a vivid and rich colour palette complemented by subtle details and a superb soundtrack. The ambient yet almost melancholic score akin to Shadow of the Colossus lends itself perfectly to the soothing and yet equally ominous post-
But is a pleasing aesthetic the only string to Hyper Light Drifter’s bow as sadly too many indie action RPG’s suffer from?
Well thankfully no, in the bluntest fashion Hyper Light Drifter feels like a mirror opposite to that of the top down Legend of Zelda titles: trading puzzles for solid, engaging and challenging combat. With a range of subtle tools at your disposal HLD generates a rich immersing experience through the combination of monster variations and level design fantastic complexity emerges. Each mob will come at you relentlessly where you’ll need patience as you learn then exploit their patterns. Difficulty ramps up considerably once you start exploring dungeons where you’ll be often pitted against multiple enemy combinations coupled with traps and confined spaces.
Alas the wanderer is a rather frail combatant and can’t endure too much damage so it’ll require you to utilize your available tools to best them. To survive the vagrant warrior can wield a sword, utilize ranged weaponry and dash to both avoid and get inclose to enemies.
Sudden difficulty spikes are frequent however and even the initial difficulty upon entry can be deceptively brutal. Timing your dodges, when to heal up, how many frames it takes to finish an attack and your opponent’s attack animations are all key to being victorious battle after battle.
We’re not talking Dark Souls difficulty (that’s a whole other ballpark), but I felt Hyper Light Drifter offers some fantastically rewarding challenges. As there’s no experience points you organically grow stronger from your own merit which in turn makes overcoming obstacles all the more satisfying. The challenge however is not without its frustrations, healing items are finite and while you can find them dotted around dungeons and the overworld should you run out. It can prove difficult to push on when this happens or even worse it can completely kill the pace of the game when you’re forced to warp out just to collect some. Checkpoints are plentiful so you can freely brute force through rooms even without healing items; persistence in the face of failure after failure will be common, and those not use to this almost Dark Souls-
How you handle the spikes in difficulty will be down to your individual tolerances; if you’re willing to tackle the brick wall you’ll have some bruises sure, but you can break through.
Personally I’m all in favour of the higher difficulty curves, but I do think the initial spikes are a bit too sudden while the player is likely still finding their feet (perhaps remedied with an easier difficulty setting). This is where HLD’s minimalist approach is both a strength and a weakness; your objective becomes clear relatively quickly but the world is open for you to explore. Once you reach the central hub town you’re free to explore each of the four regions with some exceptions as you aim to collect each region’s diamonds and beat their respective bosses. I found that most people including myself for whatever reason would gravitate towards the north region first which can partially explain the reputation Hyper Light Drifter seems to have suddenly garnered. But a great thing to keep in mind is that should you hit a brick wall, it’s better to keep a mental note and look for a change of pace elsewhere exploring a new region as you collect the game’s currency for upgrades.
Hyper Light Drifter’s rather liberating non-
Organic exploration elements,
Liberating free roam world,
Rewarding yet challenging combat,
Fantastic visual aesthetics.
Sudden and recurring difficulty spikes,
Backtracking through dungeons can be obnoxious,
Missing promised co op gameplay,
Somewhat lacking narrative payoff.
Hyper Light Drifter scores a solid 8/10.