Shiro Games, the makers of Northgard and Evoland, has placed its finger in another genre pie with the top-down co-op survival action game Darksburg. The small medieval town of Darksburg has been ravaged by hordes of zombies, leaving it up to our four survivors — Varag, Sister Abigail, Runolf, and Rose & Twig — along with a few other locals to pick up the pieces that remain of their home. But the undead Revenants leading the zombie horde want to see all the townspeople slain in their thirst for blood.
Darksburg is a unique take on a genre that has been yearning for a good title since Left 4 Dead. Shiro Games’ new creation encourages, and demands, exceptional teamwork to complete the task at hand and try to reunite Darksburg and its survivors. Darksburg is currently in its closed beta phase and appears to have a launch date of February 2020. The game is close to its final product with a few things missing, but what exists is a great foundation to move forward.
Cruisin’ down the streets of Darksburg
Each character in the game offers a unique way to encounter this haunted yet beautiful medieval town. It’s a labyrinth of death, eerie while also feeling familiar.
Shiro Games has done a great job of making the survivors simple enough to enjoy on a base level, while adding a layer of depth. I never felt uncomfortable or out of place switching between them all, which speaks volumes on their balance. But despite their strength, the horde can be overwhelming. And if Baron Manfred von Darksburg, a major boss, decides to show up, good luck.
The top-down gameplay and combat of Darksburg remind me of the Diablo series with very few disparities. The way the characters traverse terrain and just the general feel of the map around the survivors engulf you in this sense of carefulness and caution. Moving too fast will separate you and your team, leaving you susceptible to an Executioner’s hook, while moving too slowly offers more opportunities for zombies and Revenants to pick you apart. There is a delicate balance to how you and your team move through the map and complete objectives, and it makes gameplay that much more interesting.
The medieval world is brought more to life in the weapons and abilities the survivors use to defeat the zombie hordes. Abigail rocks the zombies with a crucifix, a church bell, and a powerful beam ultimate. Rose & Twig sport a crossbow with a lot of movement and high damage abilities. Varag devastates with his chain, a vicious bite ability, and an enrage ultimate. But my personal favorite has to be Runolf, who runs around with a frying pan that cleaves multiple enemies. His ultimate puts out a nice healing aura for your team — and he makes a mean stew.
Bringing more to the party
One of my favorite parts of playing Darksburg was the PvP mode. This allows you to play as either the survivors or the Revenants — not unlike the similar mode in Left 4 Dead. Each Revenant has unique abilities to help with stopping the survivors from completing the mission. In addition to PvP and co-op, the third mode, Last Stand, is a PvE horde mode where players try and survive for as long as they can under a constant onslaught of zombies and Revenants. Having three different ways to play this game is not only refreshing, but it’s also necessary to ensure the game has a reasonable lifespan.
Playing as the Revenants is a fun time and the balance feels good. The Executioner is a lot of fun because he can hook a survivor that is lagging behind the team and choke/axe them to death. The Burning Witch was a little strange. She can create a short trail of fire that does good damage, but it’s extremely difficult to place well. The Butcher is a meathead with a charge-in ability and high damage. The Raven Master was definitely my favorite Revenant. He has a ranged ability that can deal big damage to enemies and an area-of-effect ability that can separate the team. Playing as the Revenants is sure to warrant a grave time… sorry.
Maintaining the apocalypse
The world of Darksburg feels a little empty, thought that’s not atypical of early betas. Small cache boxes are scattered all over the map, they were often empty. It would be nice to see more loot or items placed on the map to distract or sway survivors into an ambush or force them out of position. Unique character items could hypothetically be so rewarding, but also risky. Currently, it’s mostly a sprint to the necessary objectives because exploring only hurts your team.
The main menu suggests Darksburg will offer leaderboards. This is a feature that may be welcome for players on the game who want more cred when bashing in zombie skulls with friends because it can get somewhat repetitive when you’re doing it just for the laughs and good times. There are levels for each survivor to unlock new variations on abilities and levels for the Revenants as a whole, but this won’t be enough to keep players playing by itself. Having something to work towards — leaderboard bragging rights, cool cosmetics, or new survivors — will be essential in keeping an active player base once the initial honeymoon phase ends.
A whole new world
Another exciting aspect about Darksburg is that Shiro Games hasn’t written itself into a corner. In fact, I believe the developer has done a great job with the lore and setting, allowing the team to take players to many wonderful places outside of Darksburg. The zombie apocalypse has devastated the small town, but what about the rest of the world? Are surrounding towns fighting for survival like we are? Are the creatures of the forest affected by this disaster? Can I please fight a horde of zombie mountain goats that want to ram me into oblivion?
Shiro Games has also left the story somewhat vague. We know the gist of it, but not the gritty details or origins of our survivors. I think adding detail would do wonders for community engagement with the characters, as it’s always a nice feeling to have someone to root for (or against).
There are a couple early beta issues worth discussing. Sometimes going under certain places of the maps like tents or canopies can be annoying if a zombie is blocking your path and you can’t see them. You will keep clicking wondering why you can’t move only for a fully charged Executioner axe to come down and one-shot you — true story. The other downside is that mobs can be difficult to click on while targeting, but this is easily alleviated with an attack move keybind or by selecting a certain option in the menu that allows you to change how holding down the mouse button acts in-game.
Darksburg wants YOU for zombie relief
Darksburg is a fun game with even more potential beyond that. Shiro Games has truly managed to hop into a brand new genre for its studio and knock it out of the park. The art is eerie but inviting. The gameplay is simple yet holds depth.
The foundation they have set out for Darksburg is truly an extraordinary feat. I mainly played this game solo and still had a great time with it. I can only imagine how much fun it will be with friends. Even in closed beta after 25 hours of play, I experienced only a few minor bugs that were easily worked around. I am excited to experience this game at full release in February of 2020.