Death’s Gambit doesn’t often get invited when people talk about games like Bloodstained, Hollow Knight and Blasphemous. While the latter ones enjoy a great deal of critical and fan reception, Death’s Gambit feels left out due to its short length, lack of weapon variety, fewer boss fights, lack of polish and more. If you are someone who turned away due to these problems of the game, I got news for you. Afterlife, the massive free overhaul/expansion that’s dropping today has made Death’s Gambit the game it should have been 3 years ago. I can probably sum up my review with that, but that’s not how we do things here.
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is the new and expanded edition of the original hardcore 2D RPG action platformer developed by White Rabbit and published by Serenity Forge. The game launches on PC and Switch on September 30th, with the Playstation version releasing a month after the fact.
Now, I assume that the readers of this review have played or at least heard of Death’s Gambit. For the uninitiated, Death’s Gambit is a 2D platforming Action RPG released way back in 2018. It gives me no pleasure in saying this (and feels kind of cringe), but the game is the closest of what we have to a 2D Dark Souls. From the character classes to the inventory and the RPG mechanics, Death’s Gambit is heavily inspired by the Souls series. Death’s Gambit takes place in a medieval dark fantasy world where mankind is on a race against time to acquire the immortality held by the so-called Immortals. You play as Soren, a resurrected soldier who was tasked with finding the source of immortality. Upon dying during the expedition, Soren enters into a bloody contract (literally) with the manifestation of Death who grants him immortality if he agrees to destroy the source of immortality once and for all.
While minimalistic, the story is actually pretty interesting and easy to understand even if you don’t go lore hunting. Soren is not a blank slate and has an actual motivation for going in this doomed quest. Mathew Mercer has done a wonderful job playing Death and the banter between him and Soren are often interesting and sometimes funny. Speaking of humor, despite its dark tone, Death’s Gambit has lots of comical moments- ones which are made kind of weird by the inclusion of meta-story beats. Afterlife doesn’t change the base game’s story that much but it does add lots of new dialogues and scenarios to flesh it out further. A minor but welcome addition. There are also said to be new endings included, but I didn’t see all of them.
While changes to the storytelling might be minimal, Afterlife is a full-on gameplay overhaul. Almost everything (aside from the core combat) has been changed according to community feedback. You can now test out weapons and classes before committing to one. Players now have more control over the direction of the attacks. Stats like Endurance and Haste have been completely rebalanced to boost stamina and reduce ability cooldowns further. The healing animation is now faster and you can upgrade weapons and armours at save points. Weapons now have alternate attacks and there’s a new ‘super overpowered’ counterattack that melts bosses. Moreover, the default kick has been replaced by a useful slide similar to the one from Blasphemous. While these balance and QoL changes sound pretty basic on paper, they make Death’s Gambit a better game.
What’s Not Changed?
Sadly, some of my biggest gripes with the combat are still present. Since Soren clips through enemy sprites, hit detection is still a bit inaccurate and changing directions mid-attack also doesn’t work that well. After experiencing similar games with more crunchy and beefy combat systems, Death’s Gambit’s combat can feel somewhat underwhelming thanks to the lackluster audio-visual feedback when landing attacks. The controls, while greatly improved, are still not perfect for a game requiring fast reflexes. There are just too many abilities and mechanics bound to too few buttons. The UI could also have used more refining. I would have liked smaller inventory icons and the ability to bind the Map screen to a specific button.
Most of my complaints end right here and I have only good things to say about the new content. Almost all of the content shortcomings have been addressed through Afterlife update. The game now has 22 new weapons (most of which feel good to use) and a whopping 100 new talents to mess around with. I haven’t found all of the new talents yet but what I’ve seen so far really help in making builds feel unique and lets you experiment with multiclassing. There are 6 new bosses to fight and some of the existing bosses have been rebalanced (for good). These are all fine and good, but the most significant change is to the level design. Players of the vanilla game have complained a lot regarding the limited level design and lacklustre incentive for exploration. With Afterlife, Death’s Gambit is a proper sprawling Metroidvania with massive changes to the level design and 10 new areas added. These interconnected areas are closed off earlier and require specific upgrades such as double jump, dash or ground pound to unlock. They hide abilities, items, information on the bosses and more. These optional areas extend the gameplay by a solid 5 or 6 hours depending on how much you choose to explore. The game is no longer a mere 10-hour journey and now takes around 14-18 hours to get through.
Death’s Gambit was a few tweaks away from being a genuinely good game. Afterlife enhances, rebalances as well as builds upon the base game giving the fans the much-needed replayability, and appease the players who were turned away 3 years ago. I still have a few gripes with the combat system, but the rest of the stuff is so good that it makes Death’s Gambit: Afterlife a worthy purchase (or a free upgrade if you own the original). Did I mention that the game is extremely pretty to look at?
FINAL RATING: ESSENTIAL
With less time
and more wisdom at our disposal, we have decided to create a whole new rating system for the games we review: How many nights a week will we stay up after 11 PM 1 AM, once our family has gone to sleep on a workday and spend 2 hours with it, knowing full well that we need to enter the rat race at 8 AM the next morning? Well on that scale, we give Death’s Gambit- Afterlife:
“A few hours per day, just enough to not throw the controller at the wall”